You know that old saying, "The early bird gets the worm?" You've probably taken that adage into consideration when planning vacations, assuming that the earlier you book, the cheaper the rates. Well, you're not the only one. In July 2011, the discount travel website Hotwire.com -- in conjunction with Harris Interactive -- polled more than 2,000 travelers for its American Travel Behavior Survey. The data showed that 70 percent of Americans believe that reserving hotels further in advance is the way to save.
However, it seems as though that myth has been debunked. In conducting further research, Hotwire.com discovered you can often cut your travel spending in half by waiting until the last minute (within seven days of the travel date) to book. Helpful travel tools, like Hotwire's Deals and Trip Watcher pages, may also help you hold on to your money.
Those of you preparing to hole up at home until the holidays take note: As the travel industry begins to slow down following the peak summer season, you're likely to find even bigger bargains. Right now until Thanksgiving is an excellent time to score a deal on an impromptu getaway. "Many travelers would love to take one more trip before we head into the busy holidays, but unfortunately they think booking last-minute would be too costly," explains Hotwire Group President Clem Bason. "But the truth is, Hotwire will often save you the most money on a trip that's booked within seven days of travel."
Hotwire has pulled together a list of 10 destinations in the United States where travelers find the most significant last-minute hotel bargains, versus general rates on Hotwire. Visitors to these cities saved at least 50 percent on room rates. So dust off your luggage once again and leave the staycation at home: You've got some traveling to do.
Note: The average prices listed below and in the accompanying slideshow were calculated by Hotwire.com based on its analysis of all hotels available for each destination.
[See a photo recap of the 10 Cheapest Last-Minute Getaways]
According to Hotwire, Washington, D.C. visitors who booked their hotel last-minute paid an average of $105 per night, saving a lofty 50 percent on hotels. Plus, our nation's capital has already made a name for itself as an affordable place to visit, finding its way onto our Best Affordable U.S. Destinations and Best Affordable Family Vacations lists. Budget travelers flock to D.C. for its abundance of free attractions, like the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the National Zoo and the Smithsonian Museums. So plan on a fun-filled escape where you can forget about pinching pennies.
Spend your savings on … Admission to the Newseum. This relatively new addition to D.C.'s already incredible collection of museums is filled with fascinating exhibits dedicated to the history and production of the news. Recent visitors claim the Newseum caters to all ages, and its views of the National Mall, as seen from the Hank Greenspun Terrace on Pennsylvania Avenue, are spectacular. Admission is about $22 for adults and $13 for children.
It doesn't cost nearly as much as you might think to bring out your inner child. Those who booked within seven days of their trip to Orlando saved around 50 percent on travel arrangements, spending on average $71 per night on a hotel. And since kids are now back in school, hotel prices have already dropped significantly in the past several months. You'll find this city is a warm reprieve from chilly fall winds, and it's now relatively free of tourists.
Spend your savings on … Entrance to Walt Disney World. You'll be hard-pressed to find a place that celebrates childhood as well as this massive theme park. For the best rates, indulge the kids and opt for Flex Tickets, which offer access to five or six area theme parks (including Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens). Flex tickets cost between $240 and $300 per person, depending on age and the number of parks you wish to visit.
Boston's history is the root of its charm. This city welcomed some of America's first settlers and provided sanctuary for independence-seeker Paul Revere and the original Tea Partiers. But Boston is far from being stuck in the past: Those who visit will find themselves mixed into the melting pot of spirited sports fans, finely dressed fashionistas and notorious night owls. And no need to rush your travel plans; according to Hotwire, travelers can save 50 percent by booking their hotel within seven days of their trip. Procrastinators paid an average of $157 per night on a hotel.
Spend your savings on … A Duck Tour. These unique vehicles travel both on land and by sea, allowing riders to see Beantown from a variety of angles. Tours pass by several of Boston's most popular landmarks, including Faneuil Hall, the Boston Public Garden and the Holocaust Memorial. Tickets range from $28 to $32 for adults ($10 to $22 for children) depending on your age and point of departure.
World-class museums, fantastic shopping, gourmet cuisine … As great as all this sounds, some of Chicago's best attributes might deter the budget traveler. But rest assured: Chicago has plenty for the bargain hunter. Get to know this magnificent city from the river on a Chicago Architecture Foundation tour, enjoy the public artwork at Millennium Park and cheaply indulge in the notorious deep-dish pizza. Plus, if you don't jump the gun on room reservations, Hotwire reports you can save as much as 51 percent on rates. Those who booked their hotel within seven days of travel found rooms for $95 a night.
Spend your savings on … A show at Second City. This renowned comedy club has fostered the careers of famous comedians like Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert. Second City hosts hilarious performances every night, although ticket prices vary widely depending on the show. You can find more information here.
