Did you know that right now… in early January… is the cheapest time of year to travel? We are in the midst of what are known in the industry as “dead weeks” and travel bargains abound.
The dead weeks are a good time for business travelers on a budget to get out there and dig up some new business face-to-face. It’s also a great time for leisure travelers with flexible schedules to take advantage of amazingly low rates for quick last minute getaways.
How cheap, you may ask?
>Most fares from ATL to Florida are now $200 round trip… or less.
>Houston, Denver, Colorado Springs are going for about $220 round trip from ATL
>Chicago, second to NYC as the #1 biz travel destination for Atlantans, is running at about $220 round trip.
>Five and six night Caribbean cruise are rock bottom at $300-$350 for 4-6 nights ex Ft Lauderdale.
Look for these deals on last minute deal pages of web sites such as Expedia, AirFareWatchDog,Hotwire, TravelZoo, or apps like Hotel Tonight. (NOTE: Above prices checked Monday Jan 7 and subject to change.)
I’ve been working with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card over the last few months on a series of travel tips that it will be posting on its social media sites this year—reminding travelers that the card offers two points per dollar spent on travel and dining.
Here’s an early look at some of that advice:
DEAD WEEKS & EXCEPTIONS. The long, cold, dark stretch between the Christmas/New Years holiday and Easter may seem to last forever, but thankfully there are two long weekends to help break up the monotony of winter: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday January 21 and President’s Day on Monday, February 18. While travel prices are generally very low during winter months, you can expect to see spikes around these long weekends as demand rises.
EXTRA LONG WEEKEND? Romantics might consider turning Valentine’s Day (Thursday, Feb 14) into a nice four-or-five-day weekend by combining it with the long Presidents Day Weekend. But keep in mind that many others will likely have the same romantic notion, and higher demand will lead to higher prices over this weekend.
EASTER COMES VERY EARLY. Another date to keep in mind: Easter, which comes very early this year on Sunday, March 31. This means that most spring break travel will be concentrated in the month of March this year, leading to much higher prices. The good news is that an early Easter means that we’ll see a longer “shoulder season” during April and May when the weather begins to improve, but demand and prices remain low and flexible travelers can score some great last minute deals.
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Top bargain destinations for winter travel:
Las Vegas: If you are looking for a fun and inexpensive time to visit Las Vegas, January’s the time to go—but be careful. When there are big conventions in town (like the Consumer Electronics Show Jan 8-11), prices spike… but at the same time, they drop dramatically during non-convention periods. For example, rooms at big name resorts like the Venetian and Aria are in the $500 range during CES this week. But make your trip during the week of January 22, and you’ll pay only about $179 per night.
Colorado: Heated airline competition in Denver has made it one of the cheapest cities in the US to fly into or out of. That helps bring down the budget for winter ski trips to Colorado all winter long. If you want to find the very best deals, book your trip in early January after the holiday crowds have gone home. But do it before the long Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend (Jan 21), when prices begin to rise, and then peak on President’s Day weekend, and then remain high into March. You might be taking a chance with snow conditions, but you’ll find great deals if you can wait for the two-week period between Easter (March 31) and April 15 when ski resorts close for the season.
Utah: Utah may be less of a bargain when it comes to airfare, but hotel deals make up for the difference. Instead of overnighting in pricey slope side condos or hotels, stay and après-ski in relatively inexpensive Salt Lake City instead and commute up to the ski resorts, many of which are within 30-45 minute radius of downtown. Another great deal: If you fly into Salt Lake City in the morning and bring your airline boarding pass to any of Park City’s four ski resorts on the same day, they will give you a free lift pass for your first day on the slopes. Details here.
Latin America. January and February are magical in Mexico because hotel and resort prices are low, the sun is out, beaches are warm, and the big crowds don’t come until March, which is peak Spring break travel season. Due to the lack of demand, airfares between the US and Mexico can be remarkably inexpensive, too. If you’d like to venture further south, consider a winter trip to Argentina, which still offers excellent value to US travelers due to its wobbly economy and currency. Buenos Aires is considered “the Paris of South America,” and offers a warm, cosmopolitan alternative to Europe’s cold wet winters. Brazil, on the other hand, is very expensive for Americans now due to it improving economy and significantly stronger currency.
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Northern Florida. Unlike southern Florida hotspots like Miami or Ft Lauderdale, which pack in snowbirds paying high peak season rates all winter long, consider a break in northern Florida instead. Due to cooler winter weather and less demand, airfares (to Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, Tallahassee or Pensacola) and hotel rates tend to bottom out in January and February. While you may not be able to swim and sunbathe, you can still enjoy long walks on beaches, local seafood, and gorgeous sunsets. It’s also the cheapest time of year to enjoy nearby attractions such as Disney World or SeaWorld.
Where are YOU going this winter?