Hotels, travel companies offer plenty of deals

November 02, 2008|By Jane Engle | Jane Engle,Los Angeles Times

The stock market is swooning. The economy is wobbling. An election is pending. The future is foggy. Sounds like a great time to take a vacation. What better way to relieve stress? In fact, tourists who scrape up the cash this fall and winter will find some of the best bargains since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks devastated the travel industry. This time it's worry over money, not safety, that is keeping would-be travelers at home. Uncertainty can be your friend. When in doubt, travel companies discount. A look around:

Hotels Room rates are falling, but the other news is that there are inventive deals.

Starwood Hotels says that, through Dec. 30, you can pay a rate equal to your birth year (i.e. $62 if you were born in 1962) for the second or third night of your stay at some Sheratons, Westins and other brands in the Northeast and Canada (with limited availability and other restrictions).

San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels will refund up to $25 to cover your airline's checked-bag fee under its "We Got Your Bag" offer.

Millennium Hotels and Resorts has been offering food and beverage credits of $100 per night at some of its locations, including Boulder, Colo.

Cruises and tours Cruises are at the forefront of price cratering, especially in the Caribbean, where hurricane season continues through November.

"We are focusing more on deals than we ever have in five years," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruisecritic.com, a consumer information Web site. Brown says she's astonished by fares as low as $25 per night for Bahamas cruises, adding, "They're desperate to fill the ship." She has also seen Mediterranean cruises as low as $599, plus airfare, for seven nights. (Newer ships still command top dollar.) Even the holidays are shaping up to be different this year.

"Usually, Christmas cruises and New Year's cruises are sold out by now," Brown said. "But not this year."

Tours and packages can be reasonable, too, even in Europe, because winter is the low season. It's not uncommon to find six-day air-hotel packages in Europe for less than $1,500 per person, double.

Flights Airfares, although dropping for some dates, remain fairly high. That's especially true for the holidays, when seats are much in demand.

Domestic fares were recently up an average 25 percent over last year for Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to Farecast.com, which tracks airfares. Blame high fuel costs and flight cutbacks. "Tens of millions of seats that were flying last year will not be in the air this year," said Hugh Crean, Farecast's general manager. American Airlines, for instance, has said it expects to fly 8.5 percent fewer domestic seats in 2009 than this year and 14 percent less than in 2007.

Still, the deals are out there, and flexibility is key. You'll be surprised at how much you can save by moving your travel dates a day or two.

A final caution Don't lose your head over discounts; they may actually be a fire sale for a shaky business. Several airlines and tour operators have gone out of business this year. So if a deal seems too good to true, beware, and be sure your travel insurance covers financial default of your travel supplier.

Now get out there.

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