Now that the obligatory holiday trips to see family have wrapped up, consumers hoping for a more leisurely getaway may want to keep their suitcases handy. Experts say the travel deals available in early January are often some of the best offered all year. And this sale season, lower-than-usual snowfall in many parts of the country has added a few peak-winter destinations to the mix.
In general, travelers can expect to pay more for air fare and hotel stays this year. Average daily rates for U.S. hotels rose 4.2 percent in 2012, to an average $106.23 in November, according to Smith Travel Research. Domestic air fare increased 4.5 percent, adding from $2 to $10 per trip on round-trip flights, reports FareCompare.com.
And forecasts suggest more of the same this year. Part of the rise comes from economic recovery, but higher air fare also resulted from airlines cutting back schedules to fly fuller planes and maximize their profits, says Gabe Saglie, a senior editor for deal site Travelzoo.com. Hotels have been able to offer less-generous discounts.
Travelers booking in January -- whether for last-minute getaways or a trip later in the year -- may be able to score deals that negate those rising prices and then some. "The first two weeks of the year tend to be a great time for bargains," says Anne Banas, executive editor for advice site SmarterTravel.com. "These are some of the best travel deals of the year."
Many of the offers are for travel by February, but some extend well into the fall. Travelers should also read the details for restrictions like minimum-stay requirements, or higher holiday-weekend rates. Packages that combine air and hotel or other components packages can also be a great deal, but it's still worth crunching the numbers, she says. Some offer a range of extras (like ski lessons or fancy on-site dinners) that, if unneeded, may make the total tab higher than it would be if each element were purchased separately.
In particular, experts say, travelers should look for deals in these seven destinations:
The Caribbean and Bahamas
The islands are a popular holiday destination, "but now everyone is back to work," says Kari Dilloo, a spokeswoman for Bing Travel. That creates softer pricing until demand picks up in March for spring break travel. Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas, for example, currently has rates as low as $65 per person per night for a family of four, savings of up to 50 percent off regular rates. The deal also includes air fare credits of $200 to $300 depending on the length of stay, free meals for kids age 12 and younger and a deal pass for free appetizers and drinks at various resort restaurants.
The so-called Wave Season -- when many lines offer their best deals -- kicked in Jan. 1. "For anybody who's looking to cruise last minute in January 2013 -- or booking six, even 12, months out -- January is the time to start scoping the deals," Saglie says. Alaska especially is seeing more competitive deals this year with both Princess and Celebrity adding ships there, he says. (Look for a May or September shoulder-season sailing to maximize savings.) Norwegian has rates as low as $449 per person on select May and June cruises from Whittier to Vancouver, a savings of 40 percent.