The window between Christmas and New Year's, when businesses tend to be in sleep mode and the NBA season still hasn't gotten interesting, would be the perfect time to travel if airfare weren't through the roof. Unfortunately, airports tend to be packed with harried and price-gouged fliers making their way to warmth or family. Booking last-minute getaways during this high-demand season is both expensive and tricky unless you strategically choose a less popular flight path. We asked the ticketing experts at Priceline to find the best deals of the season and discovered that travelers still have a chance to get out of town if they are willing to go against the grain and visit a less touristed city.

Travelers leaving New York, a regional hub thanks to the three major airports surrounding it, can make quick hops to Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland, and Raleigh. The tickets, which cost around $200 round-trip, won't get late bookers out of the cold, but they will get them to towns with a lot to recommend them. Chicago is in the middle of a hotel boom, Toronto can have a bohemian appeal, and Cleveland is having a moment. More affordable flights to warmer destinations are available from Raleigh-Durham Airport.

Angelenos may have slightly more seasonally appropriate choices. A round-trip ticket to Denver or Phoenix – ski or tan – won't break the bank and there is always San Francisco, where unpredictable weather patterns bring rain, snow, and sun, depending on the day. Though travelers departing from Chicago won't be able to make it to California without paying a pretty penny, they can head due south to New Orleans, which makes up for not being a traditional winter destination by being a year-long party. The Big Easy – it turns out – is a great affordable, last-minute choice for anyone living in the South. Its main competition might be Tampa, which has more sun and fewer charms.

The key is to see the season as an opportunity to visit a city you might otherwise miss. Save your money and wait for February for that week in the Caribbean. You'll need it by then and it won't come at such a high price.

More information: When booking last-minute flights, it pays to check for prices on a number of ticketing sites. And remember, if you keep waiting for a better deal, you're more likely to get a worse one.