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12 Ways to Plan a Spontaneous Trip Without Going Broke

Updated: Mar. 16, 2023

Last-minute getaways can be exciting and fun—and expensive. If you're not among the rich and famous, these travel experts have great ideas for making your impulsive trip affordable.

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Redeem those rewards

First, learn how to maximize your credit card reward program with these tips for even more travel perks. Then consider redeeming your credit card rewards or cashing in your airline miles to subsidize your last-minute flight, according to a post on Nerdwallet.com. “You can calculate the value of your rewards for a given flight using this formula: Subtract taxes and fees from the ticket price, which you then divide by rewards cost. Multiply that number by 100 to find out your rewards value,” the site suggests. Want an easy way to rack up flight miles? Delta’s Skymiles Ticketmaster program is worth checking out.

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Drive to your destination

Local visitor centers are a valuable resource for planning a vacation closer to home. Many of the local and state tourism bureaus, according to the New York Times, direct marketing campaigns at people who are looking for weekend getaways. “They are shrinking their target radius to about 300 miles—a tank of gas,” says the Times article. A getaway within driving distance saves your discretionary budget for experiences including meals and attractions. Use these expert road trip tips for more enjoyable travel.

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Try old-school negotiating methods

Travel expert Peter Greenberg told CBS News that it may be worthwhile to call travel providers to try for a last-minute deal. He suggests travelers pick up the phone and have a conversation with a travel provider. “An unsold hotel room, a cruise ship berth, or an airline seat is revenue they will never recoup once the sun rises or the ship sails, so you need to have a conversation—but the way you have a conversation makes a difference,” Greenberg said.

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Lower your expectations

Sure, a four- or five-star hotel offers great perks, but consider a more affordable spot for the sake of your budget. The same CBS news story says a hotel with a lower rating may be more apt to giving deals. Greenberg recommends scouring Airbnb and VRBO for a cost-effective alternative that can offer a more authentic experience.

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Use a tour operator to get bang for your buck

Check tour operators for hot deals: Global tour operator Friendly Planet Travel offers all-inclusive trips to exotic destinations all over the world. “Booking with a tour operator like Friendly Planet allows travelers to experience a new destination without the hassle of planning and searching for discounts,” says Peggy Goldman, president and founder of Friendly Planet Travel in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. “Our travel packages include all airfare, first-class accommodations, personalized service, and expertly curated itineraries so that travelers can book a last-minute vacation at a tremendous value, without worrying about any of the research that goes into it.”

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Use apps for last-minute hotels rooms

Consider resources like Hotel Tonight, a mobile app, for last-minute hotel deals. The app works with hotels in cities around the world to offer day-of deals for rooms at a steep discount. The app can also provide insight on booking a room for any budget. “Several markets have great inventory right now thanks to new hotels coming online, which means there are more hotels competing against one another, driving down prices. These cities include Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Phoenix,” says Emma Leggat, a HotelTonight spokesperson.

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Follow your favorites on social media

Be one of the first to learn of flash sales or special price breaks. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are platforms for hotel chains, cruises, and airlines to announce special sales. If you’re a follower, you may be able to snap up a deal before the masses. Often, these special prices are last-minute offers that can be the springboard for a spontaneous trip. Here are more tips for successful last-minute trips.

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Pick Fridays

Be spontaneous on Fridays, suggest Leggat. “If you’re booking last-minute, you can often get incredible savings, as Saturdays tend to be the busier days for hotels overall,” she says.

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Find fly deals

Olivia Christine Perez, a writer and travel expert from New York City, has visited over 30 countries and more than half the U.S. states—many of which were on a whim Perez says. You can pull off cheap travel by using these tips, or you could check out Fly.com’s Today’s Best Fares. Perez says it’s essential for finding last-minute flight deals. “It sorts the best round-trip domestic and international deals for the next 180 days, and it’s the first website I visit to research vacation destination ideas,” she says.

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Compare deals

For the best rates on hotels, many offer deals their own websites versus the large travel suppliers like Expedia, says Lissa Poirot, editor-in-chief of Family Traveller USA. “I found a hotel on Expedia and similar sites for one price but checked out the hotel’s web page and found it for half the price, Spend the time double checking; it could save you tons,” she says.

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Haggle and price match

Also, Poirot says don’t be afraid to call a hotel you’d like to stay in and ask for a price-match or better deal. “If you see a competitor hotel with a lower price and call the hotel you’d like to stay in and mention that price, they may alter it for you. Talking to the hotel directly can get you better deals, as they need to fill rooms. Doesn’t hurt to ask,” she adds.

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Use a discount site

Perez logs onto Booking.com where she says she finds great deals with straightforward cancellation policies and “awesome deals.”

“I can snag a last-minute deal without thinking twice, knowing I have the opportunity to cancel up until the day before check in,” Perez says.