Making plans to go somewhere warm during the holidays? Whatever holiday Americans celebrate, the last two weeks of December and first week in January are no doubt the most popular time to try to get away. Even for those who don’t celebrate anything, it’s the time when children have school vacations and many corporations reduce hours or even shut down for several days.
The main problem with vacationing at the end of the year is that everyone else wants to do it. While most travel agents have some clients who book almost a year in advance to get exactly what they want, not everyone thinks that far ahead. And, in the fall, options are already very limited.
Almost daily, even into December, most travel agents get someone asking for anything from “a few days around New Year’s,” to a week’s vacation, to a two-to-three-week trip at the end of the year.
Is it doable? For some prices and some destinations, the answer is yes, but options are limited and prices are high. For those who are reading this and are feeling smug because they have tickets and accommodations in hand, kudos to you. For those who are thinking, “You mean it might be a problem for us to get away?,” here are a few tips.
1. Think warm but not necessarily hot. Other than Florida and Hawaii, it’s hard to really count on swimming pool weather. As someone who used to live in Orlando, I can recall a number of December days when the idea of a pool seemed more appropriate for a polar bear.
But if the idea is to get away from snow, Arizona, California, New Orleans and parts of Texas, for example, have temperatures usually in the 60s. Plus, they will probably be a lot less expensive.
2. If holiday dates themselves aren’t an issue, the week before Christmas is generally cheaper than the week after Christmas. Most people want to celebrate at home, then get on a plane and go somewhere. So, while procrastinators won’t get bargains, they will generally get better prices traveling as early as possible during the holiday time.
Fares tend to rise to peak levels between about the 15th to the 18th of December within the U.S, earlier for international travel; sometimes leaving just a bit early may make a big difference on the airfare, at least.
3. If you are ever going to use double miles for a frequent flier award, this might be the time. With certain destinations, accommodations aren’t what put prices into the stratosphere; it’s the airfare.
For example, at time of writing, the Big Island of Hawaii has plenty of hotels with space from December 22-29, ranging from budget hotels and condos under $200 a night up to deluxe properties like the Fairmont Orchid for $650 (with breakfast and water sports included through preferred travel agents). Plus, there are all kinds of options in between. Airfare, however, is in at least the $1,500 range.
4. Consider a cruise. These days cruises leave from so many different ports that holiday travelers may be able to get one from either a nearby port or somewhere without sky high airfares. Not leaving from Florida may mean a day or two of cooler weather out of a seven-day trip, but the savings may be worth it.
5. Pay a travel agent. Based on your budget and timing, a good travel agent may have ideas or may be able to tell you if the budget is unrealistic. (You’re not going to get the $350 airfare you got to Mexico in the middle of the summer, for example.)
While some agents will charge up front, many won’t charge unless they find something and many will do an initial short consultation for free. Others will put the fee towards the trip cost if you book. Quite frankly, unless you’re a regular, any agent willing to do a lot of research for a holiday trip with no fee probably isn’t an agent you want anyway.
6. Consider a deluxe staycation. Many upscale hotels have holiday packages and special events scheduled. Even if the weather is awful you can stay warm and cozy inside.
And while you’re enjoying the room or suite, you can look at brochures and start planning a warm weather getaway for next year.