2015 travel hot spots: Cuba and...Russia?

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Don't be so quick to put away the suitcase after your holiday travel. January's a prime time for booking a vacation, whether you're looking for a quick getaway now or planning ahead for later in 2015.

"In general, the outlook is good for travelers," said Brian Kelly, founder of In addition to the usual lineup of cruise "wave season" deals and other winter getaways, there are a few other factors—including falling oil prices and loosening travel restrictions to Cuba—that will further influence where travelers will find bargains this year.

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In addition to the usual suspects, these four trips may offer added value in 2015:


After a dramatic slide in the ruble's value, Russia declared its currency crisis over on Christmas Day. For U.S. travelers, however, there's no denying that their dollar goes further, buying roughly 55 rubles, versus 33 one year ago. "We don't usually see a ton of deal content for Russia, but recently we've had some very deeply discounted packages," said Gabe Saglie, senior editor for deal site Travelzoo. For example, the site currently has a nine-night Russia river cruise package for $1,699, a discount of about 70 percent.

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And no, you don't have to visit Russia in winter—most of the deals are for late spring and summer, Saglie said. "Some of the travel companies have some ability to promote travel six to nine months out," he said.

Euro zone

It's not just the ruble that's offering bargains for U.S. travelers heading abroad. The dollar is strengthening against the euro, too. One euro is currently worth $1.21, down from $1.36 a year ago. "That bodes well for travelers," Kelly said, especially if they can book ahead now. One destination to watch: Lithuania. The country joined the euro zone on Jan. 1, which is likely to open up tourism more, said Anne Banas, managing editor for "It's still an undiscovered gem," she said.

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U.S. plans to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba could make it easier for travelers to visit the Caribbean island nation this year. In December, President Barack Obama announced changes that will ease licensing for travelers in 12 categories, including those making family visits or conducting educational activities. (As it stands, the trade embargo still prevents most U.S. citizens from legally traveling to or spending money in Cuba.)

"Cuba is definitely a destination people will have on their radar," said Banas. Just don't expect a bargain, per se. "The prices still tend to be very high," she said. Packages through educational tour companies can run $5,000 per person for a weeklong visit, plus airfare. The value is visiting before Cuba becomes a hot tourist destination. "People will want to go soon before it's overrun with chain hotels and restaurants," said Banas.

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Road trips

"2015 might be the year to finally enjoy that cross-country drive," said Saglie. "The road trip is primed for a rebound." Falling oil prices have benefited drivers: The current national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.23, according to AAA. This time last year, it was $3.33.

National parks and other drive-in destinations stand to benefit the most, he said, but travelers may find that it pays to consider driving to places they might normally fly to. Not only have airfares held steady despite oil's decline, but fees have continued to climb—JetBlue recently announced it will introduce bag fees for travelers buying its cheapest ticket class. Fees could become even more prevalent in 2015, said Banas. "Will prices drop? Definitely, no," she said. "They want that ancillary revenue."