If you have the money and the vacation time, use both immediately. According to Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, there have been five major airfare hikes this year.
Only two stuck, but expect more as fuel prices rise. Back in January, when oil was $100 a barrel, Delta succeeded in getting United, American and U.S. Airways to agree to a price bump that hiked the price of a round-trip ticket $10 to $20. On February 15, when oil jumped to $102 per barrel, formerly low-cost Southwest Airlines kicked off an industry-wide hike by increasing roundtrip fares by $10. Earlier this week, Southwest was at it again, this time dragging along JetBlue for a $6 to $10 round-trip increase tied to the $107-a-barrel price of oil..
We haven't even hit the peak summer months yet. Combined with increasing fees, rising fares are a great reason for travelers to book their tax return into a trip quickly. TripAdvisor's SmarterTravel, for example, is eight-night packages from New York to Dublin that include meals, transfers, hotels and sightseeing for $1,639 a person. If that sounds a bit brisk, they're also offering trips from Los Angeles to Fiji and a seven-night stay at the Sonaisali Island for $1,542 per person.
How exactly is this a good investment? Well, there are always the pictures and memories they can't take away from you, but getting away to a place that in no way resembles work or home usually pays off in unloaded stress. You won't be alone in your splurge, either, as 11.3% of Americans told the NRF they plan to blow their return on vacations this year.
A used car
If you have a lot of time to go trolling eBay and other sites for just the right vehicle and are willing to step a few decades into the past, you can still get a sweet ride for less than $3,000.
The folks at Popular Mechanics looked into this and found that the first-generation Mazda Miata (1989-1994) is not only still widely available thanks to Mazda building tens of thousands of them, but that the 1.6-liter four-cylinder drop top has a huge parts market. If you can snag one with no rust on it that was buffed by the retiree who bought it before you, you could end up with a low-mileage steal.
Another gem for the money is the BMW E30 3 Series that last rolled off the production lines in 1991. It's a tough find at more than two decades old, but if you can find an "I" version with an inline six-cylinder engine and 168 horsepower, take it. There are more expensive all-wheel-drive versions out there, but the iconic look and tight-handling rear wheel drive version is worth digging for, especially considering the parts available.
Want to really blow some minds? Take that three grand you could just as easily spend on a beat-up Jeep Wrangler or an esoteric Ford Probe and put it toward the most underrated car ever produced: The Pontiac Fiero. The four-cylinder version gets 40 miles to the gallon, but mid-engine design now used by luxury automakers is really best suited to the 2.8-liter V6 that first appeared in the 1986 models. If you're particularly adept in the garage, you can swap out the sports suspension and vented disc brakes from a 1988 version into an older model, but you'll have a classic on your hands for chump change.