smart spending

Time it right and save big on vacation travel

The world's most popular destinations can be surprisingly affordable if you travel when most people don't.  

Fly seven days before Thanksgiving instead of a day before and you might snag a great deal on a ticket.

"We once went to New York the week before Thanksgiving and celebrated with my family then because four tickets for Thanksgiving week were just outrageously expensive," says Hope Eliahou of Los Angeles. "We got some great rates, with about a $500 total savings."

For $500, it might be worth eating turkey a little early with understanding family.

"We were just grateful to be together," Eliahou says. As a bonus, she was able to celebrate again on Thanksgiving Day with friends.

As a general rule, the biggest vacation savings are about timing. Memories can be made at cheaper moments, too, say dedicated off-season travelers.

Enjoy the preholiday season 

The before-Christmas season, when most people are shopping, is a great time to get ski deals, travel savers say.

Consider using the December shopping season as an excuse to escape to Colorado. It's an ideal time to ski: lots of snow, thinner crowds and often-slimmer prices.

The rule of timing savings applies abroad, too.

The glittering cities of Europe are a source of cheaper rates in early to mid-December, which is high shopping season there as well.

So if you can't afford Madrid in July, think late fall or early winter.

Spain is pleasant in December -- temperatures in the mid-40s to mid-50s, as opposed to the sweltering summer, and the best airfares of the year to Spain tend to come in early December.

Hotel owners and restaurants often have specials at slow times as an extra sweetener.

In Córdoba, Spain, the site of the famous Mezquita, which is packed to the gills every summer, some inns offered two-nights-for-one specials, free breakfasts and other goodies in the first half of December last year.

Plan around conventions, and save 

You can snag a ritzy room in Las Vegas if you're willing to be a little open-minded on timing.

"If you have flexible dates, you can save a lot," says Lynn Goya, author of "Fun with the Family in Las Vegas." "Go to the Wynn Resorts Web sites and look at the calendar. A room at an off time, when they know there's no convention, can be a great deal."

Just how great is great?

"You can get a room for $119 or $129 a night that can be $1,100 at another time," Goya says.

"Pick two or three resorts, even the top ones, and start scrolling through the booking dates on their Web sites," Goya says. "You'll see huge changes.

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"Most of the main casino hotels will vary their rates on occupancy and expected occupancy. If you can be flexible, book early and check around a lot."

Don't think you're selling yourself short, either.

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