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Ellen Roseman: Getting away from winter on the cheap

One way is to plan ahead and use your reward points. But the way I prefer, since I'm not good at advance planning, is to aim for flexibility.

In early January, my husband and I will fly to Florida on Canjet, a charter airline, for $22 each. After taxes, of course, the return fare is $343, but it's still a good deal. A comparable Air Canada flight is $117 more.

We leave Toronto on a Monday night, arriving at Fort Lauderdale at 10 p.m., and come back the following Monday night, arriving at 1.45 a.m. Not the most convenient times, but acceptable for bargain hounds.

We plan to stay at a private condo apartment that is rented out to tourists. That option is less expensive than a hotel and offers more space as well, including a kitchen for meals.

So, where do you find these apartments? You search for listings at websites that specialize in this area, such as HomeAway.com and VRBO.com, which stands for Vacation Rentals by Owner.

Suppose you prefer the safety and convenience of a well-known hotel chain. Again, there are websites that help you find hotel markdowns and selloffs.

Two of the best-known are Priceline.com and Hotwire.com.

These websites keep you in the dark about the name of the hotel until after you pay. But they let you specify the geographic area and the quality rating (from one to five stars). So, your destination isn't too much of a mystery.

To keep up with travel bargains, you can get email alerts from websites that track them, such as Expedia and Travelocity. This gives you a head start on arranging your trip before the special prices are gone.

Another interesting website, TravelZoo, aggregates and publishes a host of last-minute deals every day. It has a Canadian edition you can follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Don't forget the group buying sites, such as Groupon, Dealfind and LivingSocial. They also have travel deals that expire if you don't jump onto them right away.

So, you can find a hot winter travel deal if you stay flexible and avoid the times when most people travel, such as weekends and March break. By being spontaneous and waiting until the last minute, you can save a bundle.

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