5 Destinations For 'Dark Week' Travel

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- After a full season of holiday travel, just about the last thing people want to do is book a trip and pitch themselves back into the hellscapes that are America's roads and airports.

That's too bad, since they'll be much emptier and cheaper than they were just a month ago.

These next few weeks of January and February are known as "dark weeks" in the travel industry. It's when many potential vacationers have been scared off travel by holiday trips in which 42% of travelers surveyed by TripAdvisor ( TRIP) said they expected to be stressed out by the experience. Combine that stress with the cost of those trips -- estimated at more than $1,000 per person, according to Trip Advisor and the American Express ( AXP) Spending and Savings Tracker -- and the lack of vacation days accrued by many American workers this early in the year and you get a nation content to take cover for a couple of months.

If the empty hotel rooms, vacant airports and general lack of tourists aren't enough evidence of that early year slowdown, consider the numbers. About 47 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 1 million passengers from January 2011, but still well below the 51.5 million passengers who caught holiday flights a month earlier in December and woefully shy of the 59.6 million who fly during peak season in July.

There is only one month in which travelers get around less, and the 46.4 million brave souls who hit the skies in February paid for their cheap trips in terrible weather and lengthy delays.

If travelers can shake off the holiday trauma and emerge from their winter shelters, there's a chance to save big and stretch out while no one's around. Here are just five places that make for great "dark week" travel destinations:

Costa Rica

This isn't the most expensive destination in the world during the high season, so it's no surprise it's a steal before peak spring travel season.

Travelocity is touting January airfare and hotel packages from New York for as little as $550 per person for four nights, while frozen travelers from the Chicago area can get a three-night stay for $680 and up.

Just don't expect the Costa Rica Tourism Board to lend much of a hand with promotions or deals. They know it's cold up here. They know it's a steady 81 degrees down there. They know the only reason you're not down there already is because you're recovering from the holidays. They're willing to wait.

St. Lucia

We normally wouldn't advise heading down to the Caribbean for the winter, but getting there in early January can save a lot of time and money.

St. Lucia is more of a couple's resort than a family place, especially on the island's exclusive south end. If you don't have kids in tow, it may be worth considering a three-night, $55-a-night stay at the Alize Resort Inn and Guest House with a free welcome glass of spiced rum.

The Bay Gardens Inn, meanwhile, offers $88 rooms through late March. Yes, there's still the small matter of flying down there, but prices of rooms and flights really start to take off in late February and early March.

New York's Finger Lakes

Listen, anybody who's ever trudged up to the Finger Lakes at this time of year knows why it's so cheap right now. It's cold, the weather's unpredictable and the vineyards are looking especially bare.

To adventurous souls, that just means there's plenty of wine to be drunk and rooms to be filled. The "Winter Wine Weekends" package offered by the region's various chambers of commerce offers rooms at more than a dozen hotels around the region at special rates or with the third night free. The Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars, for example, offers a two-night stay with the third night free and a free bottle of Glenora Wine and a welcome glass of sparkling wine. The deal also includes two-for-one attraction admissions, restaurant discounts and free wine tastings at participating wineries.

Even when those tastings aren't free, there's a way to keep their costs nice and modest. Though most wineries charge a $2 to $4 tasting fee, the $13 "Polar Passport" entitles holder to free flights of wine at more than 20 wineries. That's certainly one way to keep warm.

 

Las Vegas

It's between 40 and 50 degrees, the strip is dead, the pools are quiet, restaurant waits are minimal and \ out-of-town attractions such as the Grand Canyon are snowed over.

Vegas hasn't exactly been pricey since the recession, but it's even cheaper in the cold early weeks. Locals know this and hit the tourist spots en masse while everyone's away, but a savvy traveler can get in on the action, too. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, discounted rooms at the Excalibur start at $29 a night, while rates at the Stratosphere on the other end of the strip start at $32.

Still need some airfare? A flight out and two nights at Treasure Island between now and the end of February starts at $151 per person. A three-night deal at the Monte Carlo booked before Jan. 26 goes for $157. There's not much happening in Vegas around this time of year and there aren't many people staying there, either, so cash in while you can.

Walt Disney World

No, we're not kidding.

Ed Perkins at TripAdvisor's travel site SmarterTravel points out that the weeks between Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year weeks are among the lowest of the year at Disney's Orlando, Fla., sprawling complex. Rooms at "moderate" resorts average little more than $190 per night.

Rates are even lower in early January, which Walt Disney World refers to as "Value Season." This is about the only time of year you can get a room at resorts such as Disney's Pop Century or Art of Animation for $100 or less and still get free Magic Express shuttle service to and from the airport and access to Disney World's early opening hours reserved for park guests.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.