The Summer's Best Travel Values

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“Value’’ is the watchword for travel this summer, as the topsy-turvy global economy, weak consumer demand and excess inventory in the travel industry has led to all kinds of travel deals.

Of course, finding them—and timing them—can be tricky, which is why two more watchwords for travel in the summer of 2009 are key: ‘‘fast’’ and ‘‘flexible.’’ The best bargains go to nimble consumers who are, for example, ready to travel on short notice and on off-days like Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when jetliners are less apt to be packed and the airlines need to fill seats.

The Road Less Traveled
Flexibility may also include traveling to destinations that may seem counter-intuitive. Take Mexico.  Mexico shows signs of pulling out of its flu crisis and shouldn’t be too crowded or expensive for the next several weeks, if not longer.

Taking Advantage of a Strong Dollar
Other international summer hot-spots include the United Kingdom, where the British pound, which was trading at $1.80 on the U.S. dollar a year ago, now trades at $1.50, and Canada, whose dollar has also slipped against the greenback. Canada is happily gearing up for next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, but those lovely destinations are fun in summer, too, with ample opportunities for boating, hiking, alfresco dining and cruise-ship excursions before the snowflakes fall.

Play in the U.S.A.
The big bargains for domestic U.S. travel include perennially popular places such as Las Vegas and Hawaii.  With hotel occupancy rates scraping 50%, high-end hotels and resorts are offering deals.

Honolulu’s swanky Kahala Hotel and Resort offers a fifth night free and complimentary buffet breakfast for two adults and two children, from $515 per night—not cheap, but good value for a family of four. This and similar deals have blackout dates and other hitches, so be attentive to detail when booking. But they are still deals.

Hotel Bargains
Most name-brand hotels won’t lower rack-rates for fear of tarnishing their lustrous names. But their summer packages are de facto discounts. Even 5-star brands like Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons have been hit hard by the recession. Rooms in luxury establishments are sometimes available at low rates through opaque Web sites such as Priceline.com, Lastminute.com and Hotwire.com. The downside is you don’t know what hotel you’re booking; the upside is you may be delighted when you find out.

Hotel groups’ own Web sites sometimes have the best deals. The stylish boutique hotel operator Kimpton Hotels is offering rooms from $129 a night plus a $25 daily dining credit at its new Hotel Palomar in Atlanta.

Fly for Less
Airlines, too, are rolling out deals. Low-fare pioneer Southwest Airlines (Stock Quote: LUV) is offering fares from $49 one-way between Los Angeles to Phoenix and Jet Blue (Stock Quote: JBLU)  has $69 one-way fares between Washington, D.C. and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Airline travel subsidiaries also often feature very good package deals that include air fare and hotel bookings. Among the leaders are American Airlines’ (Stock Quote: AMR)  AA Vacations and JetBlue Airways’ JetBlue Getaways.

Hit the Road
It’s going to be a good summer for the classic family road trip . Oil prices, which soared to $147 a barrel last July, hover just over $50 per now, and gasoline prices should be lower this summer. That makes car trips more affordable. Tourism authorities in car-crazy California are distributing a free guide to low-cost family road trips and scenic summer walkabouts.

Ride the Rails
If you don’t want to brave the hassle factor at airport security and would rather avoid crowded highways, take the train. From June 1 to Aug. 31, Amtrak is rolling out a deal that allows two children to ride one-way for $19 each when traveling with an adult on Amtrak’s Auto Train, which carries passengers and their cars between Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Fla.

 

Related Stories:

Your Guide to Pesky Checked Luggage Fees

International Travel: Best Summer Values

Travel Insurance: A Wise Investment?

 

 

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