Half-Price Holiday

Jackie Laulainen's picture
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Tips for planning an affordable winter getaway.

Weather in Bozeman

Montana winters have a way of wearing us down. Sub-zero temps, slippery streets, snow-covered EVERYTHING – after months of icy adversity, cabin fever seeps out of the chest-high snowbanks and infects our frigid frames. It doesn't matter if you're a recent transplant or a fourth-generation native, come March, after three-plus months of snow and cold, it's time for a well-deserved break – an escape to more temperate climes, to warm the body and rejuvinate the spirit.

But there's no reason to break the bank while on your southerly sojourn. Follow these tips and you'll come back not only with a smile and a tan, but with your wallet intact.


Wheels or Wings?

There are three ways you can make your great escape:

Drive

Load up the car and hit the road.

Advantages: Gas is cheap when split among several people. You have the freedom to go wherever you want.
Disadvantages: Roads may be slow or dangerous with winter conditions. You can't get as far in a car as fast as you can in a plane, and from Montana, warm is far away.

Fly Close

Fly to Las Vegas or Arizona with discount carrier Allegiant Airlines.

Advantages: Cheapest tickets around when planned in advance. Makes a weekend trip possible for those on a budget.
Disadvantages: When not planned in advance, tickets are not so cheap. Hidden surcharges and limited itineraries (e.g., Thurs. and Sun. travel only to Phoenix).

Fly Far

Now we're talking. Pack up the suitcase or high-volume backpack and get the heck out of dodge for a good long while.

Advantages: Go wherever you want, stay as long as you want, come back when you want.
Disadvantages: Major carriers mean higher prices and more of a commitment to the trip.


Affordable Airfare

Follow these tips to get the biggest bang for your buck when flying.

  1. Book mid-week. Did you know that prices fluctuate depending on what day of the week you book your flight? Airlines put out sales on Mondays, then race to lower their prices to beat their competition by Tuesday and Wednesday, and then bring their prices back up for the influx of web traffic on the weekends. Thus, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to book your flight.

  2. Fly during the week. Now that you know which days are best to book, let’s talk about which days are best to fly. Generally speaking, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the cheapest days to fly. This is because most people need to fly on weekends (Friday-Sunday), and airlines take advantage of this and jack up their prices.

  3. Avoid popular dates. Check the calendar for holidays and breaks from school, and avoid flying on the same days as most other people. If you're flying abroad, don’t forget to check holidays in your destination country as well, because they could be another reason for higher-priced flights.

  4. Book in advance. Book your flight at least 21 days in advance to get the best pricing. If you do have to fly last-minute, check Hotwire and Priceline. I once saved my entire family $400 each by booking through Hotwire.

  5. Research in advance. If you know when you’re leaving, start 2-3 months out. Four months is even better. Don't buy right away, but rather get an idea of what the going rate is, and what a good deal would be, and ultimately what you'd be willing to pay for a flight. Start with these travel search engines:

     

  6. Be flexible. Fares can change from one departure day to the next, so if you're flexible with your departure/return dates, exhaust all options until you find the cheapest combination of dates. It can be tedious, but persistence pays off.

  7. Be patient. Pay attention to the fluctuations in ticket price and when you feel comfortable, purchase your ticket.

  8. Buy direct. Many of the search engines listed above do not search Alaska or Frontier, and these two airlines service many of our destinations, even Hawaii. Also, cancellations and changes are much easier when you book direct. Third-party search engines are the best place to start, but often you can use them to find a flight, then book that same flight from the actual airline for a similar price. While you’re on the airline’s site, enroll in its mileage program and collect miles for your trip.

 
Destination: Paradise

Beach on OahuIf you’re going abroad for a getaway, even it’s just a long weeked during the dead of winter, here are a few great options that won’t break the bank and are sure to have good weather waiting for you:

Costa Rica: Dry season is mid-December to mid-April; the sun is out and the piña coladas are cold.

Nicaragua: Same dry season, and tons of activities are available. Hike a volcano or six, go sailing, enjoy some of the cheapest prices in Central America, and sample the world-famous Nicaraguan-made cigars or Flor de Caña rum.

Mexico: It doesn’t really matter where you go in this massive country; you'll be warm and full of cilantro and homemade tortillas.

Hawaii: It’s not technically abroad, but it certainly feels foreign, and you don’t need to deal with passports and immigration. Catch some waves, or just soak up the sun and bring some “aloha" back to Bozeman.

Budget-minded world-traveler Jackie Laulainen is the author of The Aspiring Traveler's Handbook: A preparation guide to international travel, a detailed resource that helps new travelers prepare for international trips. Check out her blog at TheBudgetMindedTraveler.com.

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