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Travel Deals Dominate in 'Dark' January

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- It's a dark spot on the travel industry's calendar, but January's full of bright prospects for deal-seeking excursionists with excess vacation days.

Labeled "dark weeks" and "dead zones" by travel experts, much of January is marked by airports and attractions clear of holiday crowds and hotels with more vacancies than vacationers. In January 2010, for example, the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics says U.S. airlines carried 52.6 million carriers. While that's a 1.5% improvement from the previous January, it's also a steep drop from 57 million who traveled a month earlier in December 2009 and well south of the 64 million to 68 million passengers who fly during the summer peak months.

January travel is an expensive way to dodge the miseries of air travel resulting from overbooked flights at holiday time.

"While the weather may be chilly, travelers can often find decent airfares and fewer crowds when taking a trip in January, since it falls after the holiday rush and before spring break season," says Jami Counter, senior director of TripAdvisor Flightz. "One holiday to keep in mind is Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 17th, which makes for a busier weekend since many travelers have the day off and often take a quick getaway for the long weekend."

The King holiday and such events as the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and the X Games in Aspen, Colo., aside, SmarterTravel editor Anne Banas notes that holiday travel, spending fatigue and unaccrued or otherwise unavailable vacation days help keep travel to a minimum around this time of year. If you're one of the fortunate few who wasn't stung by holiday shopping and doesn't have to skimp on days off, TheStreet found many last-minute travel deals to help brighten this dark month:

Airfare: Heather Green, a spokeswoman for FareCompare.com, notes that the first two weeks in December -- sandwiched between two high-traffic holidays -- tend to be another travel "dead zone" and provide a decent barometer for January deals.

"Tickets from Los Angeles to New York during the second week of December were $249 round trip," Green says. "The price for the same trip a couple of weeks later was $440 and up. But in January it drops down again to $249."
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