If you have to put together travel plans at the last minute, then you may dread looking at the prices of last-minute airline tickets.
Airline tickets are typically more expensive when you need to buy them last minute than if you had booked them months in advance.
Considering that nothing has changed besides the purchase date, you may wonder why airline tickets become more expensive the closer you get to the departure date.
Why Are Last-Minute Flights So Expensive? (10 Reasons)
When booking a flight last minute, you may see the original price of the ticket increase anywhere from $200 to over $1,000.
The airlines’ focus on long-term profits, an interest in discouraging budget hounds, and seat scarcity are some of the reasons behind the increased prices.
Let’s look at these reasons in more detail.
1. Business Executives Scheduling Last-Minute Flights
One of the reasons last-minute flights are expensive is that airlines know that one of the main groups of people who purchase last-minute flights is business executives.
Business executives tend to have a lot of money to spend.
They often don’t even spend their own money on airline tickets because it comes from their business’s budget.
Some might even get to write the cost of the flight off for taxes.
Because of this, business executives often end up taking last-minute flights without worrying too much about the price.
Since airlines want to make as much money as possible, they know that they can get away with raising the price of last-minute flights.
Those who have the expendable money to pay for these flights likely won’t get too upset if they have to pay more.
Business executives also sometimes have to handle emergencies that require them to travel to different plants or warehouses.
They might even need to rush to a different city to make a deal or speak with a partner.
Because emergencies happen in the business world, business executives are sometimes desperate to find a seat that will get them to their destination fast.
Because they’re desperate to get there, they have no choice but to pay the higher price of the ticket.
It’s better that they pay a more expensive price than miss out on the best flight to get to the destination.
Last-minute flights are expensive because a majority of the people taking these flights are business executives.
2. Someone Experiencing A Traveling Emergency
Another group of people who often have to take last-minute flights is those experiencing some sort of travel emergency.
In some cases, it’s because a relative is on their deathbed and they want to get there before they pass.
In other cases, it might be a soon-to-be parent who is trying to get home because their partner is close to giving birth.
Others might just be rushing home to visit friends or family for a vacation.
Whatever the reason, sometimes people are desperate to make a certain flight.
The airlines are aware that this group of people exists.
They know how desperate they are to get a seat.
They also know that the desperation they’re feeling will drive them to pay for a ticket even if it’s expensive.
That’s because people who need to get somewhere because of an emergency are in fight or flight mode.
They’re not thinking rationally.
Their sole objective is to get to their destination no matter the cost.
While they might not like having to pay more for a ticket, their desperation drives them to do so.
As a result, since people are still willing to pay higher prices for last-minute flights, airlines don’t feel the need to lower the price.
They believe that if someone doesn’t pay the higher price, then they simply weren’t desperate enough to get to their destination.
Most people tend not to need a last-minute flight.
If they’re flying somewhere, then it’s because they’re usually planning a trip of some sort.
As such, they’re more likely to buy a plane ticket in advance.
Those who do purchase a last-minute flight typically do so because it’s an emergency and they’re desperate.
Last-minute tickets are expensive because airlines take advantage of desperate fliers.
3. Focusing On Long-Term Profits
Another reason last-minute flights are expensive is that airlines have started focusing on long-term profits rather than short-term profits.
When they were more focused on short-term profits, it was common to see last-minute flights go for cheap prices.
That’s because it was acceptable to sell discounted tickets as long as they were able to fill up the plane.
A full plane is going to earn an airline the most money.
If the plane isn’t full, then they might end up losing money on the trip.
That’s because they need to pay for certain costs like expensive jet fuel and employee wages.
Pilots can have high salaries that get higher the more experienced they are.
As such, airlines used to be desperate to fill their seats.
While there still is some desperation there, airlines now are more likely to hold out before reducing the prices of their tickets.
They typically won’t cut prices until the plane is about to depart.
By cutting tickets early, their focus was on short-term profits.
Even though they earned a small amount of money by discounting their last-minute seats, it was still money.
Airlines have stopped thinking this way.
They’re now focused on earning long-term profits.
They want to be sustainable.
Part of that reason is that there are a lot fewer airlines than there used to be.
While there are still a good number of different airlines, not all those airlines fly everywhere in the United States.
A few airlines have a monopoly on certain routes.
As such, because they’re one of the few airlines that flies to a certain destination, they basically can pick whatever price they want for the tickets.
Fliers who are desperate to get to that destination are going to pay an expensive price no matter what it is.
The airline, in return, gets its long-term profits.
Last-minute tickets are expensive because airlines focus on generating long-term profits.
4. Fewer Seats Available
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why last-minute flights are expensive is due to the lack of available seats.
Airlines list available seats and their ticket prices months in advance.
The hope is to fill the plane before it takes off from the airport.
This ensures that the airline makes as much money as possible off the flight.
Every airplane also has a certain number of seats on it.
They also have weight restrictions.
As time goes on, the number of seats that become available starts to decrease.
The weight limit also gets closer to reaching its maximum.
If you wait until the last minute to buy a ticket, then you’ll probably find yourself with very few or no seat choices.
The price of the few seats available is expensive because they have become scarce.
This is normal supply and demand economics.
When you have a high demand for those seats but little-to-no supply, the price of the seats becomes expensive.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you have a lot of seats available but no demand for those seats, then the airline is likely going to cut prices.
They become desperate to fill those seats instead.