As soon as you hear the "clang clang clang" of the trolley, you'll feel the "zing zing zing" of your heartstrings as you fall in love with this laid-back city, just as Judy Garland did in the film, Meet Me in St. Louis. You'll also love Hotwire's last-minute rates: Those who waited to book just days before their trip found hotel rooms for $67 a night, 53 percent lower than they were just a few weeks earlier. If you aren't already sold, consider the fact that some of St. Louis' most popular activities -- including sipping an all-American Budweiser at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery -- don't cost a penny.
Spend your savings on … A ride up the Gateway Arch. This iconic landmark represents St. Louis' role as the "Gateway to the West" and offers some spectacular city views. The Journey to the Top elevator carries visitors to the summit of the country's tallest man-made monument and provides an in-depth narrated history of both the arch and the city. The ride costs $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Travelers often use the Mile High City as a home base for Rocky Mountain exploration, spending nights in Denver only to head out of town in the mornings. But this is not a city to ignore: This is where traditional cowboy culture mingles with outdoorsy shops and trendy nightlife. And although Denver's lodging is generally affordable as is, Hotwire claims that travelers who make last-minute reservations can save 53 percent on hotel rates. On average, those who booked within seven days of their trip spent a mere $52 a night on a room.
Spend your savings on … A concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Surrounded by the spectacular scenery of Red Rocks Park, this entertainment venue has hosted such renowned musicians as John Denver and Tom Petty. Plan to arrive early so you can enjoy the park's scenic hiking trails and breathtaking mountain views. Ticket prices vary depending on the show and your preferred seat -- you can learn more about rates here.
Autumn is the ultimate sweet spot in Phoenix tourism: Those of you who decide to visit the Valley of the Sun within the next few weeks will skirt summer's abominable heat and winter's suffocating crowds. Plus, Hotwire says that last-minute bookers can find room rates for around $68 a night, which is a whopping 54 percent lower than usual. Plus, the pleasant autumn temperatures make some of the city's outdoor activities -- like hiking up Camelback Mountain, strolling through the Desert Botanical Gardens and making friends at the Phoenix Zoo -- seem much more inviting.
Spend your savings on … One or both of Phoenix's most popular pastimes: a round of golf or a day at the spa. This massive city is emerging as a go-to golf spot thanks to its cornucopia of courses. Recent visitors highly recommend the famous Arizona Biltmore Resort (often hailed as "the granddaddy" of Phoenix courses). If swinging clubs isn't your idea of fun, treat yourself to a massage at one of the areas many spas; the Golden Door Spa at the Boulders Resort is a tried-and-true favorite.
You know that saying, "Everything's bigger in Texas?" Well, 11th-hour hotel savings are no exception. Hotwire reports that spontaneous travelers saved as much as 55 percent on hotels in Dallas - Fort Worth, paying an average of $157 a night. And while DFW may not automatically spring to mind as a budget-friendly destination, keep in mind that some of the metroplex's best attractions don't cost a thing, including the Fort Worth Stockyards and the Dallas Arts District. And the cities' abundance of authentic barbeque joints makes dining-on-a-dime a mouthwatering experience.
Spend your savings on … Tickets to a Cowboys home game. If Texans live for anything, it's football. So join the throngs of rowdy sports fans at Cowboys Stadium for an afternoon with the National Football League (and arrive early, so you can get in on the tail-gate action). Prices can range anywhere from $30 to $500 per person, depending on where you sit. For information on tickets and game schedules, click here.
Unlike more traditional Southern cities like Savannah and Charleston, the Big Peach exudes a more vibrant, energetic ambience thanks to its variety of high-end shopping districts and buzzing nightlife venues. And while it's very easy to spend money in Atlanta, it's just as simple to save. Hotwire's data shows that travelers who made hotel reservations within seven days of their trip found rates for around $63 a night, an impressive 56 percent lower than the usual average price. And if you stick to Atlanta's free attractions -- which include the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and Piedmont Park -- you'll find yourself with a respectably large souvenir budget.
Spend your savings on … Entry to the Georgia Aquarium. The world's largest aquarium hosts 80,000 animals -- not just fish, but also penguins, alligators, sea otters, whales and sharks. And no visit is complete without front-row seats at the ever-popular dolphin show. General admission is around $25 for adults and $19 for children, and the dolphin show costs extra.
"Steel City" may be built on a foundation of industrialism, but this up-and-coming tourism hot-spot has since outgrown its smokestack image. Pittsburgh now boasts a thriving arts scene, originating from the creativity of former residents like artist Andy Warhol and performer Patti Lupone. But since few travelers have yet to discover what lies in wait for them in the "Paris of Appalachia," now's the time to score great deals to visit. According to Hotwire, those who planned a spontaneous Pittsburgh getaway saved a whopping 59 percent on hotel rates, finding rooms for as low as $90 a night.
Spend your savings on … A new wardrobe. If anything, Pittsburgh is the ideal destination for shopaholics because clothing purchases are exempt from sales and use tax. Foodies can also rest easy knowing that their meals are immune to that extra-price hike. So grab your plastic and head downtown, where a profusion of clothing stores has taken root.
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