Originally created 11/30/97

Many holiday bargains still available for smart travelers



If you're a frequent traveler, you know it as a "blackout period." Between Dec. 23 and Jan. 5, your frequent-flier miles are essentially worthless and all the "hot" vacation spots are apparently sold out.

No travel bargains this time of year, right?

Wrong, says Christopher DeSessa, a certified travel counselor and assistant professor of travel-tourism management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

"Contrary to popular myth, you can find good travel deals and make last-minute travel arrangements to desirable destinations during the holiday season - provided you're willing to be flexible with your travel schedule and keep an open mind," he says.

If stretching your travel budget is your top priority, Mr. DeSessa says, now is the time to start looking for discounts.

"Around Thanksgiving, the airlines have a better sense of which flights are selling well and which are not," Mr. DeSessa says. "Then they lower the fares to those destinations accordingly."

But if you're determined to ski the Rockies or bask on a Caribbean beach, be prepared to pay full price. And, Mr. DeSessa says, give your travel agent four or five destination and departure options.

"The least productive thing you can do is call your travel agent and say, "I want to go to such-and-such a place on this date and depart at this specific time.' That approach may be fine at other times of the year, but during the holiday season it will just leave both of you frustrated with the results," he says.

To assist you in your search for a worthwhile holiday trip, Mr. DeSessa offers these tips:

  • Be a holiday traveler. You're likely to find a better selection of available flights and reasonable fares to most destinations if you fly on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
  • Think spring. Or, at least, springlike weather. December and early January are considered the off-season for tourism to places such as Bermuda and Phoenix, yet the weather is perfect for golfing, tennis and sightseeing, with average daytime temperatures of 65-70 degrees.
  • Pop across the pond. Dec. 26 marks the beginning of the low season for travel to Europe, making this the ideal time of year to enjoy Europe's museums, theaters, shopping and sightseeing at significantly lower room rates and airfares.
  • Let the good times roll. Pick a city that might not be your first choice for a December vacation. New Orleans, though warmer than most other U.S. cities in December, tends to have rooms available during the Christmas season because so many visitors plan their trips for Mardi Gras in February.
  • Charter your course. If your heart is set on a trip to the Caribbean, your best bet for finding flights and accommodations over the holidays is to book a chartered trip.
  • Go for the cold. Value-priced vacations with fun for the whole family can be found in destinations traditionally considered to be summer vacation spots. For instance, the Black Wolf Lodge in the Wisconsin Dells, Wis., region offers mid-week packages that are 40 percent lower than the summer season.
  • Opt for a January thaw. The space between the December and February school vacation weeks creates a "lull" in vacation travel during the first three weeks of January.