When it comes to saving money on travel, when you go is as important as where you go. We checked in with Mark Murphy, founder of TravelPulse.com, to find out the best destinations for warm weather getaways that won’t break the bank, and the best times to book them.

Not surprisingly, Murphy, who also publishes two magazines geared towards travel agents and organizes the Travvy Awards (touted as the Oscars of the industry), suggests using an agent — but he had some pretty convincing reasons why.

When to go

“The key if you’re looking for great value is finding the gaps,” Murphy says. “Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the best times to travel because it’s cheap. The resorts empty out, and they don’t fill back up until the Christmas holiday. Right now is another great time to travel — you could have booked something for now for half the price as what you would have paid two weeks ago to travel over the holidays.”

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But that won’t hold true for long. The next few months is the busy time for destinations like Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean, Murphy says. And then there’s a drop off again: “Any warm weather destination will see a dramatic drop in pricing right after the Easter break, and especially in May — that tends to be a really soft month, so it’s a great time to get away and have the same exact experience as someone who paid twice as much to go another time,” he says.

Cancun isn’t just for spring breakers

If you’re looking for a beach destination easily accessible from the East Coast via nonstop flight, Cancun is one of the best values, Murphy says. And if you go with an all-inclusive resort, you’ll know all your costs up front.

“People perceive the all-inclusive market as the way it was 10, 20 years ago, with buffets lines and things like that, but it’s really evolved and gone into the luxury space,” he says. “One example at the high end is the five-star, all-inclusive resort Grand Velas in the Riviera Maya region — I sent people there who are big-time foodies, and they could not say enough good things about it. One a restaurant there, they said it was on par with the best restaurants in New York. At an all-inclusive!” 

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Murphy also suggests the luxe Le Blanc, an all-inclusive adults-only property with butler service, or the Hyatt Ziva if you’re bringing the whole family, but there are “tons of choices” in the three- and four-star range in Cancun as well.

Cruise from home

Long gone are the days of having to fly down to Miami to board a ship. 

“Whether you’re in Boston, New York or Philadelphia, you’re within a three-hour drive of a dozen cruise ships. It’s called home port cruising,” Murphy says. “That’s a massive savings if you’re traveling as a family — you’re going to save on average about $2,000 in airfare, versus flying somewhere to get to a ship or get to a resort.”

As far as when to go, the same money-saving rules apply to cruises: Find the gap. 

Don’t go it alone

Murphy’s pro tip? Hire a pro. All signs point to travel agents, once declared obsolete, making a comeback.

“The price you pay for doing all the work yourself is the same price you pay if you book through a travel agent. It’s a myth that it’s cheaper to book on your own,” Murphy says. In fact, it can be cheaper to use an agent: “The Marriott in Cancun, for example, will give you the same price no matter where you book, if it’s the Marriott site or Expedia,” he explains. “But if you book with a travel agent, you might get an unpublished value-added offer [such as a dining credit] that is only available through an agent.”

Not only can a travel agent score you savings, plus sift through the overload of information so you don’t have to, they’re also a resource if something goes wrong on the trip. “If there’s a problem with the hotel, you can call the agent and ask them to fix it,” he says. “So now you have an advocate who’s going to deal with it. If you book through Expedia, who are you going to call? Not every trip comes out perfect — my best travel tip is use a travel agent.”