LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) — Whether you're looking to score last-minute bargains or make up for procrastinating, the year-end travel season is a bargainer's feast for those willing to go the extra mile for prime deals. Here are our top 10 tips for saving a bundle on holiday travel.
10. Last-minute with miles: Airlines like United (Stock Quote: UAUA) and American (Stock Quote: AMR) offer online award systems that allow members to book travel up to 331 days in advance. While you tried to score that round-trip business class fare to Paris last April without much success, you may be surprised to see it's just become available. In fact, airlines usually free up a number of seats for award travel to keep planes as full and profitable as possible. For the best chance to score a last-minute award seat, try booking mid-week or for Saturday travel and be sure to check for elusive first-class tickets that sometimes require an additional search request. We were able to find an early December L.A./London ticket on United Airlines for a mere 55,000 miles or in a first suite over Christmas week for 135,000 miles.
9. Save skiing for spring: Nothing says holiday getaway like sleigh bells and skis. But despite all the hotel deals and discounts around, you'll likely be paying just as much for that holiday ski room as you did in previous years. Even in a recession, people are willing to pay at the major ski retreats. Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch and Park Hyatt Beaver Creek are requiring the same minimum night stays and room rates, upwards of $1,000 a night for Christmas to New Year's week, as in previous non-recession years. If you forgo the ski holiday until Martin Luther King or President's Day weekend, rates drop by up to 40%, with more availability and even better snow conditions.
8. Beware of big cities: You dreamed of it all your life, spending New Year's or Christmas in Paris, London or Rome walking the streets with hot chocolate and a bag of chestnuts in hand. But booking that too-good-to-be-true rate in Europe during the holidays has its costs. In reality, holidays in most European cities mean closed businesses from Dec. 24 to 26, with random closings till New Year's Day and sometimes even beyond. You will be walking the streets of a European capital hungry, contemplating breakfast at McDonald's (Stock Quote: MCD), wishing something besides an overpriced hotel could offer you a meal or even just a coffee to go.
7. VRBO-it: Thinking of St. Bart's or Punta del Este for the holidays but weary of the exorbitant rates charged by the luxury hotels? Consider booking a private home through VRBO, a villa renter's secret weapon for affordable family travel. Many last-minute homeowners have decided to forgo their holiday pilgrimages to pricey second-home destinations due to market conditions in favor of generating additional income. The result is a deluge of fresh listings popping up in key vacation markets for surprisingly affordable prices. In Punta del Este, we were able to book a four-bedroom home three blocks from the beach for a mere $3,000 a week versus $975 a night for an entry-level room at nearby Mantra Resort.