Waikiki Beach on Oahu. Traffic to Hawaii drops between the December holidays… (Ron Garnett )
Now that the obligatory holiday trips to see family are in the books, consumers hoping for a more leisurely getaway may want to keep their suitcases handy. Experts say the travel deals available in January are often some of the best all year.
That's important because travelers can expect to pay more for airfare and hotel stays this year. Average daily rates for U.S. hotels increased 4.2% in 2012, to an average $106.23 in November, according to Smith Travel Research. Domestic airfare increased 4.5%.
Forecasts suggest more of the same this year. Part of the increase comes from economic recovery, but higher airfare 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.
Travelers booking this month — whether for last-minute getaways or a trip later in the year — may be able to score deals that negate those increases.
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 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:
Cruises: The Wave Season, which began Jan. 1, offers some of the best deals of the year. "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 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, Alaska, to Vancouver, a savings of 40%.
Iceland: "Iceland is not top of everyone's mind in the winter," says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel. But there are plenty of winter attractions, including hot springs and prime Northern Lights viewing. Some of the most attractive deals stem from airline Iceland Air. Its Northern Lights Escape package, which starts at $953 per person, includes round-trip airfare from New York, Boston or Washington, D.C., as well as four nights' hotel, breakfasts, intra-Iceland air and bus travel, a Northern Lights tour and entry costs to other attractions. Depending on travel dates, just the flight might cost you that much, she says. (Iceland Air does not serve LAX.) The package is available until April 26. Info: http://www.lat.ms/13n8Ucx.
New York City: Prices fall off dramatically in January. Typical December hotel rates run $300 to $500 a night, with peak weekends sold out; in January, it's easy to spend less than $100, Saglie says. Even higher-end properties come in at under $200 per night. The four-star St. Giles Hotel, for example, has January rates as low as $169 for a king at the Court (39th and Lexington Avenue) and $239 for a studio at the Tuscany (39th Street between Park and Lexington avenues). Upscale Hotel Mela in Times Square is up to 40% off, with starting rates of $140, not including taxes.
Hawaii: Traffic to Hawaii drops between the December holidays and spring break in March, so you may find deals on airfare and accommodations. Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club on Kauai at Poipu has two-bedroom villas for as little as $480 per night, a 40% discount, through the end of February.
Ireland: Irish tourism groups have dubbed 2013 "The Gathering," and a main focus of the yearlong celebration is enticing travelers of Irish heritage to visit, says Saglie. "We're seeing already some very aggressive packages, even from tour companies that don't usually specialize in Irish travel," he says. That helps undercut rising airfares, even during the peak summer season. Great Value Vacations (www.greatvaluevacations.com) has a seven-night hotel, air and car rental package called the Irish Countryside that is listed at about $1,300 per person in April. It includes round-trip airfare from LAX, seven nights' hotel and a car.