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9 Last-Minute Deal Destinations

During a week of crowded airports and passive-aggressive battles over the airplane seat armrest, the last thing most Americans want to think about is another trip. Chances are, your Thanksgiving trip home is far from a vacation.

But for a savvy traveler, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas represent the best time of the year to travel -- both domestic and international -- as airlines, hotels and cruise lines scramble to attract customers in this dead period between the holidays. Many of the deals offer the best pricing we see all year. With Thanksgiving coming as early as possible this year, there’s even more of a window to get a last-minute deal on a spontaneous vacation.

Here are nine places to find a deal Nov. 22 - Dec. 25:

Flights

Anyone who’s been shopping for Thanksgiving flights knows that bargains are few and far between. But this busy travel week serves to compress a lot of demand into a short time span, and leaves plenty of availability and low fares in the weeks directly following the holiday. That, coupled with less business travel and conventions between the holidays means deals are out there for the taking. You can use a fare calendar tool to find the best dates to fly or keep an eye on domestic airfare sales. Our research has found that fares start to climb for Christmas after Dec. 15, so keep that in mind when planning your return trip.

Las Vegas

A 4-star Las Vegas hotel on The Strip for under $100 a night on the weekend? The odds on this kind of jackpot are generally about as good as the Cubs winning the World Series, but we’re seeing Las Vegas hotel deals like this one in Sin City between the holidays. Fewer people at the slots leads to fewer people in the shows and restaurants, so you can also score entertainment deals in Las Vegas during this time. The closer you get to Christmas, the lower the room rates go. These deals tend to last until Dec. 28 or so, when the New Year’s Eve party crowd comes to town.

Orlando

Anyone who’s tried to plan a post-Christmas family trip to Orlando knows how expensive this destination can get. But you can stay for as much as 70% off if you travel before Christmas instead of after. We’re finding Orlando hotel deals near Disney and other popular theme parks, with the caveat that the clock strikes midnight on these deals around Dec. 20. Don’t get left with the glass slipper.

Cruises

What floats your boat? Options for last-minute cruise deals are plentiful in the weeks between the holidays -- with some even leaving as soon as Thanksgiving weekend. We’ve seen great deals on sailings to the Caribbean, Bermuda – and for the intrepid traveler, the Mediterranean. Look for booking incentives such as cabin upgrades, onboard credits and more to sweeten the deal.

Hawaii

Once Santa arrives, the rates at resorts on the islands go through the roof. Score Hawaii hotel deals now with a little flexibility. We’ve seen deals across the islands -- not just in Oahu, so make sure to include Maui, Kauai and the Big Island in your plans. Much like a trip to Orlando, planning a Hawaii vacation the weeks before Christmas will save 50% or more versus the weeks after the holiday. This way, you’ll have a tan to brag about as your family opens their presents of Hawaiian shirts and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

Ski Resorts

Many ski resorts open the slopes in time for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but many skiers don’t take advantage of the early start and wait until the calendar officially turns to winter to strap on the skis. Their loss is a smart traveler’s gain -- as resorts often offer pricing that’s half the cost of peak-season rates for these weeks of early-season skiing. We’ve seen deals from Tahoe to Tremblant to Telluride to The Canyons for luxe lodging, often at slopeside resorts. Fewer skiers means better deals, and less-crowded slopes.

Caribbean

With hurricane season put to bed, now is one of the best times to seek out sun and sand at some of the best deals of the year. Find Caribbean vacation deals Nov. 26 - Dec. 20 for the best deals, and pack your sunscreen. If this travel window isn’t feasible, you’ll have one more shot before winter pricing hits its peak. Early January also often offers good deals, as most travel budgets are in a holiday hangover.

Europe

Thanksgiving is the one time of the year when it’s cheaper to get to Paris, France, than it is to get home to Paris, Texas. Take advantage of these Europe airfare deals for last-minute travel, and spend early December strolling through Christmas markets and doing your holiday shopping on some of the world’s most-famous rues and avenues. With the dollar’s relative strength versus the Euro, you’ll be able to bring home an extra present or two. Make sure to return by Dec. 15 -- we’re seeing prices jump considerably for transatlantic flights after that point.

Big Cities

The exact dates will depend on the city, but most major cities in the U.S. actually see fewer travelers during the holiday period due to the drop in business travel. There are some exceptions -- for example, hotels in the Big Apple command some of their highest rates of the year Dec. 1-15. But you can even score a hotel deal in New York City, if you are flexible with your dates. Room rates in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and other cities are aggressively priced throughout the holiday period. You can also look for Local Deals in the town you’re visiting, allowing you to stretch that shopping budget while you take in holiday lights, window displays and the energy of the holidays somewhere new.

Happy travels!

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Tips by
Andrew

Deal Expert, New York
Monday, November 19, 2012
See more Tips from
Andrew Young