BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Holiday travel doesn't always mean crowded airports, crammed carloads of family or stifled religious and political discussion around the dinner table. If you're lucky, it can just be a vacation.
While the American Express (Stock Quote: AXP) Spending and Saving Tracker found that the average family of four plans to pay $2,636 for holiday travel this year -- or just moderately more than it paid in 2010 -- and made clear that those families are looking for more than a days-long fight for bathroom time at a family member's house. Roughly 31% plan to dine out on their holiday trip this year, compared with just 20% last year. Nearly a quarter said they're willing to shell out more for entertainment, as opposed to just 20% who said the same last year.
Perhaps most telling is that of the 44% of Americans who plan to travel this year -- up from just 39% in 2010 -- 36% plan to fly this year versus just 26% last holiday season. While most will likely still schlep to see family, the 19% who said they want to spend on better accommodations and 12% who are seeking a more expensive destination may forfeit their share of ham and handmade woolen gifts this year in favor of a more far-flung destination.
"Americans will spend on travel this holiday season whether they are visiting family or taking that big trip they've waited for all year," said Claire Bennett, senior vice president and general manager of American Express Travel. "No matter where consumers choose to go, there is a clear interest in getting more out of travel."
For the 36% of American holiday travelers who said their destination and what it had to offer influenced their travel decision, it's still not too late to book that holiday getaway. Airlines, hotels and destinations realize that 21% of holiday travelers book less than a month in advance, especially during the first two weeks of December that the travel industry considers "dark weeks."
"It's still very true that the first two weeks in December and the first two weeks in January are still the best time for deals, if you can get away," says Anne Banas, editor of SmarterTravel. "The deals are expansive and pretty much everywhere for both domestic and international travel."
As a result, there are still deals out there for the 73% of late bookers who wait until one week or less before taking their holiday break. Travelocity, for example, is promising a $200 travel coupon to folks who book hotel or hotel-and-flight packages before Dec. 15. With some help from the folks at SmarterTravel and Travelocity, we've put together seven holiday travel destinations that won't do too much damage to a holiday latecomer's budget: