4 deep discounts on winter travel
Resorts, all-inclusives and even tourism agencies are discounting in big ways.
A slow economic recovery means a weeklong trip to a warm-weather destination might not cost all that much more than, say, all the money you've paid the kid next door to dig out your driveway (again) after this winter's wave of snowstorms.
Experts say deals at resorts -- high-end hotels offering a variety of on-site amenities such as restaurants, shopping, entertainment and organized activities -- are on par with, if not better than, those offered during the recession.
Room rates and airfare have slowly increased as travel has picked up in the last few months. But, while room rates for the lodging industry as a whole fell an average 15% to 20% over 2008 to 2009, resorts were pressed into drops of 20% to 30%, says Bjorn Hanson, the dean of New York University's Tisch Center, who tracks hospitality industry trends.
That's because resorts were among the hardest hit when consumers decided to slash travel budgets and instead vacation within driving distance, Hanson says. "They are still trying to recover by offering some 'wow' deals," says Barbara Messing, general manager of deal site Travel-Ticker. Post continues after video.
That means right now travelers could get as much as 65% off the usual price of a winter trip. Some current deals: as low as $300 total on a Bahamas package of airfare and four nights at the all-inclusive Paradise Island Harbour Resort, or $237 for a weeklong trip, with airfare and a free spa treatment thrown in, to Cancun's all-inclusive Excellence Playa Mujeres. That's usually what you'd pay for airfare alone from, say, Miami, to either destination.
With continued economic improvement, prices could pick up as early as this spring, says Anne Banas, executive editor of deals site SmarterTravel.com. Still, some deals could linger a bit longer. Kevin Froemming, president of Sandals' parent Unique Vacations, says the resort doesn't plan to go back to a more normal discount schedule until mid-2011 as travelers continue to return to booking further in advance.
In the meantime, consumers looking to book a trip before April can take advantage of the deep discounts. But there's always fine print. We've identified exclusions and policies that can make advertised deals less appealing -- and a few hidden extras that can make them even more valuable:
Room rates. "Up to" is a common catch in room rate discounts, as in, "Save up to 60%." That hedge gives resorts leeway to increase prices during periods of high demand, including weekends or holidays, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor for deal site Travelzoo. Sales may also phase out as rooms fill up with spring breakers -- many deals exclude April in its entirety.
Coupled with minimum-stay requirements, snagging that maximum discount requires date flexibility. But even inflexible travelers still save by taking advantage of fierce competition in both the Caribbean and Mexico, Saglie says. Expedia currently offers sales of up to 30% in both destinations, with 3.5-star properties going for less than $100 per night.
Airfare. That free companion airfare touted on resort sites such as Wyndham and Sandals? It's actually an offer from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism for travel through June 30 if booked by Feb. 9. (There's also a $300 instant credit for solo travelers booking a package -- you might pay nothing for airfare and even get a little extra toward that hotel or resort.)
That the deal isn't limited to one resort means you have several price options to grab cheap airfare, but the catch mirrors many room rate exclusions: The deal isn't valid for the entire month of April. Rising fares are likely to put more pressure on travelers who wait to book at the last minute, Banas says. If you can't grab a tourism department deal, hunt for specials at package sites like CheapCaribbean.com, which negotiates its own deals on air and hotel.
Resort credits. Spa treatments, restaurant credits, free golf -- it's all up for grabs. Atlantis in the Bahamas currently offers people who book directly with the resort free kids' meals and $150 in credit at select resort restaurants. But what extras are included can vary by where you book, Banas says. That $237 weeklong Cancun deal only includes an extra spa treatment ($37) if you book through Travel-Ticker.
The tradeoff: Different variations of the same packages can mean you're paying for amenities you don't want, while missing freebies on those you do. Once you've shopped around, try calling the booking site or resort directly to see if anything can be done to tweak the package, she says.
All-inclusives. Consumers typically see all-inclusives as expensive because the upfront bill is substantially bigger than just booking a room and a flight separately. But you're not spending much -- if anything -- once you arrive since meals, drinks and other activities are included, usually at a much lower rate than if you paid a la carte, Messing says.
But that also means that all-inclusives have been pressured into bigger price drops because they can't add things like free meals, Hanson says. And now, in addition to big discounts, some of these resorts are finding other perks to toss in. One example: Trips booked by Feb. 1 to all-inclusive Sandals Resorts will cost up to 65% less than the resort chain's typical winter rates. Plus, the chain is adding property-specific deals like extra nights free, free companion airfare, up to $250 in spa credits and free catamaran cruises.
The fine print: Rates on such deals can change quickly -- even within hours -- based on demand, and most all-inclusives have a minimum-night requirement to get the deals.
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