“A lot of folks who live in areas where it’s really snowy and cold, once that first cold snap hits they’re so ready to just get away somewhere warm,” Get Out Custom Travels owner and travel adviser Theresa Chu-Bermudez said.
While winter beach trips have always appealed to the snowbird set, Chu-Bermudez said, demand is particularly high this year.
“If you’re trying to put something together right now, you’re already kind of behind,” she said. “One of my biggest tips is just book early; you’re not going to get a better deal if you wait.”
Vrbo spokesperson Nancy Lien said there may also be more competition this winter because the U.S. travel ban is ending for vaccinated international travelers on Nov. 8. At this point, popular beach destinations such as Maui are some of the most searched destinations on Expedia, Hotels.com and VRBO for international travelers.
But it is still possible to find deals on warm weather winter getaways if you’re strategic.
I can speak from experience: I just found round-trip airfare to the Yucatán in Mexico during the absolute worst time to book travel (over Christmas and New Year’s Eve) for under $500. With some finessing, you too can find a reasonably priced winter beach trip. Here are some tips on how to do it.
Set up price alerts for specific trips with different airports
If you have a specific beach destination you would like to visit, heed Chu-Bermudez’s words of warning and get on your trip planning ASAP. That doesn’t mean buy the first airfare you find. Flight prices can range broadly and shift often.
Fortunately, “this year it’s probably easier than maybe ever to find cheap beach fares,” said Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights. Because there’s been a “huge increase in supply” of short-haul flights targeting leisure travelers, prices have plummeted for nearby vacation spots such as Cozumel, Belize and the Bahamas.
The Internet has made it easier to figure out when you are getting a deal or not. Set up price alerts for routes you are interested in on sites such as Skyscanner, Google Flights and Hopper to see if prices are high, normal or low, and set up recommendation alerts for when to buy.
Price tracking saved me hundreds on my winter beach airfare. A return flight I was tracking from Mexico to Baltimore fluctuated between $197 to $318 in the span of a week (it was around $500 the last time I checked).
I didn’t have just one departure and arrival point tracked, either. To find the cheapest option, I compared prices at different airports, using both Google and Skyscanner’s Explore options. I ended up finding the best deals from Merida, Mexico, at a smaller airport I hadn’t considered, and Cancún, a popular pandemic destination with a ton of flights.
Think about very popular destinations
Counterintuitively, you may not want to look off the beaten path if you’re looking for deals. The more inventory a place has, the better.
Case in point: Florida, a peak snowbird travel destination. Adit Damodaran, an economist at Hopper, said Florida has some of the most affordable options this winter. Based on Hopper data, Miami Beach is one of the best choices thanks to great deals on airfare, despite having hotel rates higher than other Florida beaches.
Damodaran said if travelers are planning longer trips, they should look at Florida destinations with lower nightly rates even if the airfare is higher, including Jacksonville, Panama City Beach and Sarasota. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Damodaran said, the Florida Keys tend to be more expensive for winter beach trips.
Outside of Florida, other domestic options with low hotel prices this winter include Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Port Aransas, Tex.; and Savannah and Tybee Island in Georgia — although their weather isn’t as dependably warm as Florida’s.
“Flights to Puerto Rico and flights from Mexico are usually very cheap — and there’s a lot of them,” said Konrad Waliszewski, CEO and co-founder of TripScout, a travel planning and entertainment platform. “So you usually you can get a pretty great deal.”
Damodaran said Cancún is one of the cheapest international beach destinations for both airfare and lodging. Overseas U.S. territories Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands trail close behind.
“Cancún is always a really great option,” Chu-Bermudez said. “If you’re looking at all-inclusives, they have ones for the lower-end. They also have higher-end stuff. There are so many resorts in Cancún that it’s a little bit easier to find availability during the winter break season.”
Look for holiday deals
As we enter the gift-giving season, we are also entering America’s bigger shopping season.
Just about every facet of the travel industry gets into Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Travel Deal Tuesday. You may be able to find deeply discounted rates for hotels, small group tours, ground transportation, as well as beach activities including diving and gear rental.
If you’re shopping for a beach trip in the near future, make sure those deals don’t have blackout dates for your preferred travel timeline.
Then there are subscriptions to services such as Scott’s Cheap Flights or Jack’s Flight Club, or newsletters through booking sites such as Skyscanner and CheapCaribbean.com to get alerts on random-but-appealing airfare deals.
Tinker with your destination and dates
For those who just want to travel to any warm place, let the deals guide the decision-making.
“Most people usually think of the destination … I would actually recommend the opposite and just put your dates into Google Flights,” Waliszewski said.
You are going to find the best deals outside of the winter peak travel dates, and according to Orlando, “the vast majority of folks will be traveling that week between Christmas and New Year’s,” he said. “The fares skyrocket as you get into that week.”
His tip: Travel a little after Thanksgiving but before Christmas, or from Jan. 6 and later when “the fares always go down every year,” he said.
For those interested in home rentals, Lien said VRBO rates for weekday stays can yield lower rates.
For domestic hotel bookings, Lien said, travelers can find the lowest average daily rates on Mondays, potentially saving more than 15 percent compared to starting a stay on a Friday. For international hotel stays, booking and staying on Tuesday vs. Thursday can save travelers nearly 10 percent.
How I did it
I’m a fan of Skyscanner’s search tool that lets you put in your departure city then search “everywhere” as the destination, either for flights on specific days, an entire month or the cheapest month.
But ultimately I found my best deal after doing research on flying into and out of different airports, stalking airfare using Google Flights alerts, adjusting my travel dates, then buying one-way tickets from different airports.
Cobbling together my trip felt like putting together Frankenstein’s monster. It took a week and a thousand website tabs. Nonetheless, it got me a trip that cost about half of my first estimates.
What works best for you could look completely different. An easy round-trip to your favorite place on your favorite airline may fit perfectly within your budget. It will ultimately depend on when you can go and from where you’re leaving.