Winter is all fun and games, until reality hits and you have to scrape the snow off your car, shovel the sidewalks, pay the heating bill, drive on the ice—and you have to come to grips with the fact that you only see the sun for a few hours a day. I don’t know about you, but we are only a few weeks into the new year and I am already dreaming of summer.
There isn’t much I can do to move time forward to the days of grilling outside in shorts and flipflops, but I can lessen the winter blues with a quick and relatively inexpensive getaway vacation. Here are a few tips and strategies you can use to plan a vacation that doesn’t break the bank when you need it the most—in the dead of winter.
1. Keep an eye out for “off season” locations.
For example, in just a couple of weeks, I will be going to Las Vegas. It isn’t the high season for traveling there, which has made my airfare and hotel expenses rather cheap. I just booked a great room with a view of the famous strip at Mandalay Bay for about half what it usually costs. Alternatively, don’t schedule a winter getaway to Daytona Beach in March…unless, of course, you are a college student on spring break.
2. Try smaller or secondary airports.
Secondary airports often have cheaper flights, as airlines pay less to schedule flights in and out of those airports. This is especially true for airports that used to be major airline hubs. For example, Pittsburgh used to be a major hub for US Airways. Since it is no longer a hub, Pittsburgh’s very large airport is mostly empty. I have found that airfares out of Pittsburgh tend to be the cheapest in the Midwest.
3. Discount and smaller airlines with great rates may not show up in airline search engines.
Use the airline’s own website. For example, a recent search on Travelocity for flights from Boston, MA, to Charlotte, NC, yielded plenty of choices from American, Delta, and United Airlines, but none from Southwest. For domestic flights, Southwest can be one of the cheapest airlines, but on most major travel websites, Southwest will not appear. In fact, the search I just ran only returned one flight option that wasn’t from those three airlines. It was with JetBlue and it was more expensive than the options on JetBlue’s website.
4. Consider alternatives to hotels.
My favorite alternative is Airbnb, which lets users rent out space—everything from a spare room to a whole house. Prices tend to be rather reasonable. For example, you can rent a whole apartment in a high rise with a great view in Dallas, Texas for less than $100 a night. I especially like using Airbnb in overseas locations, as it puts you right in with the locals rather than in a tourist area. My wife and I once got a whole house within walking distance of an empty beach in the Dominican Republic for about $70 a night.
5. Try flying standby.
Not overly concerned when or where your go? If you try this approach, I actually recommend going to a larger airport with as many flights as possible a day. The idea here is get onto a plane when there are empty seats. Airlines view their seats as perishable goods. As soon as the plane leaves the gate, an empty seat is revenue that is lost forever. When boarding, if there are any empty seats, the airlines will sell them for far below market value. But, this comes with risks. If you are traveling in a group, you may not sit next to each other…or be on the same flight at all. You may also end up spending a lot of time at an airport waiting for a flight with room. You also may have trouble getting back home. I once was flying standby back to Cleveland from Dallas. An earlier flight was cancelled, so all the empty seats for that route were filled up with people from that flight. I ended up having to fly to Chicago first before I found a flight home.
There is nothing quite like a quick getaway in the winter. Even if you live in a warmer area of the country, it is nice to escape for a few days. Don’t let your vacation planning be stressful or expensive. Try a few tips above, or share some tips you have discovered along the way in the comments below.