How to find last-minute Memorial Day travel deals

Travel tips without breaking the bank
Travel tips without breaking the bank   

Summer is about to kick off with the Memorial Day weekend just days away. If it snuck up on you and you're waiting until the 11th hour to make plans, here are four ways to book a last-minute trip without having to blow your budget.

Go where the deals are

It's best to be flexible when you are trying to figure out your last-minute plans. Follow the deals instead of trying to find a specific place. Late bookings during a holiday weekend mean that most places are probably full, but there are still choices left.

"I know people want what they want, but with last-minute bookings, being open to options gives you more opportunity," said Sean Murphy, editor-in-chief of Jetsetter.com. "But once you commit, don't look back."

According to travel website Hotwire, average hotel rates in cities like Seattle; Savannah, Georgia; Portland, Oregon; Key West, Florida; and even Miami are more than 10 percent cheaper than they were a year ago.

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Consider business cities, like Dallas or Minneapolis, because "they empty out on Memorial Day weekend, so you can head to swanky business hotels and live it up for much less than you usually would," said Pauline Frommer, editorial director for Frommer's, a travel guidebook series.

But forget about taking a cruise on a whim. "In terms of cruises, Royal Caribbean announced that it was doing away with last-minute deals and because of safety regulations, you have to book a cruise at least one week in advance," Frommer said.

Get social

You finally have a good excuse to be glued to your Twitter feed. Airlines and hotels often post deals through social media. "With airfares, there are just fewer and fewer sales, but often airlines will post last-minute sales on Twitter," Frommer said. Murphy agreed, but said you have to "act fast, [the deals] disappear quick as they come."

You can also try websites that specialize in last-minute travel for cheaper options. Lastminute.com, Airfarewatchdog and Booking.com will help you navigate different airlines to check availability and costs.

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Family holiday vacation airport passengers
NicoElNino | Getty Images

Go off the grid

OK, visiting a national park probably isn't your first thought when you're planning for Memorial Day, but travel experts say that national parks are the greatest vacation values in the U.S. If you're willing to rough it, this is an economical trip. And as a last-minute booker, you have a greater chance of finding a spot because national parks hold open 20 percent of their campground space for day-of reservations.

Hit the highway

With oil prices coming off six-year lows, gas will likely be cheaper this summer than last year. So if you don't catch that last-minute airline deal, take a ride. Frommer suggests driving somewhere and booking your hotel the morning of your arrival because you'll get the best deals that way. Sounds crazy spontaneous, but there are apps specifically for that. Try HotelTonight or Booking.com, which will help you locate what is available and list the price.

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The most important thing to remember is to just have fun and enjoy whatever you do or wherever you end up. "Don't kick yourself for not getting the best deal," Murphy said. "You are making memories. That's money well spent."