We recently missed a leg of our trip when our son slipped on a restroom staircase at Copenhagen airport and injured his knee. He was sent to the nearest hospital where he was treated.
By the time we got back to the airport, needless to say we missed our connecting flight. It was a no frills flight with no insurance. Thus we checked counter to counter of 4 different airlines for any opportune no-shows. After 12 hours of searching and waiting, no luck. We finally got a break from the manager of the original airline of the missed flight but not much.
From our personal experience, I would not recommend relying on no-shows at the ticket counter for last minute flights.
I might contribute some inside knowledge since I am working for a company which contributed the software for a major cheap-flight company.
Generally the prices are determined by offer and the demand BUT there is another major variable (in fact several) in the game for short-booking. Statistics show that most (80%) last-minute bookers are in an important need for the short booking and therefore willing to pay more. So the function which generates the price for short-bookings is not a complete function of offer and demand any more like it was years ago.
If you want to know what’s the deal do the following: Go to your online bookers homepage. Search for a flight which is taking off today and try to book that ticket. With this you firstly know how short you can book online and secondly if the prices are acceptable for you.
Your question is also highly location dependant. In the country I live (Switzerland) I get the cheapest flights through a friend who works at the airport and calls me when a certain flight is available. I can only recommend trying both the online and physical approach.
For last minute bookings buy opaque tickets online! There are a few sites for this like hotwire.com and priceline.com
For what I know, airlines don’t sell tickets at cheaper prices at the airport right before flights as they did years ago, because that would encourage the passengers to have this behavior. But selling opaque is a win-win situation: it fills the empty seats while somehow avoids this problem!
Oh online! I mean, it depends how much time you have, but even when I flew into Dusseldorf last year, I trained to Cologne, hopped on a net cafe terminal and found a cheap flight from Cologne to London for that evening.
I’ve heard of upgrades at the airport, and certainly you can buy and change tickets, but I’ve yet to hear of anyone claim that they’re cheaper. I do wish that The Amazing Race would show the prices they get when competitors manage to buy tickets at the counter, however :/
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