The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve isn't known for big travel deals, but travel pros say consumers who act soon may still find some cheap escapes.
Because many people take vacation between the two holidays, demand usually rises for both international and domestic travel, says Melissa Klurman, contributing editor for booking site Travelocity. In fact, there are no slow air-traffic days as people extend Christmas trips or leave early to ring in the New Year. Hotels in cities like New York and Las Vegas are already mostly full for that week, and rooms in places "that rely heavily on school-kid calendars," like Orlando or Hawaii, sell for twice the price of the previous week, says Andrew Young, editor of deal site Travelzoo.com.
Demand is even higher this year, say experts, since both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Sundays, but are observed on Mondays. "Even people who don't have vacation time are going to try to extend those weekend days," says Jasmine Kim, general manager for deal site Travel-Ticker.com. Carriers have also cut capacity by roughly 5% in recent months, which means the fewer cheap seats available are selling out fast. As of Wednesday, the average round-trip domestic fare for Christmas week is up 5% compared with last year, to an average $406, according to Travelocity. International fares are up 6%, to $916.
Would-be travelers may still find a few bargains, however, if they book at least 14-days out from departure -- the point at which carriers typically raise fares, says Kim. There may also be better pricing for flying on Christmas Day or New Year's Day, and for purchasing hotel and airfare together in one package. (Of course, truly flexible travelers will be better served by waiting until January, which is slow for travel and tends to have bigger deals, Young says.)
Below are four destinations where travel experts say they're seeing good deals during the last week of December.
Orlando may be packed with families, but South Florida tends to be quieter this time of year, Klurman says. Nightly rates at four-star Pelican Grand Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale start at $85 a night -- a 25% discount. Travelocity offers 30% off a three-night star at Tampa Bay four-star Innisbrook, which brings package prices for a flight from New York and a four-night stay as low as $369. But experts warn: December is the start of high season, so travelers may still encounter crowds -- and find that deals disappear quickly.
The island is far enough North that December temps are a bit chilly at an average 60 degrees, but visitors can still play golf and traverse the beaches and hiking trails. Through March 31, the Bermuda Department of Tourism has a deal with participating hotels to offer a third, fourth or fifth night free. CheapCaribbean.com has a three-night package of airfare from New York and lodging at four-star Fairmont Hamilton Princess for $579, a 46% discount.
Salt Lake City
Mountainside chalet rooms book for easily $1,000 this time of year, says Young, but skiers can find deals by looking a little further afield. "Salt Lake City is a half hour from all the ski slopes," he says. "You're getting a huge room and really cheap rate." The catch, of course, is that the drive may tougher amid winter storms, and eat into time on the slopes. Travelzoo has a 45% offer at the city's five-star Grand America Hotel, with reduced rates starting at $159. At Ski Utah, several upscale resorts are offering a fifth or sixth night free.
Business travel to the city drops off during the winter, says Kim, which leaves extra hotel capacity just in time for the start of whale-watching season. Rates at the four-star Loews Coronado Bay Resort start at low as $99, instead of the usual $259, and Travel-Ticker has 30% off the Hard Rock Hotel. With the promotion, rates start at $140, and travelers may get an automatic room upgrade at check-in. Several attractions, including the San Diego Zoo and Legoland, have reduced operating hours during the winter, however, and the rainy season can also dampen travel plans.