Travelers can find holiday bargains

Deals available in ‘dead zone’ time periods

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Contrary to popular belief, traveling during the middle of the holiday season may be actually the best time to find discounts.

Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, a discount travel website, said Wednesday that most travelers go on the days surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas, and companies also start cutting back on their travel budgets late in the year, so vacationing in the slower weeks between those two holidays is often the best time to find good deals on flights, hotel rooms and rental cars.

“I tell people, ‘No matter what you do, travel one of these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, if you really enjoy saving,’” Mr. Bason said. “It’s just this one sweet spot where things are emptier.”

AAA spokesman John Townsend agreed, calling this period between holidays a “dead zone.” He also said the weeks before Thanksgiving and after New Year’s Day can be slow.

“If you want to avoid the high prices, then you may want to fly in between and around Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the airlines are desperate for people,” he said. “They’ll still have these planes flying, but not enough people to fill them.”

Travelers can also get a better deal on hotels during this time.

According to Hotwire, room prices drop about 10 percent from the peak in summer to December. In popular destinations like San Diego (23 percent), San Francisco (22 percent), Riviera Maya, Mexico (20 percent), and Los Cabos, Mexico (17 percent), the discount is even greater.

“I always ask for the upgrade at the hotel, and I usually get it,” Mr. Bason explained. “The hotel is empty, so these rooms are just sitting open and you’re a paying customer, they might as well do something nice for you.”

According to the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, an estimated 84 million Americans will be hitting the road sometime during the upcoming holiday season, a 7 percent increase from last year. Although personal budgets can be tight in the struggling economy, the survey found travelers will boost their holiday travel spending this year to $65 billion, or about $773 per person, up from $659 last year, including airfare and other expenses.

Mr. Bason suggests taking this trip “in addition” to those holiday visits with friends and family, because it would be a better value than spending more money on a vacation at another point during the year, such as summer or spring break.

Mr. Bason noted that most workers have an average of 13 vacation days remaining at the end of each year, so it’s a great time to use them.

“It’s funny to me, because a lot of people have these extra days available and they’re just not taking them,” he explained. “So that’s why I say this trip in between Thanksgiving and Christmas should be in addition [to family trips.] Most people have the extra days, take them, take another trip, you’ll get a great value.”

The experts say it’s also important to book early. Mr. Townsend suggested buying tickets at least 30 days in advance, while Mr. Bason said rates start to spike after Halloween.

“Starting Halloween, these prices are going to start going up day by day,” Mr. Bason said. “I would say your deadline is before Halloween.”

This year, Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 22 and Christmas will be on a Tuesday. For the cheapest rates, Mr. Townsend recommends traveling Nov. 12-15, before Thanksgiving week, or Nov. 26-30 the following week, as well as before Christmas week on Dec. 17-21 or anytime after the first week of January.

On the other hand, the worst times to travel would be Nov. 21-25 and Dec. 22-25.

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