Dec. 2, 2010 — -- Do you dare to fly … in the dead zone? You should. You'll save a buck or two.
You might even save hundreds.
Stephen King's readers will recognize the term "dead zone" from the frightening suspense novel he published in 1979; as the blurb for the Signet edition notes, the book is about a schoolteacher "who spun the wheel of fortune and won a trip into … the dead zone."
Presumably, your trip into the dead zone will be much more pleasant, because in airfare terms, dead zone equals cheap flights.
So when is this dead zone of which I speak? Right now. And there are other dead zone periods, too. But the first couple of weeks of December are particularly "dead," meaning no one flies then.
It's all quite logical. Everyone's done with flying for a while after that trip home for Thanksgiving, and many of us will not return to the skies until Christmas or New Year's. This is followed by yet another dead zone, which we'll call the January doldrums, as much of this month is one big yawn for the airlines.
Things will perk up again when spring break approaches, and as folks begin making plans for summer vacation, but the good news is, there are even dead zones in the summer.
But back to the winter window of opportunity; let me show you some examples of bargains during these blah periods.
I just went on my airfare site and looked at prices from Los Angeles to New York during the second week of December and found flights for $249 roundtrip (and that figure includes the obligatory taxes and fees). Jump ahead a couple of weeks and you're in the midst of the Christmas rush with plane tickets soaring to $440 and beyond.
Now fast-forward to the second week in January and airfares are back down below $250 roundtrip again. See what I mean? And yet so many airfare travelers let these dead zones go to waste. Not Jeanine Barone though. "I like a great deal," says the food and travel blogger, "and I don't like crowds."
What Are the Cheapest Times to Fly?
Yes, that's another benefit to traveling in the dead zone. Empty airports. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating, but there will be fewer passengers, and navigating your way from the Cinnabon kiosk to gate 47 won't take nearly as much time as it usually does.
And if the airports are that calm, imagine what's in store for you once you reach your destination. As Barone told me, "When I visit Spain in September and October, I don't have to deal with crazy lines to get into the Prado Museum."
Wait, what's this about September and October? Yep, more dead zones.
That's the great thing about dead zones; they vary from place to place and from month to month. You've probably heard of this phenomenon: it's called, traveling off-season. Now don't turn up your nose at this until you consider some of the possibilities.
I just checked out the Kimpton chain's luxurious Sky Hotel in Aspen during the height of ski season, and the cheapest room for two adults for five nights in mid-February will cost you just a hair over $2,235. Stay there off season -- say in July -- and you'll save $435. Nope, you won't be able to ski, but you can hike in those glorious mountains and see some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. There's plenty who'd say that's preferable to freezing your hindquarters off.
But say it's Orlando you fancy: Find your dead zone there while children are still in school (although it seems to me that fewer and fewer parents have much compunction about pulling the kiddies out of class to visit with Mickey).
Or how about Hawaii?
This is an immensely popular wintertime destination for snowbirds, while families with school-age kids love it during summer vacation. Avoid these crowds (and the accompanying peak airfares) by traveling during the fall and winter, and you'll save. Tip: Avoid the increasingly popular spring break periods, which are definitely not dead zones.
Another tip: Many locals say Hawaii's weather is at its best during April and May, and September and October, but to be honest, I've never been there when the climate was anything less than spectacular.
Then there's Europe: Fly the dead zone of winter and save. Prefer Paris in the springtime? Or London when it's warmer? Then try to take advantage of the end of the dead zone in late March, which coincides with the traditional seasonal price breaks on fares to Europe. In order words, check the fares; by flying in late March, you might spend hundreds less than someone flying just a day or so later.
Not sure how to find the dead zone for a trip you have in mind? Simple: Just fly when most people don't want to. If you're not sure when that is, visit an airfare search site like mine (FareCompare) and shop by day and price with our flexible calendar search. It's kind of fun to see how the prices change day to day and how much you can save by simply being flexible.
Another way is to follow the deals: Earlier this week, for example, JetBlue featured a special one-day only sale on vacation getaway packages, which might as well have been called "dead zone deals," since the dates were limited to Dec. 5-14.
One more thing: Set some real-time airfare alerts for your favorite destinations, and pounce when you see a fare you like. Chances are pretty good some of the best fares will be smack in the middle of a dead zone.
Depending on the indoor-outdoor activities you favor, you can create a true bargain vacation, and if you play your cards right, you won't have to wait in hours-long lines behind screaming kids in mouse ears, either.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website, FareCompare.com, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.