CHEAP WINTER VACATIONS
It's already been a taxing winter for many Americans, and when temperatures drop and snow blankets parts of the country, they'll want to satisfy a vitamin D craving on the cheap by hopping a plane to a domestic destination, or perhaps a Caribbean island. For an all-inclusive package that covers flight, accommodation, meals, and drinks, book through a vacation deal site such as Cheap Caribbean or BookIt. Their seasonal discounts and last-minute sales can reduce already affordable packages to well under $200 a night. Best of all, there's no need to spend another cent while on vacation. The prices mentioned here were found in mid-December and may change as the season progresses.
Forget the beach — set your sights on the desert. With so much competition on and off the Las Vegas Strip, a 4-star hotel can be booked for under $100 a night. Along with lower room rates, visitors can enjoy a quieter scene: There are fewer rowdy groups when pool-party spots and some nightclubs have closed for the season.
One of the best times to meet Mickey Mouse is during the winter. Do a Disney vacation in January or February and shorter lines aren't the only benefit. A greater variety of affordable hotel and food options can be found, too. Visitors can take advantage of lower prices at the Disney Resort hotels during their "value season." Visitors generally get some of the best bargains on tickets and accommodations from mid-January to early March, with the exception of holiday weekends.
Arizona boasts winter temperatures mild enough for camping, hiking, and biking — not to mention amazing landscapes. A search on Google Flights generated round trips under $230 from New York and New Orleans, and under $150 from San Francisco in January and February. Pair that with a vacation rental for a very affordable winter getaway. Airbnb lists more than 300 Phoenix homes and apartments priced under $100 a night.
Go for the live jazz, Hurricane drinks, or the culinary scene in New Orleans. There's always a lot to do. For those willing to brave the raucous crowds on Bourbon Street, the next Mardi Gras is March 5. A flight south in the winter is relatively inexpensive, with round trips starting at just over $100 from New York and $257 from San Francisco.
At other times of the year, Austin is brutally hot and overrun by festival-goers. In the winter, the temperature is mild enough for a light jacket and the barbecue is just as good. Take a dip in the Barton Springs Pool (warm year-round), hike up Mount Bonnell, bike around Lady Bird Lake, and eat as much beef and Tex-Mex as you can stand before flying home. Google Flights shows round-trip fares from New York for as low as $233 and $227 from San Francisco in January and February.
This is a go-to spot for many vacationers, and the sheer number of resorts and flights helps keep prices low. Google Flights turns up round-trip airfare as cheap as $256 from New York in January and $222 in February. Fares drop are even a bit lower when flying from farther south, such as Miami. Escape the hotel crowds and take in the views from Playa Delfines (Dolphin Beach), hop on a glass-bottom boat to the Cancun Underwater Museum, or take a bus to Tulum to tour the Mayan ruins.
For a more unconventional vacation, try South America. Round-trip flights to Cartagena start at just over $300 from New York and under $200 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Vacation budgeting site Price of Travel calls this Colombian city "probably the best bargain in the Caribbean" for hotels. Cartagena's walled old-town area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the white sand of nearby Playa Blanca beckons.
At the tip of Florida, Miami enjoys balmy temperatures in the mid-70s and 80s during the winter. Visit the plentiful art galleries, stroll through Little Havana, and explore downtown. A trip to Miami in the winter costs significantly less. Round-trip flights start at under $200 from New York, just under $250 from San Francisco, and around $200 from Chicago, according to Google Flights.
With mild temperatures in the 70s during the winter, San Diego is a great destination to consider for a laid-back vacation, especially for families. There is plenty to do besides strolling along the beautiful beaches, such as visiting the art museums, Balboa Park, and the USS Midway. Google Flights shows a round-trip fare of $276 from New York in January and February, while flights from Houston start at just $108.
SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
The Dominican Republic has always been a Caribbean vacation favorite. This year, consider visiting the capital city of Santo Domingo in lieu of a beach resort. Must-sees include the first cathedral in the Americas and the area Christopher Columbus first set foot. Google Flights shows the lowest fares in January and early February, such as a $285 round-trip from New York; $325 from Chicago in February; $340 from Houston in February; and $412 from Los Angeles in February.
The Bahamas has always been a staple for quick beach getaways, and East Coast travelers looking for bargains will fare well, so to speak. Flights from New York City to Nassau start around $350 in late January, with prices from other cities on the East Coast rising a bit — Boston checks in at $362. Midwesterners can fly out of Chicago for $379. Visitors to the Bahamas can also save big with inexpensive home stays. Airbnb showed numerous private homes and rooms for $50 to $100 a night in Nassau.
MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA
Most of the Caribbean is a madhouse in the first few weeks of January. Wait until later in the month, when prices drop to high season from peak season, which pays off in Jamaica's Montego Bay. The destination is already competitively priced, because of the regularity of flights in and out, and it's a popular place for package offers. CheapCaribbean has been offering all-inclusive, four- and five-night packages (including airfare) for under $800 a person, with some under $700.
Famous for its ornate antebellum architecture and cobblestoned historic district, Savannah is also a comfortably temperate destination in winter, making this perhaps a better time to visit then the humid summer months. Walk manicured streets and parks lined by oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, visit the Historic District's Forsyth Park, explore Bonaventure Cemetery and its sculpture garden, and stroll along River Street in the Waterfront District, running parallel to the Savannah River. Three-star hotels can be found for less than $100 a night.
BONITA SPRINGS, FLORIDA
Sleepy and laid-back, Bonita Springs offers pristine beaches without big crowds and a convenient jumping-off point for exploring nearby Captiva and Sanibel islands (Sanibel is known as the "shelling capital of the Western world"). Bonita Springs is also the home of the popular Barefoot Beach Preserve for gopher tortoises. Three-star hotels can be less than $150 a night, but because this is a smaller community, the best deals can be found through property rental sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
Nearly every day there's an announcement about hotels reopening since Hurricane Maria, including the legendary Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, and the iconic El San Juan Hotel on Isla Verde Beach. JetBlue has also resumed pre-hurricane levels of service, making it an ideal time to show your support for this Caribbean U.S. territory. Flights from New York start at $205 in January and February, and flights from Chicago start at around $260.