updated 11/30/2005 6:37:01 PM ET 2005-11-30T23:37:01

While there are those who regard winter's arrival with excitement - as a chance to hone their skiing skills and conquer the black diamond runs on virgin mountain ranges - others regard it with all the enthusiasm of an IRS audit. Those people, if they are smart and can afford it, get on the phone to their assistants and book nice, long holidays somewhere else.

Somewhere else, in this case, is usually the beach. While sunning oneself on the sand between daiquiris and laps in the pool is appealing year-round, there is something especially delicious about it when 15-inch snow drifts and frost-bitten extremities are at just the other end of a plane ride: Still a recent memory, but one that fades with every application of SPF 15 sunscreen.

This year will be no exception, with The World Tourism Organization estimating that international travel will rise 5% to 6% through the end of December. But winter travel can be complicated by a variety of factors. "While flight delays certainly occur all year long, winter weather can increase their likelihood," says Rally Caparas, an air traffic expert from Travelocity Business, a full-service corporate travel agency affiliated with Sabre Holdings-owned (nyse: TSG - news - people ) Travelocity.

Caparas highlights factors like time-consuming de-icing procedures, runway configurations that are particularly vulnerable to wind gusts (including those at Newark and LaGuardia Airports in New York City) and increased crowds around the holidays at the world's busiest airport hubs, like those in Atlanta, Ga., or London, England.

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The good news is that some careful planning can take much of the frustration out of winter travel. "Whenever possible, travelers should use alternate airports, which typically experience shorter and fewer delays," Caparas says. And for air passengers flying into chiller climes between Nov. 15 and March 15, booking flights that are scheduled to arrive between 11:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. local time, when the sun is out, will minimize delays caused by severe weather conditions.

In addition, analysts advise passengers to prepare for long security lines in advance: Have your passport and boarding pass ready and remove your laptop and anything that's likely to set off the metal detector well before you reach the front of the queue. Lines can move abruptly, even after a long standstill, and you don't want to be the slowpoke.

Slideshow: 2005 Holiday Highlights

Even if you plan strategically to avoid the effects of the cold weather and crowded airports, PricewaterhouseCoopers has listed security worries, concern over avian flu and tighter corporate rules governing business travel as additional factors complicating winter travel this year. And on top of these disincentives, there may be an unpleasant surprise waiting when you actually call to reserve your vacation: Your favorite hotel could be booked solid - or just cost a lot more than it did last year.

"In warm weather destinations, like the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida, advance bookings were very strong and hotels, particularly at the high end, are tight on space. Many popular destinations are sold out for weeks at a time," says Scott Berman, a partner in PwC's Hospitality and Leisure advisory group. "From an operator standpoint, this is going to be a strong winter. From a consumer's perspective, if you don't have reservations already, you need to get working on that."

The high demand for hotel rooms - especially in places like Cancun, the Caribbean, and Florida, where hurricane damage has decreased overall room capacity - has been a boon for hotel operators. "This booking pace has given hotel operators the confidence to increase their room rates," says Berman. According to PwC and Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research, the national average for room rates in the U.S. was $86.24 in 2004; it will increase to $90.70 in 2005 and is forecast to increase to $95.21 in 2006.

Of course, Berman adds, "The cost of operating a hotel has gone up as well, particularly as it relates to energy costs. And that's being passed on to the consumer as well."

Despite the cost, winter is the best time to go to the beach. Our Winter Getaway Guide highlights wonderfully warm destinations that allow you to do just that. Like your beach sports with a side of sunset? Head for Wailea in Hawaii, Maui's best-known resort and a favorite with families and couples. In the mood for all-night raves? India's bohemian town Goa has a beach -and a party - for everyone. And if you're craving something more serene, opt for Indonesia or Mauritius, where some of the world's most beautiful beaches are the site of luxurious resorts with private villas and enough pampering to last a lifetime. As an added bonus, many of the destinations on our list are actually best experienced during the winter, when temperatures are reasonable and not as oppressive as they can be in summertime.

So stock your suitcase with a good beach read, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen. Just don't forget the scarf, mittens and thermal underwear - we hate to remind you, but you're going to need them when you get back.

© 2012


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