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Last-minute family travel can either be astronomically expensive or can translate to big savings on airfare and hotel stays, if you’re flexible and let the deals guide your decisions. When the stars align, these too-good-to-miss deals can create opportunities for family vacations you weren’t even expecting.

But if you don’t know where to look for these deals, then you’ll miss out on the joy of spontaneous travel. We’re here to change that. The first thing you should do is start following @TPG_Alerts, of course, but then read on for some of our favorite apps and websites for planning and setting (spontaneous) family travel in motion.

HotelTonight

Every frequent traveler should have this last-minute hotel-booking app on their phone. This app helps you find well-priced, centrally located hotels in cities around the world.

Using HotelTonight is simple. Launch the app, enter the city where you plan to stay and the dates of your travel (it doesn’t have to literally be just for that night). Then scroll through the selection of available hotels, which are categorized with descriptions such as “solid,” “basic” and “hip.” You can look for same-day deals on hotels, but most hotels give the option of searching 100 days in advance of your travel date.

HotelTonight recently announced a new multiroom feature on the app, so you can book a block of rooms for larger families or groups traveling together. However, note that only some of the hotels let you select whether you need one bed or two, so select the room type, if possible, before booking if your family needs to ensure it has two beds.

HotelTonight has its own loyalty program, HT Perks, which earns you tiered elite status after spending certain amounts on hotel stays booked through the site. Each status level awards extra discounts on the already-discounted room rates.

(Screenshot via iTunes)
(Screenshot via iTunes)

Skyscanner

A longtime favorite for finding cheap flights, the free Skyscanner app is also great to have on your phone when you need to find a last-minute car rental or hotel room. A particularly handy feature is how the flight options are broken down into either cheapest and best, with the latter category providing the most convenient connection times (something parents appreciate when it comes to those long-hauls with little ones).

If there’s a route you’re particularly interested in, you can sign up for the app’s price-alert feature. When you’re ready to travel, book through one of Skyscanner’s partner websites; an airline website, so you can use your miles; or use your rewards at a booking a portal such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

(Screenshot via iTunes)
(Screenshot via iTunes)

Inspirock

When you book a family trip at the last minute, scrambling to pack will take precedence over planning a family-friendly itinerary — that can wait until you’re actually inflight, provided your kids are old enough to entertain themselves on the plane.

At times like this, an itinerary-planning website like Inspirock can be a real timesaver. The free website has a simple-to-navigate format: Enter your destination and dates. Choose your travel style (fast-paced or slow and easy) and click the kind of activities your family enjoys, with options such as museums, wildlife, historic sites, beaches, etc. Within seconds, the website suggests an itinerary that includes information on your destination, suggestions for side trips and other activities.

A recent search for a Florida trip listed impressive itinerary selections that included a visit to a museum specializing in Tiffany glass in Orlando and advice for spotting manatees near Tampa. The website is a resource for last-minute travelers to find travel information based on personal preference — without putting in too much legwork. 

Crystal River manatees
(Photo courtesy of VisitFlorida.com)

PackPoint Travel Packing List

All parents know how stressful the scramble of packing for yourself and the kids can be, so having a packing list at the ready is a good idea for a family that wants to be on the go.  

There are many list-making and packing apps out there, but PackPoint (free) is especially cool thanks to a few nifty features. When you first launch the app, it asks a series of questions about your trip, including activities you are planning and whether you plan to do laundry during your travels (genius, right?). The app checks the weather at your destination and generates a list of items to pack. You can whittle the list down by checking lines off as you pack or removing suggested items you don’t need. The app keeps your list handy for future trips and makes it easy to share via email or social media.

(Screenshot via iTunes)
(Screenshot via iTunes)

Scott’s Cheap Flights

I’ve been a premium member of Scott’s Cheap Flights for almost a year now. I get wanderlust just reading the daily deal emails, especially knowing I am going to be chained to a desk for a while. Subject lines like “Big Europe Sale” and “Price Drop Sydney” are like travel catnip to me.

Believe me, as soon as I can take a break from my workload, I’m going to press “purchase” on one of the great flight deals the service keeps on my radar.

Scott’s Cheap Flights focuses primarily on international airfare deals from airports frequently across the US. My city, Tampa, is frequently on the list, along with other cities you might not expect to have cutthroat rates. You can opt for a free subscription, which gets about a third of the deals emailed your way. I think it’s worth paying for premium (there’s a 30-day, money-back guarantee) because premium members get more deals and also are alerted about 30 minutes before other members (which can make a big difference in pouncing on a great deal). Premium costs $39 a year after the 14-day free trial, but the price is slated to rise in mid-April.

Once you find a deal, you should act quickly, but you can always pay with a card that awards fixed-value points so that you are taking advantage of a good deal while still keeping your money safely in your wallet. 

(Screenshot via Scott
(Screenshot via Scott’s Cheap Flights)

Bottom Line

Families need all the apps and tools they can get to book the least expensive and most captivating trips. So take advantage of the wonders of the 21st century to make sure you get to spend more time with your kids and not fretting over travel chores and bills.

Featured photo by d3sign/Moment/Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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