They are advertised everywhere and were the first websites consumers began using to source affordable multiple carrier fares. Last minute websites charged a member fee when they were first introduced to access what they called “insider pricing” of travel that was discounted at the last minute, in order to fill flights for airlines.

The concept of the ‘last minute deal’ makes sense only if you do not understand how airline booking actually works. To begin all airlines count on a minimum amount of capacity for each flight. With the rising cost of fuel, it is even more critical for all airlines to fill seats to ensure that the flights are profitable. When you consider the personnel required as well as other operational expenses, airlines cannot afford to send a flight that is at a loss for them. This is why we are seeing an increase in flight cancellations, particularly with charter flights that are even more vulnerable to income loss for non-profitable itineraries.

So why would the airline want to take a risk by leaving seats vacant at the last minute? In short, they wouldn’t. Instead they offer a number of tickets to a variety of different networks at a discounted rate.   Making tickets affordable and enticing for travelers to purchase in advance puts the airline in a more profitable position, allowing them to fill all if not most of the seats ahead of time. If an airline isn’t sure that they can fill a flight, they need to have the option of cancelling it and allowing passengers to take the next available cheap flight where possible to save money. This happens frequently with chartered services.

In the early 1990s the consumer concept was that airlines would be eager to sell available seats at the last minute and that it would present a better deal. Basically the format serves people who are willing to fly without notice and it is true that sometimes there are itineraries are available on the day of the flight at a discounted rate. But for most people, advanced planning is required for travel and the ‘last minute’ option or less than twenty four hours’ notice does not fit.

Some of the ‘last minute’ booking agencies and websites specialize in complete vacations, and sometimes there is a great deal to be had there when tour organizers have put together a special package deal. They are always worth investigating if you are looking for an all-inclusive style vacation.

Last minute travel websites have been eclipsed for the most part by new travel and fare aggregate websites that provide comparison listings of available flights, not only those within a narrow time or date window.  They offer more selection and a higher probability of finding a better, more affordable fare as they search a wider range of carriers and itinerary availabilities. It is not to say that you won’t find a good fare on a ‘last minute’ website, it is just more likely that you can find a similar or better fare on a public site.

Ena Dowdy