NEW YORK (Money Magazine) - These days, it's been easier than ever to find a great travel deal.
With SARS in Asia and Canada, a backlash against the French that sent tourism in France reeling, a tough economy that left many American families "vacationing" at home -- all these factors have produced a bumper crop of bargains everywhere from Bangkok to the Cote d'Azur. And the Web has made snagging them even faster.
Ticket timing - Buy tickets very early, very late or very quickly: On the most competitive routes, sale fares disappear faster than a sunny day in Seattle.
If you know where you want to go, use the Internet to keep regular tabs on air fares. On Travelocity you can set the search engine to e-mail you whenever the price drops $25 on a certain route.
Or download the free SideStep application, which allows you to search several travel websites at once.
Check the map - When fares drop, how do you know when to buy? Tom Parsons of Bestfares.com says a coast-to-coast flight at 3¢ to 4¢ a mile is a screaming bargain -- $180 to $240 for a round trip between L.A. and New York City, say -- and should be snapped up ASAP, while 5¢ to 6¢ a mile is good but hardly great.
Make a call - If you later see a lower fare for the same flight, call the airline's customer service hotline. You won't get a refund, but you might get a voucher for the difference. (This doesn't apply to discounters like JetBlue and Southwest.)
Rule busters - If you're finding it hard to cash in your miles for award travel to a popular destination, consider forking over the extra miles (sometimes double) for a "rule buster" ticket, which guarantees you anytime availability. Puerto Rico in February, anyone?
Go against the flow - To snare a hotel over a weekend, call one that caters to business travelers. Avoid discounters like Ramada, which tend to hike their rates on weekends. And do the reverse on weekdays.
Membership perks - Sign up for every hotel membership program you can. This will net you about a 25 percent discount off the rack rate as well as other perks: Frequent guests at the Wyndham chain, for instance, get free local and long-distance calls. And once you've found a deal through a website like Expedia or Orbitz, call the hotel directly and ask them to match it. Hotels save their best rooms for their membership guests.
At VillasoftheWorld.com, rent a Greek villa for an exclusive getaway. Stay at the Villa Agios in Evia, Greece in November for just $2,000 a week, $500 less than in high season. A five-bedroom, four-bathroom manor has a pool and staff (including a maid and a chef). Bring your family or friends, split the price, and make Robin Leach cry. Visit the site for other luxury villa specials throughout Europe.
- An Australia and New Zealand sampler
|Kakahi Falls, a hot waterfall in Hell's Gate Thermal Reserve, New Zealand
For $2,599, fly round trip from Los Angeles on Air New Zealand (800-262-1234) and spend 12 nights in Australia and New Zealand. The price includes three nights in Sydney at the five-star Hotel Intercontinental, three in Melbourne at the equally posh Sofitel Melbourne and six in Auckland at one of a variety of North Island hotels.
- The Fidelity-American Express Platinum Card
AmEx's travel perks make the hefty $395 fee for a Platinum Card worth considering. But if you have a Fidelity brokerage account, you qualify for the card at a $320 rate -- 20 percent less -- and still get platinum perks.
One tempting example: Through April, you can buy a seven-night getaway on the Big Island of Hawaii's Kohala Coast, including an ocean-view room at the five-star Fairmont Orchid resort and a convertible rental car, for $1,894 per person. Or buy a first-or business-class international ticket and get another ticket free.
|Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass.
To celebrate their anniversaries, both Canyon Ranch spa locations -- in Lenox, Mass. and Tucson (800-742-9000) -- will cut their prices. In September a three-night stay in Lenox will cost $1,863 (includes taxes and service fees, plus a $295 voucher you can put toward spa treatments). That's a 15 percent savings over regular rates. Stay four nights or more and save 20 percent. In Tucson the anniversary special runs from Nov. 30 through Dec. 22. Save 15 percent when you stay three nights.
- Samsonite 22-inch carry-on bag
Get going with the 22-inch, expandable Samsonite carry-on, one of the most popular overnighters among businessfolk, for just $70 -- 72 percent off the $250 list price -- at eBags.com. It's tax-free (except in Colorado and Texas), and the shipping and returns are free too.