Taking an affordable winter vacation often means settling for a cold-weather destination in low season when what you really want is sun and sand, or even a far-flung adventure. This year, though, there’s a plethora of affordable warm-weather and bucket-list getaways thanks to the recent boom in airline route expansions, and 2018’s relatively low gas prices.
But they might not stay cheap for long. Budget airlines are looking to cut back on routes and gas prices are likely to continue rising, so these value hotspots probably won’t be as crazy-affordable next year.
The Cheapest Places to Fly Right Now
Here are the cheapest places to fly this winter according to airfare experts, plus great reasons to go now.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Airfarewatchdog, Skyscanner, CheapAir, KAYAK, and CheapOair for providing data and analysis for this story.
Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China
With a favorable exchange rate and low cost of living, China itself has been affordable for some time now while flights there have remained pricey—until now. Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site) says cities across the U.S. are seeing low airfares from U.S. departure points to some bucket-list-worthy spots in China. Round-trip China sale fares to cities like Shanghai have recently been as low as $365 from the U.S. West Coast and $465 from the East Coast. “Lots of sub-$500 fares to the bigger destinations in China, and occasionally Hong Kong or Taipei will get mixed in,” Airfarewatchdog’s Ricky Radka says.
Skyscanner concurs, with data showing that one city near Hong Kong is a whopping 30 percent off this winter. Shenzhen winter fares are averaging $940 roundtrip on Skyscanner—a steal compared to the $1,350 average for 2018. The southeastern China city is outdoor-friendly year round, with temperatures in the 60s throughout winter.
Warm up with lively entertainment and desert day trips in Las Vegas, which KAYAK and CheapAir.com both say is among the cheapest places to fly this winter. Median airfares have dipped below $200 roundtrip for January, KAYAK data shows, with the best time to book being one month in advance. The best deal is $143 roundtrip from Boston. Skyscanner data also shows that average January airfare to Vegas is $197—about 12 percent cheaper than the yearly average of $223.
“Vegas is a great value vacation destination, year round. Flights are often priced quite low and can be purchased relatively last minute without large price jumps,” CheapAir.com says. “As a bonus, Vegas weather in the winter is near perfect, when you can avoid scorching summer temperatures.”
Montego Bay and Negril, Jamaica
If sand in your toes is what you’re looking for this winter, you don’t have to pay sky-high airfare to escape to the Caribbean with all the other snowbirds. Winter is the cheapest time of year to visit Jamaica despite it also being high season.
Why? Low-cost carrier Spirit Air’s recent expansion to Jamaica’s Montego Bay seems to be creating some flight competition to the island; even less-crowded Negril is one of the cheapest places to fly this winter.
Airfarewatchdog data shows January has been the most affordable month to fly through Montego Bay, with average airfare hovering around $343 roundtrip the past two years. CheapOair echoes that trend with data showing winter flights to smaller Negril have dropped 30 percent from last year, to $546 roundtrip for November and December.
One of the cheapest places to fly in winter is also one of the Middle East’s best hidden gems: Amman. Jordan’s capital is about 23 percent cheaper than it’s been in past winters, with early 2019 fares hovering around $690 roundtrip.
Sub-$700 fares are a steep change from the average airfare to Amman, which is $1,080 according to Skyscanner. Winter is one of the best times to go to see Amman’s historic sites and nearby Petra, thanks to cooler temperatures and fewer crowds than those typical in spring and fall high seasons.
Another one of KAYAK’s cheapest places to fly this winter, historic Charleston, South Carolina, is 25 percent off in winter compared to the median North American airfare. Sub-$200 airfares in January when you book a month in advance mean you can warm up with some Southern charm as a Christmas gift to yourself.
For a bit more money but a lot more airfare value, North Carolina’s hipster haven of Asheville recently saw a 40 percent drop in airfares, according to CheapOair. Likely thanks to expanding budget air routes to the area, roundtrip airfares to the vibrant Blue Ridge Mountains city are averaging around $220 roundtrip for early 2019.
“The widespread expansion of Basic Economy for domestic flights on all the major carriers has led to much lower fares to smaller markets across the country,” Airfarewatchdog’s Peter Thornton adds. “Asheville, Aspen, Bozeman (Montana), Burlington (VT), Memphis, and Jackson Hole (Wyoming) are seeing flights from all over the country that seem to be a hundred or so dollars lower than what I was used to seeing in past years.”
Splurging a little is starting to go a lot further when it comes to long-haul airfare—even when it comes to some of the lengthiest flights out there. Going to New Zealand in November and February yields the most value of the year, according to Airfarewatchdog data, and will mean being there in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.
CheapOair observed a 28 percent drop in average winter airfare to Wellington, New Zealand, compared to this time last year—with late-2018 airfare averaging about $1,600 roundtrip. But Airfarewatchdog suggests you could get an even better deal: Airfare to Auckland—New Zealand’s larger air hub—averaged around $1,060 in the cheapest months of the year (November and in February) last winter, and live New Zealand deals for this winter are hovering around the same price.
Brazil (and the Rest of South America)
Winter is the best time to head to the Southern Hemisphere for its summer, and the recent expansion of airlines like LATAM to Brazil and beyond is making South America cheaper than ever. “This is a region starting to see some better deals, and the introduction of the airline GOL and LATAM adding destinations in the U.S. like Boston have created some price drops,” Airfarewatchdog’s Radka says. “This market is ripe for flights to start dropping after years of being super expensive.”
It is worth noting, however, that parts of Brazil have become turbulent recently due to the political tension surrounding the 2018 election. I traveled to Sao Paulo earlier this year and, with the help of friendly locals, experienced no problems—although the political climate might make protests and areas of unrest more common moving forward.
If you’re happy to visit a winter wonderland instead of a warmer locale, Poland is home to a handful of the cheapest places to fly right now: Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk, and Wroclaw. CheapOair data shows that fares to the Baltic port city of Gdansk dropped a whopping 50 percent last year, and are forecasted to be about $580 in early 2019—with Warsaw prices hovering around the same. Airfarewatchdog also shows that January, February, and March are the cheapest months to visit Warsaw, with average fares all under $600.
Wroclaw and Krakow are pricier, in the $700 to $800 dollar range, but both fell 20 percent over last year. The location of the two cities also makes it easy to get to nearby European countries like Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia—in case you’re looking to tack on additional adventure after exploring medieval towns and eating plenty of pierogis in Poland.
Mild in winter and perpetually affordable thanks to its massive airport, Atlanta is another one of KAYAK’s cheapest places to fly this winter, with roundtrip flights regularly falling as low as $100. Median airfare to Atlanta is 26 percent lower than the rest of North America’s routes, and the city is continuing to blossom into a trendy arts and cultural hub with James Beard-recognized restaurants and heralded museums.
Cambodia and Laos
The warm and dry high season in Cambodia and Laos happens to be winter, and airfares to both countries have fallen drastically. Historically picturesque Siem Reap has 27 percent cheaper airfare in winter compared to the rest of the year, Skyscanner data shows, with average prices around $986 roundtrip. And less-visited Laos has also seen plummeting airfare, with CheapOair data showing a 34 percent drop compared to last year, putting early 2019 fares at about $960 roundtrip. So if you’re looking to cross either off your bucket list in the best possible season to visit, both options are worth splurging a little for a lot of value.
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SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.