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These popular destinations are a steal during the holidays

Key Points
  • Eight of the top 10 most affordable places are in the U.S.
  • Least affordable for holiday travel: Cape Town, South Africa.
  • The costs of flights starts rising about $1 a day on average after Oct. 31.
How to unplug and enjoy your vacations: Expert

The upcoming holiday season might be a good time to scratch a cool vacation off the ol' bucket list.

If that includes visiting a top tourist spot — or you just want to escape — you'll be glad to know that some of the most popular destinations are at their most affordable during their colder months.

Ranking first for affordability in a new report by is Playa del Carmen, Mexico, followed by San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Ranked least affordable on the list of 35 popular destinations is Cape Town, South Africa.

"For the most part, the places that are most affordable to visit [during the holidays] are places where it's the off-season," said Cameron Huddleton, the report's author. "That's when you can find some really good deals." (Click on maps to enlarge.)


Of the 10 most affordable, all but two are in the U.S. Ranking behind the nation's capital (which is in fifth place) are Denver; Boston; Nashville, Tennessee; Bangkok, Thailand; and Los Angeles.

The survey looked at six criteria in popular destinations around the globe: the cost of hotels, flights, food, drinks, transportation and entertainment.

Keep in mind that the flight cost depends partly on where you're flying from and to. A short hop — i.e., from Los Angeles to San Francisco, for example — can cost under $100.

5 most affordable tourist spots OBRIEN

City Ave. hotel cost (Thanksgiving) Ave. hotel cost (Christmas) Ave. flight cost (Thanksgiving) Ave. flight cost (Christmas) Ave. food cost (daily)
"Playa del Carmen Mexico"$137.67 $174.00 $451.51 $526.53 $14.00
San Francisco$121.00 $121.00 $247.90 $257.90 $31.00
Chicago$87.00 $84.67 $204.40 $261.92 $34.00
Seattle$142.33 $139.67 $328.69 $345.51 $37.00
"Washington D.C."$96.67 $85.33 $345.90 $308.49 $30.00

The flight cost also is the part of your expenses that is likely to rise the most quickly between now and the holiday season that starts with Thanksgiving. This year, it's Nov. 23.

"If you want to travel, get online and start searching now for flights," Huddleton said. "Seats will fill up fast, especially for Thanksgiving because it's the busiest time of the year for travel."

After early October, airline fares will fluctuate and then start climbing steadily as Christmas approaches.

Prices spike dramatically in the last two weeks leading up to the December holiday, according to airfare prediction app Hopper. If you wait to book your flight until after Halloween, it will cost you about $1 more every day, on average.


Another bonus to visiting these destinations over the holidays is you won't have as big a crowd to contend with as you usually would, Huddleston said.

5 least affordable tourist spots OBRIEN

City Ave. Hotel Cost (Thanksgiving) Ave. Hotel Cost (Christmas) Ave. Flight Cost (Thanksgiving Ave. Flight Cost (Christmas) Ave. food cost (daily)
"Cape Town South Africa"$100.67 $92.67 "$1,557.45 ""$2,107.05 "$48.00
"Park City Utah"$115.67 $533.67 $253.29 $338.98 $50.00
"Sydney Australia"$115.00 $84.00 "$1,554.61 ""$2,137.65 "$35.00
"Kihei Hawaii"$189.67 $362.00 "$1,194.04 "$870.00 $44.00
"HonoluluHawaii"$196.67 $241.33 "$1,192.83 "$932.84 $42.00

Although Park City, Utah, is not a warm-weather destination like the other expensive U.S. spots in winter, skiers flock to its resorts during the holidays, especially in December. While flights to nearby Salt Lake City are cheaper than some other places, the report said, the lodging can get pricey.

The average nightly hotel rate jumps from around $116 around Thanksgiving to $534 near Christmas, which is the highest lodging cost in the report.

(CNBC's Jessica Dickler contributed to this article.)

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