For much of the United States, winter is a dark season of naked trees, stinging cold and a bulging waistline. (You have to keep warm somehow, and an alternating schedule of hibernation and gorging seems to accomplish this satisfactorily). But here's another option. What if you fled your winter woes to a place where the climate is balmy, the sun is sparkling and the branches still wear their green leaves? Well, you can. We contacted experts at Hotwire.com and Getaroom.com for advice on the best places to break away from winter without breaking the bank.
Keep in mind that these bargain destinations are not so bargain-basement during holidays like Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day.
According to Bob Diener of Getaroom.com, Las Vegas is America's No. 1 wintertime bargain destination. Room rates for some of the city's best hotels huddle right around $200 a night, and if you're willing to settle for off-Strip accommodations, you'll find that these prices are even more reasonable. According to Expedia.com's Trend Tracker, travelers who flew from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Las Vegas (LAS) purchased one-way flights for less than $150 for much of January and early February in 2011. Plus, high average temperatures range from the high 50s to the low 60s, giving you the perfect climate for casino hopping.
Where to Spend Your Savings: The tame-at-heart can take a peaceful gondola ride at the Venetian, while the wild-at-heart can throw their hands up on a thrill ride at the Stratosphere.
Puerto Rico is another tropical getaway you can visit for a steal. According to Hotwire.com, you can enjoy temperatures in the 80s for an average room rate of $105 a night. Plus, some of PR's best things to do are its beaches -- Carolina and Condado to name a couple -- and they don't cost a thing. So, leave the frigid climate behind and head to the pulsating nightlife of San Juan and relaxing strips of sand like Sun Bay.
Where to Spend Your Savings: Hand over your green on Calle del Cristo, where you can purchase everything from local art to kitschy souvenirs.
Orlando -- the ultimate city for amusement-park fun -- is another excellent setting for a budget wintertime vacation. And the months between December and February yield high average temperatures in the low 70s. As for flights, Expedia.com's Trend Tracker shows that in 2010, trips from New York's LaGuardia (LGA) to Orlando (MCO) cost less than $200 in late January, late February and early December. If you're looking to save money, then you absolutely shouldn't book a vacation over Christmas, New Year's or Valentine's Day since hotel prices skyrocket.
"No Woman, No Cry," because Jamaica is calling. Hotwire.com reports that through December, hotel rates are down by 6 percent with an average nightly rate costing $169. But a winter vacation to Bob Marley's stomping grounds could make you shed tears of joy, since temperatures hover between the upper 80s. In other words, you can hike the Blue Mountains or relax on Jamaica's warm sands without your puffy coat.
Where to Spend Your Savings: Golfers should head to the popular White Witch Golf Club in Montego Bay while those with a slightly more adventurous spirit should visit the Dunn's River Falls & Park in Ocho Rios.
We know, we know: Winter is peak tourism season in Miami Beach, so you're thinking that it's not exactly the best time for bargain travelers. Miami Beach's 70-degree temperatures seem to lure the globe's glamorous (and affluent) to its swanky clubs and shining shores. But Getaroom.com's Bob Diener says that there are deals to be had, though you'll need to travel smart. To conserve your cash, he recommends booking a boutique hotel a block or two from the hip strips of Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue and Ocean Drive. Nearby Sunny Isles and North Beach are other cost-effective options. By steering clear of accommodations in the main tourist areas, you'll be able to enjoy peak season in Miami Beach without a touch of buyer's remorse.
Where to Spend Your Savings: Stop by Lincoln Road Mall and swipe your credit card at stores like Anthropologie, French Connection and Pottery Barn.
Los Cabos, Mexico (home to Cabo San Lucas) is another place to score some savings in December. Hotwire.com reports that hotel rates are down by 15 percent with an average nightly rate costing $112. Not too shabby, especially when you consider what you're getting in return: Average high temperatures nearing 80 degrees and the prime time to watch whales crest the waves. But book soon: Winter is also high season on this strip of Mexico.
Arid Phoenix enjoys wintertime highs in the 60s, which is quite a relief after her 100-plus-degree days in the summer. Although the months between November and April are the high season, budget travelers can still find some price breaks. Try to make your reservation in the magic bookings window, which Bob Diener says is at least three to four weeks before you plan to travel. As for plane fare, Expedia.com's Trend Tracker shows that in 2010, Los Angeles (LAX) to Phoenix (PHX) travelers scored plane tickets for about $150 in the last half of January and in the first half of February.
Where to Spend Your Savings: Relax your shoulders (stuck in a perpetual hunch against the winter cold) with some soothing treatments at The Phoenician's spa.
Take your pretty mama to the Bahamas in December and you could see hotel rates as much as 27 percent lower than their usual prices, with an average nightly rate costing $112, according to Hotwire.com. Your hearts will be warmed by all these savings, just as your skin will be flushed by the sun. Average wintertime temperatures in the Bahamas range from the mid-60s to the upper 70s. So pack your shorts and sundresses, and book a trip to one of The Beach Boys' favorite places.
Where to Spend Your Savings: Swim with the dolphins at The Dolphin Experience on Grand Bahama Island. If paddling alongside these marine mammals isn't your idea of fun, then you can instead burn some cash at the Port Lucaya Marketplace.
Although it doesn't have Miami Beach's bumping bar scene, Fort Lauderdale is an excellent choice for wintertime traveling. The weather is beautiful with average high temperatures in the mid-70s, and the room rates are très belle as well. Bob Diener of Getaroom.com says that many hotels across the country are now posting deals for vacationers who stay longer: Sometimes booking three to four nights rather than the typical one to two can save you an unbelievable 20 percent on your entire hotel bill.
Where to Spend Your Savings: Shop and eat at the Las Olas outdoor mall: Many of the stores are boutiques -- filled with interesting finds -- and the dozens of dining establishments serve everything from Japanese to Italian cuisine.
The Dominican Republic is your best bet for an international warm-weather vacation on the cheap. According to Hotwire.com, December hotel rates have been slashed 60 percent off their normal prices with an average nightly stay costing a mere $83. And the weather is just about perfect: One of the main resort towns, Punta Cana, sees temperatures in the 80s. Puerto Plata is almost as warm, with temperatures fluctuating around (but sometimes falling just short of) the 80s.
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