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Economic downturn creates travel deals

Which to believe?

• Associated Press: According to 1,000 people randomly surveyed, only 42 percent of Americans plan a vacation this summer.

• Kayak.com: Despite the economy, 95 percent of the more than 4,100 who participated in Kayak's annual summer travel survey plan to travel this summer.

You can quibble about the surveys and their methodology, but one thing is for certain in these shaky economic times: Everybody is looking for a deal.

If you're thinking about a vacation and you've got some money socked away, read on:

Get your sea legs

Many cruises are charging about 40 percent less this year than last, with free air fare added in some cases and onboard credits for spa treatments and drinks. For instance, Crystal Cruises is celebrating its 20th anniversary with discounts ranging from $750 to $3,000 per couple on most of its 2010 Mediterranean and Northern Europe cruises. Also, shipboard credits of $1,000 to $2,000 per couple are being offered on most 2009 and all 2010 European sailings. Book by Dec. 31. Toll-free 1-866-446-6625; www.crystalcruises.com.

For other cruise deals, peruse individual cruise line Web sites or go to cruisecritic.com, cruisemaven.com or cruise.com. Also, the TravelSmart newsletter offers cruising tips. Subscribe by calling toll-free 1-800-327-3633, or go to www.TravelSmart Newsletter.com.

Sweat, a sure bet

Warm-weather destinations such as Miami, Arizona and the Caribbean always get cheaper during the summer, but this year the discounts are even bigger as resort owners try to make up for an ultra-slow winter.

Some resorts that normally go for $400 per night during the high season are charging $100 or less this summer, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor for travel site Travelzoo.com.

For example, "The Boulders in Scottsdale, a five-diamond luxury property, just released a rate of $99 for a suite for now through Sept. 3, with a handful of blackout dates," Saglie says. The room comes with a $50 resort credit, and if you book three nights, the fourth is free.

Tropical retreats

The slowdown in the economy coincided with the grand opening or reopening of a lot of resorts in the tropics, such as the Caribbean and Mexico. And then Mexico was spanked with a double whammy when the swine flu hit. Owners of new or remodeled properties, eager to build a clientele, are offering big discounts. One way to find these deals: Go to Google.com and type in your destination and grand opening or reopening.

Urban delights

Many big-city hotels, suffering from a steep drop in business travel, are offering deals to lure leisure travelers, especially in convention cities such as San Francisco and Las Vegas.

The Mark Hopkins in San Francisco has a $109 (nonrefundable) rate now through Aug. 29 (with some blackout dates in June and July). The new Intercontinental Hotel has a $99 rate.

Even New York hotels are less extravagantly priced. And cross-country flights are especially cheap. With a little planning, you can fly from San Francisco to New York for $200 to $300, says Kellie Pelletier, a spokeswoman for Kayak.com.

All over Europe

Eastern Europe has always been an affordable (European) option, but this year, the big cities in Western Europe — London, Paris, Rome — are a good bargain.

Your dollar will also buy more than it did last summer. Although it's still weak by historical standards, the dollar is up about 24 percent against the British pound and 17 percent against the euro since last summer.

Summer travel will still be more expensive than fall.

Flex time

To find the best deal, be flexible about when and where you go. Sometimes, if you shift your itinerary by a day or two you can save a bundle.

For flexible travelers, a new feature on Kayak.com called Buzz lets you find the 25 cheapest air fares from your home city to cities within a region (such as Europe or the Caribbean) for any month. If you find a hotel and click on the rate calendar, you can see its day-by-day pricing.

Wait, wait, wait

If you can wait until the last minute, say two to six weeks before you want to leave, you'll find better prices.

For airlines, the best deals usually have fairly short purchase windows. You only have a week or two to buy them. Watch carefully so you know prices and can really spot a deal.

One way to monitor deals is to subscribe to e-mail newsletters from sites such as Airfarewatchdog.com, Travelzoo.com, Smartertravel.com and Budgettravel.com.

Florida fever

We hate to call it a staycation, but if you need to stick close to home, there are lots of hotels and resorts in Florida that need customers. Consider renting a condo in Sanibel or even in St. Pete Beach or along the other Pinellas County beaches. Do the Orlando thing (Disney will let you in free on your birthday if you sign up in advance; disneyparks.disney.go.com) or head to Cocoa Beach for a beach-and-stars themed trip. For ideas and a list of deals by area, go to www.visitflorida.com.

Economic downturn creates travel deals 05/28/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2009 6:44pm]
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