Escape from NY with cheap winter flights

Southern CaliforniaWhether you spent your holidays working, baking, or with aunts questioning your non-existent love life and non-paying career, you could use a vacation. Thank the getaway gods, airlines are in discount mode, trying to get butts in half-full flights. If you have a sense of adventure (read: you’re not too particular about where you go), January and February are key times for last-minute fares. Prices will drop as kids go back to school, and stay low through mid-March (with the exception of Valentine’s weekend).

The search begins at SkyScanner. Type “everywhere” as the destination (bonus option: you can enter “January” or “2011” as your time frame). You have to add taxes, but SkyScanner has a lovely selection of Caribbean flights for about $300, and major Western European destinations for under $500. SkyScanner’s characteristically easy-to-use search style makes it the go-to for easily digesting a variety of travel options, whether it’s timing, destination, or departure cities (no, you don’t have to search JFK/LaGuardia/Newark separately).

Kayak’s Buzz feature is alright for domestic, Mexican, or European travel ($181 Puerto Rico, $450 London, $262 Los Angeles). The downside: it only shows the deals to “Top 25” cities, so you’re missing out on $281 flights to the Dutch Antilles.

People suggest sites like Res99’s 11th Hour Vacations. These sites only seem useful if you have more money than imagination/time. Weekend getaways to the Carolinas, Maine, or Pennsylvania for about $300 don’t exactly do it for us, but flight, hotel, and taxes are included, so… not shabby.

AirFareWatchDog (and SmarterTravel, which has a similar engine) is the big sexy. At this moment, the fares are just “good” – ($567 Paris, $316 Dominican Republic), but most fares include taxes and fees (therefore one of the few sites you can book travel to London for less than $600). Almost all domestic flights go for $250 or much less ($38 roundtrip to Ft. Lauderdale!), and sometimes you can go trans-Atlantic for under $300. It’s easy to search all 3 major airports (plus White Plains). Oh, baby.

FareCompare’s prices prove rather lame, but their map feature is a good way to get ideas for destinations. A surprising number of sites like LastMinute require you to enter a destination when searching for last-minute deals, which kind of ruins the whole concept, in my humble.

Basic rules of cheap travel apply: fly Tuesday or Wednesday if possible, and consider any flight to Asia less than $800 a miracle. If none of these flights satisfy your exotic fixation, try flying to a European hub city and proceeding with a discount airline, like Ryan Air or Lufthansa. I’m only sharing these close-to-the-vest tips in hopes that you, in turn, share your peanuts if we sit next to each other. Wheels up and away!

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