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No guts, no glory for travel bargain seekers

Your household budget screams, "No, no, no." But the alluring deals gently whisper, "Yes, yes, yes."

This is the time for gutsy travelers, the ones who don't know whether they'll have jobs tomorrow but can surrender to the temptation of bargains offered by airlines, hotels, cruise ships and amusement parks.

"There hasn't been a time like this to book a really good deal in a long time," said Katie Deines, spokeswoman for the online travel agency Expedia.

With the economy in the tank, the tourism industry wants you to travel, even when spending makes most people queasy.

Hotel rates are down 14 percent in vacation hot spots such as Orlando and 34 percent in Las Vegas, according to Expedia.

And the deals keep coming.

Round-trip air fare between Tampa and Dublin, Ireland, has been priced as low as $433, according to FareCompare.com. The site also has had a round-trip fare from Orlando to Honolulu as low as $451.

Kathy Sudeikis, vice president of All About Travel in Mission, Kan., said a November trip from St. Louis to Antigua for two plunged from $972 a person round-trip to $329.

"These fares are coming down like crazy," she said.

Dow Jones recently reported that there was less passenger traffic on U.S. airlines than expected in February, leading airlines to begin offering summer fare sales.

"The airlines are trying to get people off their seats, onto their computers, buying tickets," said Rick Seaney, chief executive officer at FareCompare.com. "The problem is: Do they have the money to travel or the willpower?"

Sudeikis pauses to add a word of caution: The attractive prices are a moving target. Some deals, she said, are good only for limited periods.

The wave of discounting comes from a distressed tourism industry trying to win over consumers rattled by the economy.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll revealed that nearly 60 percent of typical yearly vacationers will reduce their travel spending this year.

"There's kind of this overhang of pessimism," said James Fisher, a consumer spending and marketing expert at St. Louis University.

Leisure trips fell 1.3 percent last year and are expected to decline 2.2 percent more this year, according to a study last month by consultants at IHS Global Insight and D.K. Shifflet & Associates. Overall travel spending is projected to be down 8.3 percent in 2009.

"It's going to be a tough year," said Jennifer Fuller, a principal at Global Insight.

The tourism industry is working hard to trump the fear.

The overall cost of travel was down 6 percent in January compared with the same time last year, according to the Travel Industry Association of America's travel price index. A lot of that decline was driven by a 40 percent drop in fuel prices on the index.

Fuller warned that bargains would only go so far to help the travel industry survive.

"I don't think anybody's going to be able to offer enough discounts or incentives to see positive growth," she said. "There may be little pockets of that, but overall I think it's going to be negative no matter what."

>>TIPS

Getting a deal

If you want to take a cheap flight, experts say now is as good a time as any to fly, even if the economy stinks. Here are some tips you might want to follow in search of something cheap.

Airlines

• If you don't see the fare you want in the market you want, wait. Things can change suddenly.

• Find a Web site that offers e-mail alerts. Travelocity, Expedia and FareCompare are examples. But keep in mind that some airlines, such as Southwest, don't post fares with these sites.

• Book as early as possible.

• Shop for sales between Tuesday and Friday.

• The best days to fly cheap are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The worst are Monday, Friday and Sunday (sometimes $30 or higher each way).

Hotels

Rates in the first quarter are down across the county: 34 percent in Las Vegas,

22 percent in New York City, 16 percent in San Diego,

15 percent in San Francisco and 14 percent in Chicago, to name a few. Rates at luxury hotels are down between

18 and 25 percent.

No guts, no glory for travel bargain seekers 03/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 4:30am]

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers.
    

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