BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (MainStreet) -- Past the midway point of the year and with summer vacation likely booked or already spent, now's the time to be shoring up your end-of-the-year travel plans. Die-hard planners will have long gotten their start with award bookings for airlines and hotels that are likely already gobbled up for key days that include the three days between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. For those getting a later start, here are some key tips for planning your end-of-year getaways before it's too late.
Award ticket junkies
However unscientific, we find the American (Stock Quote: AMR) Advantage program to offer the best availability for award flights. It has an online booking system that's straightforward and consumer friendly. Sure, the miles on the credit card partnerships offered through Citibank (Stock Quote: C) don't add up as fast when compared with the Delta (Stock Quote: DAL) SkyMiles or Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) United (Stock Quote: UAL) cards that offer up to three miles per dollar spent on select purchases, but we found its saver awards easier to unearth, especially during the holiday period, with an online system that shows you all class categories on a single screen.
Early bird gets the deal
Virtually everyone wants to go on holiday from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2, especially those looking for a ski getaway or beach vacation. If you have the flexibility, consider traveling as early as Dec. 20 to enjoy better airline and hotel rates -- they can be 50% to 75% cheaper the week directly before Christmas. If going for snow, look to Canada for the best early season conditions, especially in Banff or Whistler. If beach-bound in early December, great deals can be had even on St. Bart's, when the island is far more enjoyable and accessible for mere financial mortals.
While most people think there's no difference in booking through sites such as Expedia (Stock Quote: EXPE) or Tablet Hotels and directly through a hotel, online booking engines are increasingly requiring more costumers to prepay hotel stays, especially during the peak holiday season. Sometimes you can avoid this by booking through hotels directly either via telephone or online, securing your holiday room with a mere credit card guarantee and charges paid upon hotel arrival. The extra legwork means you'll get the best rate now without any out-of-pocket expenses until December, with the option to cancel 72 to 24 hours before arrival depending on individual cancellation policies.