1. Do Your Homework
You need to be familiar with travel prices in general so you can spot a deal when it comes up. You also need to know about high (expensive) and low (inexpensive) seasons in different destinations. To stay in the loop, sign up for newsletters and deal alerts emailed out by airlines, hotel chains, tourist boards and online travel sites. Use social networks as well. Twitter, for instance, is loaded with last-minute deals; search for popular hashtags such as #TravelTuesday.
2. Be Flexible
There's a catch to getting last-minute travel deals: You must be flexible or even spontaneous, especially when you book using websites that specialize in sell-off vacations. Being open to traveling somewhere that isn't necessarily on your list will open doors to some great deals. So will being open about when you can travel — the season, the day of the week, and the time of day. For instance, the cheapest flights are early in the morning and late at night — and on Tuesday and Wednesday. The most expensive flights are Friday and Sunday.
3. Consider Several Options
Rather than just researching airfare and hotel separately, look into packages or even all-inclusive vacations. Also, consider vacation rentals. Not only can you get more for your money (an entire house, perhaps, for what a hotel stay would cost), but property owners get nervous if they aren't fully booked, and this can lead to some great deals. If there are limited or no bookings on a property's website calendar a couple weeks out, email the owner to see if he or she is willing to negotiate on rates. If a place is fully booked, don't despair. Ask the owner to put you on a cancellation list; if someone backs out, you'll probably be able to get a reduced rate.
4. Have More Than One Strategy
Sometimes when you see a deal, you need to grab it. The sell-off vacation competition is keen, and he or she who hesitates loses. Other times, a slower strategy might pay off, such as booking two weeks in advance to secure a good price on a vacation rental (though not necessarily on airfare). Regardless, part of your strategy should be booking on Tuesday or Wednesday. Generally, by midweek, accommodations and airlines know how well booked (or not) they are for the upcoming weekend and will begin to offer deals if business is slow.
5. Take the Usual Booking Precautions
Get everything in writing — rates, what's included and what isn't, refund and cancellation policies, etc. — before you make payment. And it's always a good idea to pay with a credit card, as credit card companies will protect you if there are any problems with the airline, hotel, property owner or other travel vendor.