Now that the obligatory holiday trips to see family have wrapped up, consumers hoping for a more leisurely getaway may want to keep their suitcases handy. Experts say the travel deals available in late December and early January are often some of the best offered all year. And this sale season, lower-than-usual snowfall in many parts of the country has added a few peak-winter destinations to the mix.
In general, travelers can expect to pay more for airfare and hotel stays this year. Average daily rates for U.S. hotels rose 4.2% in 2012, to an average $106.23 in November, according to Smith Travel Research. Domestic airfare increased 4.5%, adding from $2 to $10 per trip on roundtrip flights, reports FareCompare.com. And forecasts suggest more of the same this year.
Travelers booking in January — whether for last-minute getaways or a trip later in the year — may be able to score deals that negate those rising prices and then some. Many of the offers are for travel by February, but some extend well into the fall. Some offer a range of extras (like ski lessons or fancy on-site dinners) that, if unneeded, may make the total tab higher than it would be if each element were purchased separately.
In particular, experts say, travelers should look for deals in these seven destinations:
It’s a destination that sees traffic drop off between the December holidays and March Spring Break traffic, says Kari Dilloo, a spokeswoman for Bing Travel. Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club on Kauai has two-bedroom villas for as little as $480 per night, a 40% discount, through the end of February. On Maui, Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa offers $389 per night on select dates through June, 25% off regular rates. Most deals require booking by mid January to claim.
Resorts often reassess bookings this time of year, offering deals to entice travelers before warmer spring weather kicks in during March and April, says Anne Banas, executive editor for advice site SmarterTravel.com. With a warmer-than-usual winter, skiers may even see some deals over Presidents’ Day and Martin Luther King’s Birthday weekends, which usually demand premium pricing. At Sugarloaf Inn in Carrabassett, Maine, “Classic Ski Week” five-night packages of lodging and lift tickets start at $425 per person, a discount of up to 50% off prices if purchased separately. Village Inn Plaza in Vail, Colo., has discounts of up to 30%, with per traveler rates on seven-night “Ski & Stay” lodging and lift ticket packages starting at $464 per night.
The Caribbean and Bahamas
The islands are a popular holiday destination, “but now everyone is back to work,” Dilloo says. That creates softer pricing until demand picks up in March for spring break travel. Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas, for example, currently has rates as low as $65 per person per night for a family of four, savings of up to 50% off regular rates. The deal also includes airfare credits of $200 to $300 depending on the length of stay, free meals for kids age 12 and younger and a deal pass for free appetizers and drinks at various resort restaurants.
The so-called Wave Season — when many lines offer their best deals — kicked in Jan. 1. “For anybody who’s looking to cruise last minute in January 2013 — or booking six, even 12, months out — January is the time to start scoping the deals,” says Gabe Saglie, a senior editor for deal site Travelzoo.com. Alaska especially is seeing more competitive deals this year with both Princess and Celebrity adding ships there, he says. (Look for a May or September shoulder-season sailing to maximize savings.) Norwegian has rates as low as $449 per person on select May and June cruises from Whittier to Vancouver, a savings of 40%.
Concedes Banas: “Iceland is not top of everyone’s mind in the winter.” But there are plenty of winter attractions, including hot springs and prime Northern Lights viewing. Some of the most attractive deals stem from airline Iceland Air. Its Northern Lights Escape package, which starts at $953 per person, includes round-trip airfare from New York, Boston or Washington D.C., as well as four nights’ hotel, breakfasts, intra-Iceland air and bus travel, a Northern Lights tour and entry costs to other attractions. Depending on travel dates, just the flight might cost you that much, she says.
New York City
Prices fall off dramatically in January, when attractions like the Times Square ball drop and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree are past. Typical December rates run $300 to $500, with peak weekends sold out; in January, it’s easy to spend less than $100, Saglie says. Even higher-end properties come in at under $200 per night. The four-star St. Giles Hotel, for example, has January rates as low as $152, a 25% discount. Four-star Hotel Mela in Times Square is up to 40% off, with starting rates of $129.
Irish tourism groups have dubbed 2013 “The Gathering,” and a main focus of the yearlong celebration is enticing travelers of Irish heritage to visit, says Saglie. “We’re seeing already some very aggressive packages, even from tour companies that don’t usually specialize in Irish travel,” he says. That helps undercut rising airfares, even during the peak summer season. Great Value Vacations has 7-night hotel, air and car rental packages starting at $1,199 per person for June through August. Travelzoo estimates the savings at $900 over booking components separately.