Be Willing to Shop for Airports.
This strategy should be part of every fare search, but it becomes important in short-notice situations.
Here's a sample search from one moment in time: the cheapest non-stop roundtrip flight from Cincinnati to New York on three-days notice came up $943 USD. Add in a plane change in Milwaukee and the fare falls to $681. Milwaukee? It's not exactly on the way to New York from Cincinnati!
Since I'm going to have to divert, why not look at some other airports for this very expensive trip?
The same trip from Lexington, KY to New York on the same day is an astounding $254 USD. If I add the 90-minute drive time from Cincinnati to Lexington, I'm still arriving in New York quicker than flying through Milwaukee, and at less than half the price!
Bid for a Last-Minute Seat.
It's not an option everyone will find attractive, because it requires a blind selection of itineraries. With Priceline, for example, you give your intended date of travel and they find a flight within that 24 hours. You can't travel at 11:54 P.M. and make it to your destination on time? Too bad!
But this is also where the airlines dump a lot of their unsold inventories. One poster on the message board at Bidding For Travel reports snagging a roundtrip fare of $180 USD between Los Angeles and Portland, OR on three day's notice.
Approach so-called 'Bereavement Fares' with caution.
Funerals are the cause of many short-notice trips. Travelers have heard of "bereavement fares" and some mistakenly believe they represent the best deals possible.
The problem is bereavement fares are created by discounting the "walk-up" fare you would pay when showing up at the airport in need of immediate transportation. Reduce this fare 50% and you are still looking at a huge tab.
Airlines regularly restrict eligibility to spouses, children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews of the deceased. Such terms are fair. In fact, airlines are under no legal obligation whatsoever to offer such fares.
The best advice is to inquire about a bereavement fare and then use the quote as a baseline for a conventional search. Is it better than what can be found elsewhere? Are there non-bereavement fares that might be cheaper?
One likely source of such low fares: discount carriers. Click "next" to the right and find out how they charge for last-minute buys.