5 Hot Spots for New Year's Travel


BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Do you really want to spend the last days of the year in Vegas trying to get management to bust up the neighboring hotel room's re-enactment of The Hangover, at a Disney park listening to screaming children drown out fireworks or in New York's Times Square holding a Snapple bottle of your own urine? You can do better.

Much of the general population has trouble just leaving their town on New Years' Eve and Day, never mind their state or country. According to the American Express (Stock Quote: AXP) Spending and Saving Tracker, just 6% of the travelers they surveyed plan to be elsewhere when the clock strikes midnight. That number increases to 10% among the affluent and 22% among young professionals, but the majority have no interest in seeing a bunch of rank amateurs with pointy hats and noisemakers get red-nosed wrecked on Asti spumante. Those fortunate enough to get out are slapped with fare sale blackouts and holiday flight surcharges for their troubles.

"When you're looking at domestic airline tickets for the holidays, it's all about getting a better bad deal," says Rick Seaney, chief executive of travel site FareCompare. "The days that they have the most traffic are the days you'll want to avoid, so the Sunday and Monday after New Year's are going to be the most expensive days to travel."

That pricing is compounded by harsh fees, with American Airlines (Stock Quote: AMR), Continental/United (Stock Quote: UAL), US Airways (Stock Quote: LCC) and Delta (Stock Quote: DAL) all sticking passengers with a $30 surcharge for flying Jan. 2 or 3. A savvy flier knows a few ways around this, including flights on discount airlines such as JetBlue, Southwest and AirTran. Crossing the border for the New Year, however, also bypasses the major U.S. carriers' punitive measures.

"Places like Vancouver are relatively inexpensive this year right after the Olympics, though it's not the perfect time of year to go," Seaney says. "We've also seen some deals on low-cost airline routes to Florida, so those are your two best bets -- especially if you're on an AirTran, Southwest or JetBlue route."

Of course, the more cost-conscious travelers might extend their New Year's excursions into the first half of January, the dead center of the off-season and typically the most lightly traveled period on the calendar. Airfare and hotel prices tend to drop along with the temperatures, and those fortunate enough not to have to wait for vacation days to accrue can save hundreds by traveling when everyone else isn't.

"The week or first two weeks after New Year's tend to be the best travel deals of the entire year," says Anne Banas, editor of travel site SmarterTravel. "We call them dead weeks because people have just spent so much money, are tired from the holidays and don't think of traveling, so decreased demand leads to better prices." However, you don't need the deal of the century to spend the first seconds of 2011 somewhere spectacular. With help from our travel advisers, TheStreet presents five of the most amazing and affordable places to ring in the new year:

Bulgaria: The country's name is about a sexy as beef stew, but the beautiful capital of Sofia, skiing on peaks such as Mount Rita and a favorable dollar-to-lev exchange rate make this former Communist-bloc state one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 countries to visit next year.

"We highlighted Bulgaria, which is not as well known as some other places but is becoming a huge ski destination in Europe," says Banas of SmarterTravel. "We were looking at packages from Los Angeles to Sofia that were $1,541 in the summer and $985 in January or February, which covers air and hotel for a six-day stay."

A package from Miami, meanwhile was just $886. Though the skiing is the main draw for much of the winter months, Sofia's galleries, museums and historical sites dating back to the 4th century are alone worth the trip -- as are the New Year's Eve fireworks in Sofia's Batenberg Square. If you're worried about staying warm in a country where the average high temperature is just above freezing around New Year's, don't worry: Bulgarian wine is some of the finest in the world, and its rakia -- a plum or apricot brandy -- packs a wallop at upward of 120 proof alcohol.

Italy: While Italy isn't exactly the world's best-kept secret, its affordability around the holidays certainly is. A deal on Fly.com puts the price of a round-trip ticket from Newark, N.J., to Florence in early January at just above $400. Alitalia, meanwhile, offers a round-trip, five-night vacation package from Los Angeles to Rome for $999 before taxes and fees.

The country's inclusion in Eat, Pray, Love, its continuing economic crisis and the opening of the Coliseum dungeons in Rome this October have shifted Italy back into the American consumer's consciousness at a time a ticket from Boston to Rome, for example, hovers around $800 round-trip compared with $1,100 during the summer peak season. As for how to spend the New Year, Naples has one of the largest New Year's fireworks displays in the world, while Rome, Milan, Palermo and other cities hold outdoor concerts and huge dances to mark the occasion. The best part, Banas says, is that you don't have to take in any of it to enjoy the holiday: Just drop a coin in the Trevi Fountain and go where the holiday takes you.

"What I like about Europe is that if you go to the cities, you can do great indoor activities like museums, concerts and other cultural events and take advantage of these great deals," Banas says. "It makes you want to go right now."

Iceland: When you have little more than four hours of sunlight to work with on New Year's Day, bonfires and fireworks become a holiday staple. So it is in the hopping Icelandic city of Reykjavik, where locals set up neighborhood bonfires and knock back some Viking beer while the city fireworks display lights up the harbor, the surrounding hills and almost ceaseless night sky. There are no restrictions on fireworks sales in the city leading up to the holiday, so the official display gets a lot of unofficial help from the neighbors.

For young, tireless tourists, this display is all just a pregame ritual for a New Year's Eve club night that can stretch to 8 a.m. in some of the city's larger dance dungeons. Getting there won't be cheap, as IcelandAir's notoriously inexpensive air-and-hotel packages dry up between Dec. 15 and January, but a $620 round-trip ticket will pay for itself if the Northern Lights make an appearance -- as they're sometimes wont to do around this time of year.

Niagara Falls: Hate to burst your patriotic bubble, but you're still going to have to leave the country to enjoy this little taste of North American New Year's tradition. Each year, the Canadian side gets the best view of the Winter Festival of Lights, a holiday-themed extravaganza featuring 3 million lights, 120 animated displays and 9 p.m. and midnight Fireworks Over the Falls. Granted, visitors have to sit through concerts by folks such as Styx and Glass Tiger -- the co-headliners last year -- but those who are able to pack up the car or catch a holiday flight in time get a stunning display that lights up the falls and its nearby masses of frozen crystal rock coverings and icicles. Flying to Buffalo, Toronto or other nearby airports won't be cheap, but FareCompare's Seaney says travelers with some online shopping savvy or generous friends and family can make it work.

"When prices are over $450, it's the perfect time to start using some of your miles or using those of your friends and bartering with your friends," Seaney says. "One of the interesting things that happen when ticket prices go up for the holidays: Packaging sites that throw in hotels with airfare usually have better prices than if you paid for airfare alone."

Goa, India: It gained a reputation as a transcendental trip factory back in the 1960s, but Goa is still hosting raves and attracting hippies and club kids well into the 21st century. This is where Goa trance began, where the kids streaked themselves in fluorescent paint and danced until the sun was well above the horizon. Elements of that scene still exist, especially at a hippie hub such as the Hill Top Disco. Airfare is perhaps the most expensive element, but backpackers make it work and vacant shorefront rentals can be had on HomeAway for as little as $25 a night. It's a lot of work but, as Seaney notes, even seemingly simple trips can get complicated around New Year's.

"During the recession, domestic airline ticket prices bottomed out in May of 2009 and consumers got very used to buying at the last minute and very low pricing," Seaney says. "There's going to be some sticker shock during the holidays, so you have to be a little more flexible with your destination if you want to find a good deal."

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