Okay, it's time to face the truth. You're lazy. Sure, you try to play it off as spontaneous, throwing around fancy-pants terms like carpe diem, but we all know the truth. The simple fact that you're reading this article means that making last-minute plans is something you find yourself doing pretty often.
Good news: Being lazy works, and last-minute reservations can pay off big. To help you out, slothful brethren, we've put aside our own lackadaisical tendencies to show you how. Your tool: the Internet. Heck, if you've got a laptop, you don't even have to get out of bed.
When it comes to lodging, the first instinct for most people is to dial up central reservations. At many resorts this proves unwise for the last-minute traveler. Large resorts with a multitude of lodging options are often given set rates, which they are unable to discount, by property-management companies and hotels. Exceptions to this are privately owned resorts like Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico, whose central-reservation office will be able to work more freely with customers due to a smaller bed base.
The bottom line is this: If you book midweek for the upcoming weekend-and space is still available-there is a good chance that you can get up to a 30 percent discount on your lodging. Most property-management companies make more money off a discounted room than an empty one, so haggle away. Managers are also more willing to waive minimum-night-stay requirements, allowing weekenders to get into properties that normally wouldn't be available to them. Or skip the management companies altogether and deal directly with property owners. They can offer you lower rates because they're not paying someone to market their property. Remember that, as always, you'll get the best deals in the low season, from late March until the end of the season.
Below are some websites for property managers at a number of different resorts:
www.virtualtahoe.com: This site serves Lake Tahoe's South Shore, including Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Kirkwood resorts. Click on either the "lodging and links" or "ski and ride Tahoe" toolbars to find links to property-management companies. Or click on "online reservations" and see what deals the central-reservation folks can cook up for you-although you can't really haggle over the computer.
www.ski-pages.com: This site has tons of information for the lazy skier. Go into the "travel store" section of the home page, click on "hotel bookings," and enter specifics about where you want to go, when, and how much you want to pay. The beauty is that you can book your reservation online and never have to pick up a phone. On a random weekend in January, we found we could book a trip to Squaw Valley for as little as $60 per night.
www.vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner): Use these sites to contact property owners directly. By avoiding the middleman, they offer much lower rates than you'd expect to pay. The trouble with doing this last minute is that many properties are already going to be booked for the season. In any case, it's worth a try. If you find an opening, the owners will be more than willing to haggle with you to fill an empty weekend.
www.coloradoskiing.com: If you're going skiing in Colorado, this site can accommodate your travel needs. The best parts for procrastinators are the "last minute lodging" and "discount ski package" sections, where you can book unbelievable trips with less than a week's notice. A sample trip including four nights' lodging and lift tickets at Breckenridge and round-trip airfare from Chicago runs as low as $595 per person. At the last minute, you can't beat that with a stick.
www.skiutah.com: A great resource for every Utah resort, this site's links connect you with property managers, and the "hot deals" section quickly hooks you up with the cheapest of the cheap in lift tickets and llodging. There are even links to Southwest Airlines to help with airfare (but be sure to check out the sites below before heading into that forest).
If you're looking to wow your significant other with a spontaneous cross-country trip, the following are two great sources for last-minute bookings. They're cheap, and they work. Here's something else to keep in mind: Some tour operators and resort-booking services have bulk-rate seats reserved on airlines that, if available, can save you a lot. For example, we went through Park City Travel and Lodging on a Thursday and set up a flight from Chicago to Park City that same weekend. Normally, buying that ticket last minute would have cost over $1,000, but with the bulk rate reserved, it cost $300.
www.webflyer.com: This site compiles all the last-minute deals offered through most major airlines. You can look everything up by city and find some amazing deals like Chicago to Burlington or Denver for under $130 round-trip. Some restrictions may apply, but usually all they ask is that you return on a Monday or Tuesday. So get a couple days off and really make it a trip.
www.priceline.com: This one you've probably heard about. You can bid for tickets and get them at an extremely cheap price. Just be careful about what you wish for: Once your bid is accepted there ain't no turning back-you're obligated to buy. Oh, and pay extra attention to the number of layovers they're putting you through; it could make the difference between a three- and a six-hour flight.