Personal Finance

How to snag a last-minute holiday trip

Pack your bags

Dan Dalton | Getty Images

Wishing you had booked a week, or at least a weekend, away over the winter holiday? Well for those who have put off making plans it's not too late. In fact, your procrastination might just pay off.

"Right now is a great time to book for Christmas and New Year's Eve because you will see the most price flexibility," said Cheryl Rosner of Stayful, a site that caters exclusively to last-minute bookings.

So just in time for Christmas, here's how to snag a last-minute trip that will truly feel like a gift.

— By CNBC's Jessica Dickler
Published 19 Dec. 2015

Travel on Christmas

Terraxplorer | Getty Images

The number of holiday travelers will top 100 million for the first time this year, according to AAA. With that in mind, it will help your budget and your sanity if you travel on the off-peak days. Especially with the holidays close to the weekends this season, the most popular travel dates are concentrated on Saturday and Sunday, so avoid that, said's CEO, Jeff Klee.

If you are traveling by air, returning Saturday will cost less, and be less congested, than coming back Sunday but better yet, book a return flight on Monday that one extra day will save $97 per ticket, on average, Klee said.

And don't rule out the off-off peak days, which are the holidays themselves. New Year's Eve is always one of the best days to travel and the later the flight, the cheaper it is, Klee said. Just make sure the airline carrier has champagne.

Think outside the box

Fifteen Beacon Hotel Room
Source: Fifteen Beacon Hotel

Most travelers know that staying outside the traditional touristy areas like Times Square in Manhattan will be considerably easier and less expensive to book. Naturally, you'll find better values downtown in the financial district or further uptown, but also consider much, much further north — as in Boston, Rosner said.

You will still get that winter holiday experience, but with fewer crowds and charming hotels, Rosner suggested. She recommends the four-star Fifteen Beacon, a boutique hotel with fireplaces in the guest rooms and a complimentary Lexus car service for getting around town — plus it costs about 30 percent less than the typical chain hotel, she said.

If you're after warmer weather, try Phoenix or Los Angeles, added CheapAir's Klee. He suggested casting a very wide net in your search and when you see something you like, be ready to jump on it. "Don't assume you can talk it over and check back tomorrow," Klee said.

Take the road less traveled

A man watching the stars while camping in a yurt below the La Plata Mountains in Mayday, Colorado.
Kennan Harvey | Getty Images

When you are having trouble finding any place at all, you will have better luck trying a destination that is not accessible by a direct flight.

"Those locations get taken first and will be the hardest to find availability at the last minute," said Susan Farewell, founder and CEO of Farewell Travels. She suggested trying a getaway spot that's a little further off the beaten path, like the French Caribbean island St. Barts, which may require a making a connection in San Juan, Puerto Rico, or the Dutch Caribbean island St. Maarten.

The same goes for accommodation types. If the hotels are booked, consider a boat, igloo or even yurt, suggested Todd Dunlap, a managing director of "People are looking for experiences and those nonconventional places are it." Another appeal: yurts are less expensive. "You are going to find a lot of better-priced options than conventional accommodations," he added.

Try a travel agent

St. Lucia
Jen Karlsson | Getty Images

An old-school agent could especially come in handy in the 11th hour since they are tapped into which hotels and resorts could have last-minute availability.

"A sales manager will contact me personally if they still have rooms available or a cancellation for the festive season," Farewell said. "I'll get an email that there's still one hilltop room available in St Lucia, for example."

Farewell stashes those destination possibilities away for her clients, who often reach out right before the holidays, she said. "It's not unusual to field last-minute requests from clients to book someplace warm."

Get out your passport

Prague, Czech Republic
Sylvain Sonnet | Getty Images

The U.S. dollar has gained against other currencies, which means you can stretch your money even further abroad. There are several European cities, including Naples, Italy, Prague and Berlin, that are just as nice in December as they are in the spring and fall and even better now than during the crowded summer months, Farewell said.

And thanks to a favorable exchange rate, "Europe is on sale for us," Farewell said. "You can stay at a place you might not normally be able to afford, eat well and shop."

Read More 8 places to visit while the dollar is stronger