3 Quick Tips for Planning an Amazing Last-Minute Trip With Miles & Points

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Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers. Ever taken a last-minute getaway?  It can be especially tricky if you’re using miles & points, because it can be hard to find award seats, and lots of airlines charge a fee for booking tickets less than a certain number of days in advance.

But Million Mile Secrets team member Meghan has a few top tips for booking last-minute vacations.  I’ll let her tell you about them!

Planning A Last Minute Trip With Miles And Points
Traveling Is Even More Fun When You Get to Share Those Experiences With Loved Ones. So Don’t Be Afraid to Book a Last-Minute Trip!
Meghan:   Thanks, Daraius!  My mom had already planned a trip to Panama, and when I saw a few award seats pop up on United Airlines ~1 week before the trip, I decided to book last-minute tickets for my family to join her!

Planning a Last-Minute Trip to Panama

I’ll admit, I was a tiny bit jealous that my mom was going to check out Panama without me.  So I had been searching on and off for award tickets so my husband, my daughter, and I could go too.

The cash price of these tickets would easily be $800+, which wasn’t an option.  So finding award tickets with decent connections (an important factor when traveling with a kid!) was my only hope.

Sure enough, a few days before her flight, I found open 2 award seats between Missoula, Montana, and Panama City, Panama, on United Airlines.

I’ve collected lots of Chase Ultimate Rewards points with cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Plus (no longer available), so I had plenty of points to transfer to United Airlines.

1.   Avoid Close-In Ticketing Fees

Because I was booking our tickets just a few days in advance, United Airlines was going to charge me a close-in booking fee of $75 per ticket.  Thanks to Million Mile Secrets, I knew there was a way around that fee. 😉

Planning A Last Minute Trip With Miles And Points
Any Time You Book a United Airlines Award Ticket Less Than 21 Days in Advance, You’ll Pay a $75 Close-In Booking Fee. Unless You Use This Trick!

So I used the United Airlines trick to save on close-in ticketing fees, and booked 2 tickets between Missoula and Panama City for a couple of months out (July 2017).  Knowing I could call United Airlines within 24 hours of booking to change the dates of the tickets for free.

To minimize the risk of hassle with the airline, I chose tickets that were nearly identical to the tickets I actually needed.  That way there wouldn’t be a lot of explaining to do when I called to change the dates!

This might seem not like a big deal for some, but fees like this can really add up.  Especially if you’re traveling with a large group!

2.   A Stunningly Simple Way to a Hotel Discount Very Few People Do!

I was also able to save 10% off a few of our hotel bookings.

There aren’t a lot of chain hotels outside Panama City, so I searched for places to stay using Booking.com.  Once I found a few good options, I emailed the hotels directly to ask for a last-minute discount.

Planning A Last Minute Trip With Miles And Points
We Stayed at the Palma Royal in Bocas del Toro, Panama, and Loved It! Plus, They Gave Us a 10% Discount. It Never Hurts to Ask!

Most of the hotels and bed & breakfasts offered me between 5% and 15% off.  And while it doesn’t seem like much, a small discount is better than none!  Plus, February is part of Panama’s high-season, so I wasn’t expecting any earth-shattering deals.  Because lots of places were already fully booked.

But we were able to offset some of the hotel costs using my husband’s Barclaycard Arrival miles from his Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.  And I was able to book a night at the Crowne Plaza Panama Airport using IHG points + cash.

Although it wasn’t the best value for my IHG points, the booking fulfilled one of my IHG Accelerate promotion requirements.  So I was happy!

3.   Collect Flexible Points

My biggest tip (and favorite strategy!) for being able to swing last-minute trips is to collect flexible points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood, AMEX Membership Rewards, or Citi ThankYou points.  Because they give you lots of options!

Our current favorite flexible points card offers are:

Bottom Line

Million Mile Secrets team member Meghan’s 3 tips for booking a successful last-minute Big Travel with Small Money trip are:

  • Avoid Close-In Ticketing Fees
  • Ask for Last-Minute Discounts
  • Collect Flexible Points

What’s your best advice for booking a last-minute trip?

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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