Editors' pick: Originally published Feb. 9.
Roughly 52 million passengers took trips aboard U.S. airlines last January, according to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation statistics. That's up almost 3 million passengers from January 2013, but still well below the 57.9 million passengers who caught holiday flights a month earlier in December and not close to the 66.1 million who fly during peak season in July. The only month when folks travel less is February, with a scant 51 million passengers putting up with foul weather and delays during that month. That's why you can slip in and nab some deals.
The folks at travel site Hopper have been charting average airfares throughout the season and, despite "dark weeks in early December, average airfare in the U.S. still hovered between $215 and $220." January is where the holiday travel price hikes comes to an end.
"The good news is that the best flight prices of the year are right around the corner," says Hopper data scientist Patrick Surry. "Historically, flight prices bottom just after the holidays in January at $211 round-trip."
Rick Seaney, chief executive at FareCompare.com, notes that setting airfare alerts, buying tickets between 3 months and 30 days before departure, comparing fares, flying on the cheapest days (typically Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday) or flying into or out of an airport an hour or so away rather than from the more closely-located hub can reduce off-peak travel costs even further. Packing light, avoiding baggage fees and staying with friends or relatives can also keep costs down, but so can paying attention to the calendar. With help from the folks at travel sites SmarterTravel, Airfare Watchdog and TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, we took a peek at some of the best and least-costly winter travel destinations in the world. If you have a passport and and an open mind, here are some of the spots that beckon now:
That it's warm goes without saying. You're getting winter temperatures in the 70s and 80s and a beachfront location where you can soak in the sun, play some golf or rocket to the top of the Burj Khalifa -- the tallest building in the world. No, it typically isn't cheap -- as monuments to capitalism usually aren't -- but Emirates has just started offering trips from Dubai to Fort Lauderdale starting December 15. That's important, since it already offers 11 daily flight routes from the U.S. including non-stop departures from Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. The new route should help push prices down a bit, but average winter round-trip fares are already $683 from Los Angeles and $602 from New York City area airports.
Dallas has lovely temperatures in the 50s and 60s this time of year (that gets above 100 by midsummer). It's a good time to go on the public art walk, see the Arboretum, visit Klyde Warren Park or enjoy Dallas Blooms (which runs from February through April). Also, it's dirt cheap around this time of year. Round-trip airfares are available for less than $200 from New York and Los Angeles, average hotel rates are just above $120 and a vacation rental at a two-bedroom property is roughly $1,000 a week. Come here after the Cotton Bowl, and all of that should be readily available.
It's not just where your surly uncle thinks President Obama was born.
It's a sprawling, gorgeous country that is best enjoyed during the winter dry season. The big draw around this time of year is the wildlife, which congregates around water, gives birth around this time of year and is abundant in more than 40 national parks and game reserves. Safari tours start around $1,100 for an eight-day trip, but enjoying temperatures in the high 80s while diving in the Indian Ocean may be more your speed. Airfarewatchdog says round-trip flights to Nairobi from New York or Los Angeles start at $784 rand $853, respectively.
It sometimes feels as if the majority of the year is this town's offseason. Fall is cheap, winter before and after the holidays (and even during, depending on the hotel) is cheap, summer can be incredibly cheap.
In winter, however, you can get there from L.A. for $100 round-trip. Even flights from New York go for $200. The MGM Grand, Monte Carlo and Palms are around or under $150 per night in January and February, but are even cheaper during the week, while a two-bedroom vacation rental is a bit more costly at $1,500. Just don't expect warmth: it's in the 50s, the pools are closed and J-Lo, Bon Jovi, Cher and Bruno Mars will be relying on you to come in and warm up during their winter residencies.
A gorgeous island chain off the coast of Africa and 750 miles from Libon, Madeira has quaint old villages, ample wine and lush, near-tropical landscapes.
What it doesn't have is near-tropical temperatures. There's a reason why round-trip airfare from Boston starts at less than $500 and below $600 from Miami in February -- with connecting flights to Madeira's capital, Funchal, starting at just $32 one way. It's going to be in the 60s, which is fairly chilly for this island chain. As a result, vacation rental prices put the average two-bedroom at less than $650 per week, while four- and five-star hotels generally cost less than $100 per night. You can use the wine as a warmer, but it may be in your interest to check out the at gardens, castles, golf courses, forts, lagoons, casinos and nightclubs as well.
The Cavaliers parade is long over, Indians fans are still wondering how a 3-1 series lead isn't safe and the lake-effect snow is about to have its way with the city. Sure, why wouldn't this be a lovely time to visit a town that wouldn't even be considered the vacation capital of its own state?
We had our doubts when SmarterTravel suggested it, but we can't argue with the pricing. Flights from the East Coast start at $100 round-trip, with West Coast cities starting at $400 round-trip. Most three- and four- star hotels cost less than $150 per night, while the city's brand new Kimpton Schofield Hotel offers rooms at $199 per night in February. Meanwhile, the Cavs are playing, the Cleveland Museum of Art and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are indoors and the January Cleveland Winter Beerfest, February Brite Winter events and March Ice Wine Festival all warm the city's frostbitten heart.
A gorgeous place to be in most any season, but particularly lovely when snow lines the canals.
It's a bit harder to bike around and the tulips are quite dead, but this is a great town for cold weather. The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum are in close proximity, the film museum at the park encourages indoor lingering, the canal cruise ships are enclosed, the ice rinks in town are open and the cinemas, pancake shops, breweries, coffee houses (both actual and marijuana-scented) all welcome you. Getting here doesn't get cheaper, either. At $408 from New York and $519 from Los Angeles during winter months, the 45% discount at The Dylan hotel and the $180 rooms at the canal-side Hilton Amsterdam are quite appealing.
Why Cheyenne? Well, because you'd never ask that question about Denver, Aspen, Vail or Breckenridge in winter, and it's only about 100 miles away.
No, you don't get a lot of downhill skilling here, but cross country skiing, ice fishing, fat-tire biking and ice boating are all abundant here. Oh, and Curt Gowdy State Park and Medicine Bow National Forest aren't teeming with tourists. It's also ridiculously cheap to reach: below $200 round-trip from both Los Angeles and New York City, and as low as $39 one-way on Spirit from Los Angeles in February.
Everyone should go here in winter once.
Quebec City lives for the winter. Its Winter Carnival includes snow baths, night parades, snow slides, ice sculptures, sleigh rides and skating -- with no cost of admission. Mount-Tremblant is right nearby for skiing, but spending a day at the Carnival and a night eating poutine, drinking coffee and going to shows or cinemas is idea. Check out the Citadel, Notre-Dame Basilica or the Quartier Petit-Champlain shopping district for a taste of Europe in North America. However, also enjoy the fact that you're getting what feels like a European vacation for $300 round-trip from New York City and $400 from Los Angeles. The exchange rate is working in your favor, and Bed-and-breakfasts with nightly rates starting at $55 make that clear.
Surely there has to be a better time to visit Cork and Kerry, right? Not necessarily.
You're talking about places where the weather ranges from grey to putrid with brief stretches of brilliant sunshine that all your American tourist plans couldn't catch if they tried. Instead, outsmart yourself and go when you absolutely know it will be miserable. You won't get blue skies and kelly green fields, but you'll get a lack of tourists and a deep discount. It'll run you about $600 round-trip from New York and $850 from Los Angeles, but a two-bedroom vacation rental in either Cork or Kerry averages about $450 a week. If you'd rather stay in a hotel, prices are about 35% off peak. We'd tell you to take a drive or head to Killarney National Park, but keep that brief. You'll want to get a warm spot at the pub.