The cheapest time of year to fly

The cheapest time of year to fly

Travelers will pack NYC in December to soak up the sights like the the 2019 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and pay a lot for hotels.

The cheapest time of year to fly
Times Square is going to be crazy busy this holiday season, and hotel rates in the area will be crazy, too.
The cheapest time of year to fly
New York City's Marriott Marquis at Times Square has regular rooms selling for over $900 per night during December — it also charges $30 a night as a "destination amenity fee."

If you have been putting off business trips, blown off your family back home, or missed that romantic weekend away because airfares were too high, you should check out the new “dead week” deals on offer in early December and early January.

Dead weeks are the annual low points in travel demand, which ironically come in the midst of the peak holiday travel season. And when demand plummets, so do prices. However, the catch is that you’ve got to travel when everyone else is staying at home. Flexibility is the key to saving during the dead weeks.

Dead weeks typically fall during the first few weeks of December right after the big Thanksgiving rush, and again right after the Christmas/New Years rush in early January.

Let's say you don't want to pay the wildly inflated Christmas peak rate of $832 to fly home from SFO to Boston Dec. 22-27. Fly two weeks later in early January instead and pay just $197 on Delta, United or JetBlue. Or go two weeks earlier in mid-December and pay just $207 in basic economy or $250 in regular economy. That's a pretty big savings!

The same goes for New York City. If you go in early December or early January, you'll pay a pittance: about $200 roundtrip on most airlines in basic economy and just $237 in regular economy. Compare that to the current going rate of about $750 roundtrip for San Francisco-New York flights on all the airlines flying the route during the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years peak.

Here's a tip if you are feeling spendy: First class fares are running as low as $1,100 roundtrip on transcontinental flights on most major airlines during the holidays. It's a great way to get away from the maddening crowds in economy class, and provide yourself with a nice holiday gift. And it's not that much more than what you'll pay for a peak season economy class ticket.

Speaking of New York, hotel pricing goes a little haywire there during the holidays, too. The city is packed with business travelers and holiday shoppers during the first two weeks of December ... so while it is cheap to fly there, it is outrageously expensive to stay there, especially in midtown Manhattan where three star hotels go for $500 per night ... and five star hotels climb close to $1,000 per night.

But go to the Big Apple a month later, in early January, and you'll pay a fraction of that. Here's a good example: a room at the giant Marriott Marquis on Times Square is running at a freakish $982 per night on many nights in mid-December. Plus, you'll pay a silly $30 per night "Destination Amenity Fee." But on weekends in early January, it's going for just $318 per night — plus that pesky $30 fee — which is a nice bargain for a popular hotel in a central location.

“If you’re looking to score a deal to visit New York City in all of its holiday glory and if you have flexibility on the dates you’re visiting, consider a stay during the week rather than over a weekend, when room rates are at their highest," advised Kayak's Steve Sintra.

Sintra said that bargain hunters should search for hotel options outside of Manhattan’s busy downtown and midtown areas and instead focus on neighborhoods like Long Island City in Queens, Bushwick in Brooklyn, or Jersey City across the Hudson, "where you can find cheaper rooms that are just a subway or PATH stop from the action."

Kayak also told SFGATE that its data show that average hotel rates in December start out high, running at an average price of $427 during the first week of the month, but by the week of Dec. 16-22 average rates decline to just $246.

A late Thanksgiving (Thursday, Nov. 28 this year) means that the dead weeks will begin later than usual, leading to a shorter window for December "dead week" deals. And with Christmas and New Year's Day falling on Wednesdays this year, we will have a nice spread out holiday season, running from about Dec. 19 through Jan. 6, 2020. What's best about a spread out season is that there are fewer "peak" days for crowds and high prices. But still, brace for high prices as this is expected to be one of the busiest holiday seasons ever. And when demand runs high, so do prices.