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The Best Airlines To Buy a Last-minute Ticket From [2023 Data Study]

Alex Miller's image
Alex Miller
Alex Miller's image

Alex Miller

Founder & CEO

Countries Visited: 34U.S. States Visited: 29

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Whether it’s for an unexpected business trip, a family emergency, or a sudden desire to go on a last-second getaway, there may come a time when you need to purchase a ticket at a moment’s notice. Finding a reasonably priced flight with little notice can be challenging. While airlines typically charge a premium for last-minute bookings, some offer better deals and flexibility than others. Read on as we explore the best airlines and cheapest routes for booking a last-minute flight.

The Most and Least Expensive Airlines

Bar chart showing the average cost of a last-minute ticket by airline
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

Spirit Airlines tops our list for offering the lowest average last-minute ticket prices, with fares averaging $170.09. While Spirit is often classified as a budget airline, it still provides a range of amenities on board, including Wi-Fi, inflight entertainment, and refreshments, making it a suitable choice for last-minute travelers on a budget.

Southwest Airlines comes in second on our list with an average ticket price of $233.72. Known for its friendly staff and generous baggage policy, Southwest is a popular choice for all types of travelers. The airline also offers a range of perks, such as complimentary snacks and drinks, and even allows passengers to change or cancel their flights without any fees.

United Airlines and American Airlines take third and fourth place, respectively, with last-minute ticket prices of $272.80 and $282.61 on average. Both airlines are popular among travelers because of their wide range of destinations. United and American also offer a variety of different perks and amenities; for example, United flyers on select Boeing 737 aircraft can enjoy more than 100 DIRECTV channels and movies for free.

Delta Air Lines rounds out our list as the most expensive option, with an average last-minute ticket price of $369.12. However, it’s important to note that it is one of the most reliable choices for last-minute flyers, according to reports. Delta’s commitment to excellent service and punctuality makes it a top pick for last-minute flyers who need to get to their destination quickly and efficiently.

Flight board showing the average cost of last-minute tickets on the most popular domestic routes
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

LAX to SFO: Fly United for a Last-minute Ticket

Los Angeles International Airport to San Francisco International Airport (LAX-SFO) is the most inexpensive last-minute flight route on our list at just $172.44 on average. This is likely because flights between the 2 cities typically take under an hour and a half, making this route an attractive option for travelers seeking a quick and easy way to get between Southern and Northern California.

If you’re one of many traveling for business — both cities are major cultural, entertainment, and financial centers — the cheapest airline for a last-minute ticket on this route is United at about $147. You’ll spend roughly $53 more on average flying Southwest, the most expensive airline for a last-minute ticket from LAX-SFO.

LAS to LAX: Get Lucky With Spirit After Winning Big in Vegas

Harry Reid International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport (LAS-LAX) comes in second on our list at only $185.26 on average. However, if you’re looking to make a quick pit stop in Los Angeles after trying your luck in Sin City, 1 airline comes out on top when it comes to pricing. Spirit offers the best bang for your buck at only $101.78 for a speedy flight from LAS to LAX, over $100 cheaper than the most expensive option Delta Air Lines.

DEN to PHX: Fly Spirit for Some Last-minute Sightseeing

The Denver International Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (DEN-PHX) route ranks sixth on our list of the most affordable and popular domestic last-minute flight routes in the U.S. at just under $290 on average. Most major airlines offer several flights daily, making it a popular flight route for tourists looking for their next big thrill.

Phoenix has a thriving tourism industry and is known for attractions like the Grand Canyon and Sedona, which draw in visitors from all over the globe. With a flight time of about 2 hours, the DEN-PHX route is attractive to many travelers, and the competition among airlines for passengers often leads to lower prices. Spirit offers the most competitive prices yet again, at only $151.14 for a last-minute flight from Denver to Phoenix, this time over $300 less than flying with Delta.

JFK to LAX: Trust American Airlines for Your Last-minute Cross-country Trek

At $438.95 on average, last-minute flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport (JFK-LAX) are the priciest on our list. One of the reasons flights from JFK to LAX are more expensive than other domestic routes is because of the distance and popularity of the route. JFK and LAX are also international hubs, and many passengers traveling between these 2 airports are connecting to or from international flights, which can further drive up the price.

When it comes to finding a ticket from JFK to LAX, not many airlines are on this route, and of the airlines analyzed in this study, American and Delta are your only 2 options for a last-minute cross-country trek. While flights between these 2 points might set you back a few hundred dollars, you’ll get the best deal flying with American. This trip on American costs $366.60 on average, almost $150 less than on Delta.

Methodology

To conduct this study, we first identified the top 10 most popular domestic flight routes in the U.S., using data from the Official Airline Guide (OAG). We then collected data on the least expensive one-way ticket available for each of these routes across 5 major airlines: Spirit, United, American, Southwest, and Delta.

The data collection was conducted over a period of 10 days, from Monday to Thursday, between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. If a ticket was not available for a particular airline and route during this time frame, no data was entered. The lowest one-way ticket price available for each airline and route combination was recorded.

We used Google Flights as our primary source for collecting data on average ticket costs. After collecting the data for each airline and route combination, we calculated the average cost of a last-minute one-way ticket for each airline.

The data for this study was collected in February 2023.

Final Thoughts

Purchasing a last-minute airline ticket can be stressful and expensive. However, by choosing the right airline, you can save money and enjoy a more comfortable travel experience. From low-cost carriers to traditional airlines, there are options for every budget and travel need. Be sure to consider factors such as flexibility, route network, and customer service when looking for an airline that offers the best value for your short-notice travel needs. Next time you need to book a last-minute flight, keep these airlines in mind and prepare to travel stress-free.

Alex Miller's image

About Alex Miller

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business, The New York Times, and more.

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