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jul 31

Booking travel at the last minute

One out of every three Americans planned a pleasure trip at the last minute last year. At least, if you define "last-minute" as 15 days or less in advance of departure, which is how the 2008 Ypartnership/Yankelovich National Leisure Travel MONITOR defines it.

Where are folks going? The most popular last-minute destinations include Cancun, Las Vegas, New York City, Orlando, Chicago, and Miami, according to the quick-trip-specialty-website LastMinuteTravel.com.

Why last-minute travel? An increased familiarity with online booking may explain why the average lead-time for booking may be getting even shorter. In 2008 to date, LastMinuteTravel.com’s average customer books 15 days ahead of departure in comparison to 19 days in advance in 2007. Why the up-tick in last-minute bookings? “Consumers are now trained to expect good deals at the last minute, so they are more likely to look for them,” says Lauren Volcheff, marketing director of the website.

Ironically, it may be getting harder to find deals at the last minute today, compared with three years ago. While hotel discounts are plentiful, airfare deals are harder to find last minute at a reasonable cost—in part because of the hike in fuel costs.

So what’s the best way to get the most bang for your buck? CheapTickets.com, Expedia, Travelocity, and Hotwire all have separate sections dedicated to impulse travel as well, just click on their last-minute deals sections to take a look at a variety of packages.

Plus, LastMinuteTravel has a membership program that claims to save its members an average of 23 percent of the cost of bookings ("with savings up to 65 percent on nearly 13,000 hotels in 255 major cities worldwide"). Memberships cost $50 a year (ouch!), but the company claims you will save more than the cost of that fee on your first purchase alone. In another nice touch, the site quotes all of its prices with all taxes and fees included. No surprises at check-out.

Have you taken a last-minute trip recently? What was your strategy in finding the best deals?

Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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