With New Year's Eve just a week away, there's still time to plan that last-minute trip. Whether you stay near home or pull off that farther-flung trip, a little effort and a lot of patience will determine how much you spend.
The majority of consumers (47 percent) budget from $1,000 to $2,999 for all holiday travel, according to the 2013 Orbitz Holiday Survey. How much you have left in the budget at this point can help you decide how far you will go. Unless you choose to splurge – and ruin your budget.
Everyone has their own ideas about the best place to celebrate New Year's Eve. According to Hotwire.com, a discount travel site, the 10 most popular New Year's destinations this year are Orlando, Fla., New York City, Las Vegas, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, San Diego, London, Los Angeles and Miami. Hotwire's list is based on hotel bookings made on the site on Dec. 11 for travel between Dec. 30, 2013 and Jan. 2, 2014.
These destinations won't necessarily get you the best deals on travel, though. Chicago's average nightly rate was $88, based on the Hotwire.com survey, followed in price by Orlando, $89; San Diego, $96 and Los Angeles, $127. Among the top 10 cities, the most expensive were New York City at $292, the highest, followed by Miami at $206; New Orleans at $199; London at $180; Las Vegas at $151, and San Francisco at $150.
Here are five savvy strategies to consider when making your last-minute New Year's plans:
When to travel: Pick a time that is unpopular on the roads or in the air, usually early morning or late at night. Either way, you'll save. "You want to choose the dates that other people don't want," says Pierre-Etienne Chartier, vice president of Hotwire.com.
Booking flights: Whatever your budget, planning and flexibility will maximize your savings. "The best thing to do is be flexible," says Tom Parsons, founder of bestfares.com, a travel website that monitors low-cost travel. Depending on your destination, you can save $200 or more per person on a round-trip fare. For example, if you booked a round-trip fare on Dec. 20 for travel between Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles and were willing to leave on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, then you could save approximately $100 on a nonstop fare if you return on Dec. 31, for a total of $547.10. But if you traveled on Dec. 24 and returned on Jan. 4, it would cost $647.60. If you booked a nonstop flight for Dec. 27 returning Jan. 1, it would cost you $735.70. The lowest fare, $521.60, requires leaving Dec. 27 and returning Jan. 4.
Alternate airports: Another way to save is to choose an alternate airport. Say you're headed for Maui. If you depart from Oakland instead of San Francisco, you'll save. Fly from San Jose and you'll save even more, Parsons says. Just make sure the cost of travel to the airport and parking fees don't eat up your airfare savings, or ask someone drive you. Headed to Disney World? Fly into Tampa instead of Orlando.
Booking hotels: The majority of holiday travelers (86 percent, says Orbitz) would prefer to stay at a hotel rather than with family or friends. The strategy here is to "book early, which is now, or late – the last few days before you travel," says Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. "There are last-minute deals if you can be flexible." Overall, hotel rates are 6 percent higher than 2012 and can be 50 percent more compared to last year in certain markets, he says.
If you really want to find the lowest price, make sure you ask for it, and don't be afraid to telephone the next day if you don't like the rates cited the day you call, Hanson says. Another tip is to ask if there is any room that is absolutely the lowest price of all, and find out what that rate is. Ask the reason the price is so low. It may be that it is near a loading dock used on weekday mornings but you plan to awaken there on a weekend morning.