In many cases, you’re not the only one looking to buy last-minute tickets somewhere.
Airlines serve hundreds of thousands of people.
Some are locals while others are visiting.
Because there’s going to be some competition for those seats from the buyers, the price increases.
Last-minute flights are expensive because fewer seats are available which drives up the price.
5. Flying Standby Has Replaced Cheap Last-Minute Tickets
Back in the day, if you wanted to get cheap tickets, all you had to do was buy a last-minute ticket.
That’s because airlines were in the habit of cutting prices the closer it got to the departure day.
That isn’t the case anymore.
If you want to try and save money on ticket prices today, you need to fly on standby.
When you fly on standby, it means you don’t pay for a ticket initially.
You show up at the airport, then tell them that you want to be on the standby list.
When the plane starts to load up, if there are any open seats, then you can buy a discounted ticket to get on board.
Of course, even then, the airline might charge you a high price.
In most cases, however, because they’ve waited as long as they could for last-minute fliers to take the bait and buy an expensive ticket, the airline now wants to fill their seats however they can.
However, flying standby comes with a risk.
There’s a good chance that you won’t get on the flight.
If everyone shows up for the flight, then there aren’t going to be any available seats for you.
You’ll have to try the next flight.
This makes last-minute flights expensive because they’re no longer the standard for getting cheap tickets.
Airlines will hold out until the very end to make as much money as they can on their tickets.
6. In-Season Pricing
Another factor that makes last-minute flights expensive is whether you’re flying during peak season or not.
Peak season is usually the holidays.
It’s a time of the year when people are traveling to visit friends and family.
Often, the quickest way to travel to someone who lives in a different state is by plane.
The holiday season also marks a time when most students are off from school.
That makes it an ideal time for families to take a vacation together.
Since they want to make the most of their time, they choose to fly to their destinations.
The summer can also be quite busy.
It’s another time when families go on vacations or visit extended family members.
Flying during this time makes last-minute flights more expensive because tickets are already more expensive.
It’s more expensive to fly during the holidays than outside of the holidays.
That’s because there’s more demand for plane seats.
With more people flying during that time, it means an airline’s supply of seats is lower than ever.
If you need to book a last-minute flight, then you’re going to be competing with a lot of other people.
Airlines know that, so they put a higher price tag on their tickets.
Last-minute flights are expensive during the holidays.
Last-minute flights are also expensive if you’re going to a particularly popular destination.
Florida, for example, is one of the most popular destinations to travel to.
That’s especially true if you’re heading to Orlando.
Last-minute flights to popular destinations are more expensive because it means more people are trying to get on that flight.
The same goes for other big destinations like New York City or Los Angeles.
The sheer number of people traveling there means that it’s rare for last-minute seats to be available.
If there are seats available, then you can be sure that you’re going to be competing with others to buy those seats.
With high demand for a limited number of seats, the prices for those seats become expensive.
Last-minute tickets are expensive due to the high demand for flights going to popular destinations.
8. More People Flying
Although the COVID-19 pandemic hit airlines hard, there’s no question that more people are flying than ever.
With better safety, more routes, and faster planes, it just makes sense to travel by airplane when traveling great distances.
In 2019, there were 1,057,645,399 yearly passengers.
The pandemic dropped that down to 574,412,723 yearly passengers in 2020.
However, it’s worth looking at the number of yearly passengers in 2021—597,945,147.
Although it may seem as though it’s a small increase, it’s an increase all the same.
It’s particularly significant since there were still large numbers of COVID-19 cases in 2021.
Despite the pandemic still raging, more people were flying.
This indicates that more people are choosing to fly each year.
That also means there’s more demand for seats than ever.
Since there’s greater demand for seats, the price of last-minute flights also becomes more expensive.
The supply of seats is becoming smaller since more people are flying.
Last-minute flights are expensive because more people are flying which means more demand for seats.
9. Encourages Fliers To Book Early
Another reason last-minute flights are expensive is that airlines are trying to encourage their fliers to book early.
When fliers aren’t able to score a deal by booking a last-minute flight, then they’re going to be less likely to wait that long in the future.
They’ll instead try to save money by booking early.
Customers booking early is beneficial to airlines because it means they get their money ahead of time.
They can use that money to buy jet fuel and invest in themselves.
It also decreases the number of those flying standby since there will likely be fewer empty seats on the plane.
That ensures the airline gets the amount that they want for their tickets rather than settling for heavily discounted tickets.
Last-minute flights are expensive because airlines want to encourage fliers to book early.
10. Discourages Budget Hounding
A final reason last-minute flights are expensive is that airlines are trying to discourage budget hounds.
Budget hounds are fliers who try to game the system to get cheap tickets.
They’re usually the ones who hold out for as long as possible to buy a ticket in the hope that the price decreases.
Airlines keep their last-minute flight tickets expensive because they don’t want to encourage their fliers to wait.
If fliers know that if they wait long enough they’ll get a cheap ticket, then more of them will do that.
That means fewer people will be paying the actual price of the ticket.
The airline could lose a lot of money as a result.
Because people are always trying to get a good deal, it only makes sense that more of them would choose to wait if it meant they got cheaper tickets.
As such, to prevent that from happening, airlines make their last-minute flights expensive.
Buying last-minute flights used to be a way to score cheap seats on an airline.
That has changed since airlines have started focusing on long-term profits.
An increased number of fliers and passengers who fly during peak seasons can also impact the price of your last-minute ticket.