Last-minute vacations: 5 budget tips

CBS MoneyWatch
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Booking a vacation on short notice can cost you big bucks -- airlines, hotels and car rental companies often charge a hefty premium when you book last minute. But with the right tools and careful research, travelers can still catch some great deals this summer.

Travel experts recommend that if a summer trip is in your plans you should book sooner rather than later. But if it's down to the wire, here are five tips that can help with last minute summer getaway plans.

1. Choose your destination wisely

While Hawaii, the south of France, and Los Angeles sound appealing for a vacation, they are not ideal for last-minute travelers -- especially if you're on a budget. But pick the right destination and you could save a bundle.

According to the 2014 Hotwire Travel Value Index, the top budget vacation destination in the U.S. is Atlanta, Ga., where some of the best travel discounts can be had.

Number two on the index is Orlando, home of Disney World and Universal Studios. Rounding out the top five are Tampa, Fla., Dallas-Forth Worth, and Phoenix, Ariz.

2. Planning to fly? Flexibility is key

Airlines charge more for their seats as their planes fill up, which is why last-minute flights can be pricey.

Choosing the right day to fly is crucial if you want to save money. Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com suggests that flyers avoid weekend traveling. "The single biggest factor in determining how expensive a flight will be is how full it is," said Klee. "Tuesday and Wednesday are the least expensive days to fly because of fewer travelers. ... Fridays and Sundays are busiest."

Also, the time of day you're flying can determine how much you pay. Leaving late at night or early in the morning is better for last-minute travelers.

3. See a deal? Snag it

Being flexible and open to snagging a great deal can also save you cash. But be fast: What you see one day will not necessarily be there the next. Booking engines and travel sites update offers all the time -- a delay can cost you.

Another tip for finding a great deal: Mine your Twitter feed.

Courtney Scott, senior editor at Travelocity, says social media can help by speeding up the whole process. "By following travel companies and brands on Twitter and other social media outlets, you can quickly see who is offering the best promotions for a steal," Scott recommends.

4. Don't blow your budget on a hotel

Like air fares, hotel rooms can get expensive if booked at the last minute. But Bob Diener, president of Getaroom.com, tells CBS MoneyWatch that booking a room on a budget on short notice is not impossible.

According to Diener, rooms can sometimes be discounted by up to 60 percent when hotels have vacancies. "July through August is considered off season and during this time is where you can really start to see some deals," says Diener. Wait until mid-August and hotel prices can triple.

Also, don't limit yourself to big-name hotels. Deals can sometimes be had at independent hotels or bed and breakfasts.

5. Cruise around

If you enjoy spending time on the water, consider booking a cruise. Great last-minute deals can be found as cruise lines try to fill vacant cabins. And keep in mind that cruise fares typically include your accommodations, meals and entertainment.

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