Escape the cold realities of winter and take a vacation ... for a bargain-basement price. From hot spots like Mexico and biodiverse Ecuador to the bright lights of big cities like New York and Budapest, these destinations offer a welcome change of pace from the cold and dreary grind.
I've monitored trends, industry news, and sale patterns to point you in the direction of places that offer the best bargain values for the coming season. Below you'll find examples of deals presently available for winter trips. Like all deals, these are sure to expire; however, a little exploration on your part can yield similar results when you're ready to book.
Charleston, South Carolina
This genteel Southern city of romantic B&Bs, antebellum homes, and historical sites is a go-to spot in winter, when the warm-weather crowds are gone and the air remains relatively temperate (in February, highs often reach into the 60s).
Recently named one of the South's "great eating towns" by the New York Times, Charleston hosts its Restaurant Week from January 8 through 19. Indulge in affordably priced fare (three courses for $40) at a number of highly rated restaurants, including the Peninsula Grill at the Relais & Chateaux Planters Inn. Along with Restaurant Week-themed hotel packages available through the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, several properties are offering inexpensive nightly rates throughout the winter. We uncovered midweek rates for less than $250 per night, even at four- and five-star properties, so check discount sites like Tingo and Orbitz for up-to-the-minute rates.
And for savings beyond restaurants, peruse a list of coupons on the Charleston CVB website, where budget-minded travelers can find dining and admissions discounts at attractions throughout the city all winter long.
In 2013, Budapest earned a spot on our list of Europe's Most Affordable Cities, and for good reason: With a favorable exchange rate from the forint to the U.S. dollar, plus an average night's hotel stay going for less than a hundred bucks, this hotbed of Hungarian culture is a reasonably priced alternative to cities like Vienna and Paris. This winter, take advantage of Budapest's usual year-round affordability with the winter promotion from Hungary's tourism bureau, which offers one-night-free deals at more than 50 hotels in Budapest, discounts on bus and sightseeing tours, and half-off admission to the city's famous spas. (For the ultimate winter warm-up, check out the grandiose Szechenyi Baths, with 15 spring-fed thermal pools.) Also look into the Budapest Card, which offers discounts on admissions to the city's zoo, opera, museums, baths, and pools; a 24-hour card goes for about $20.
For flight deals to Hungary, sign up for our Fare Alerts. And if you're planning a multicity trip, low-cost carriers like Ryanair make travel to Hungary from other European hubs simple and cheap, with fares for as little as €9 (about $12).
Los Cabos, Mexico
On the very southern tip of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula sits this breathtaking region of ritzy resorts and world-renowned sportfishing. Los Cabos' multitude of luxury hotels tend to be pricey, and the pleasant weather makes winter the high season here, but new airfare service and several package deals make it an economical option nevertheless.
Aeromexico launches a nonstop flight from New York's JFK to San Jose del Cabo beginning on January 18. Low January and February fares can also be found on American Airlines (with nonstop flights from Los Angeles) and Spirit (with one-stop flights from Portland, Oregon); both prices hover in the $300s. And expect increased price competition to result in lower fares throughout the winter season, before the spring breakers fill up the hotels.
Accommodations options abound, with wintertime package deals from Alaska Airlines that include food and beverage credits and 50 percent savings off rack rates at more than a dozen Los Cabos properties. And Pleasant Holidays' March Travel Promotion features exclusive, reduced rates from just $75 per night plus a bevy of added benefits like free Wi-Fi and kids' programs at resorts in Mexico; or check Pleasant Holidays' list of Los Cabos vacation packages here.
New York, New York
The Big Apple is known for having some of the priciest hotel rooms in the world, with an average rate of around $320 per night (and December rates running well past the $500 mark). However, experts know that prices to New York City often fall dramatically after the holidays, when gift buying has emptied wallets and after the Times Square ball has dropped.
For irresistibly cheap rates at some of Manhattan's hippest stays, take advantage of Hotel Week NYC, which runs from January 3 through 12 at properties like the Gansevoort Park Avenue, THE OUT NYC, and the Ace Hotel New York. Rooms are all $100, $200, or $300 per night; book directly through the property and ask for Hotel Week rates. Check out further discounts on Travelzoo's New York page, which, as of press time, includes up to 50 percent off room rates through March.
Flights to NYC are generally inexpensive, with frequent service from most major airlines. A worthy alternative to the stresses of flying, Amtrak runs seasonal deals on train travel; currently, book in advance for savings of up to 25 percent on Northeast Regional coach fares, with service between New York and Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, and other Northeast hubs.
Ecuador is as diverse as one could wish for in a destination, from its UNESCO World Heritage capital city unaltered by time to its pristine islands occupied by sea lions, turtles, prehistoric iguanas, and other exotic flora and fauna. Ecuador is hoping to cash in on increased South American travel by ramping up its tourism budget and infrastructure, including a brand-new airport in Quito. The result? Round-trip flights can be found for less than $500, according to Travelzoo. Indeed, we uncovered flights from just $447 from New York City to Guayaquil from January through March via American Airlines. And to reach the unspoiled shores of the Galapagos, find inexpensive airfare from South American airline LAN, currently running a special with round-trips from Quito to the Galapagos from $349 for travel before March 31.
Air-and-accommodations packages are a convenient option for travelers to this as-yet-undiscovered country, and several are being offered at decent discounts. For instance, find 15 percent off package adventures beginning in February 2014 via Intrepid Travel or nine-day tour packages with adventure outfitter G Adventures for just $899 in February.
--By Dara Continenza
Read the original story: Top Five Bargain Destinations for Winter 2013/2014 by Dara Continenza, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.