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The myth of last minute flights

Every time I travel through Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, I see signs of last minute flights, last minute vacations, and cheap flights by budget airlines. There are last minute offers in newspapers, on web sites, and even on billboards. What is this lure of last minute escapes to dream destinations?

Every day these past two weeks I've been monitoring KLM's "click and go" special offers. Different destinations are featured for travel in three days' time. What drove me was the idea of going somewhere I've not been before and getting an affordable ticket.

Stockholm? Gotheburg? Oslo? Helsinki? Too cold and too dark at this time of year.

Geneva? Vienna? Expensive cities. Cold.

London? Paris? Berlin? Venice? Been there. Done that.

Budapest. Hmmmm. Now that's a place I know next to nothing about. It's in Hungary, which produced Bartok and Liszt. I don't know any Hungarians. I have no clue where Budapest is.

169 Euros return ticket, direct flight from Amsterdam to Budapest.

Sounds good.


And in three days time, GO!

In the three days between the click and the go, I surfed the Internet to find out more about Budapest. There's a special offer for a five star hotel situated on the bank of the Danube River at 53 Euros per night per person, including breakfast. Budapest is a spa town, which means good food, good relaxation facilities, and good culture. Budapest has a long history and tradition. The more I read, the more interesting it was to go. I booked the five star hotel for five nights and began dreaming about an exotic holiday in Budapest, never mind the freezing weather.

"When does your flight leave?" asked my friend in Amsterdam on New Year's Day.

"3:15 pm Sunday," I replied.

"That's a good time. No need to rush."

I woke up and cleaned the kitchen. Why rush? I had plenty of time to pack and get ready.

At noon before I had even started packing my suitcase, my travel partner checked the flight schedule. The departure time was not 3:15 pm but 1315. I was in shock ---- how could I have misread the departure time?

What now?

We rushed to Schiphol Airport determined to catch another flight to Budapest. There was a certain freedom in asking, "Do you have a last minute flight? We missed our flight to Budapest, but we're all packed and ready to go anywhere else."

The answer was either NO or UNAFFORDABLE.

We had our luggage. We were ready to go --- ready to hop on a plane and jet into some unknown destination.

The only available flight to Budapest was on a sister airline for 900 Euros per person one way.

Finally, at SkyEurope, a lady said,"I do have very cheap one way fares to Turkey. But I can't guarantee you'd be able to come back by the end of the week as it's the end of the school holidays."

The cheapest last minute fare at EasyJet was nearly a thousand Euros single to London or Geneva.

One travel agent said that he could search for any fares on any scheduled airline. The result was the same --- unavailable or unaffordable. He said, "You're looking at 100 Euros in airport taxes this year --- for any flight."

After an hour of pushing the luggage trolley through terminals 1, 2, and 3, going from counter to counter asking for last minute flights, we came to the sad conclusion that last minute flights did not exist.

"The early bird catches the worm." That just about sums it up. If you want an affordable and enjoyable holiday, you better plan ahead. The cheapest fares are the first to go. Airlines assume that last minute travellers are not price sensitive.

Good-bye to Budapest. At least for now.

2 January 2005 Sunday

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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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