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Where the deals are
Bargains are still out there for spring vacations but you need to hurry, be flexible. Here's help.
February 11, 2005: 5:44 PM EST
By Chris Isidore, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Spring break is just around the corner but it's not too late to find great travel bargains.

The traditional sun-and-fun resorts are filling up fast, though, and some alternative destinations may offer better bargains, travel experts said. And while airfare discounts are still plentiful, finding the best fares might mean being creative -- and flexible -- in making your travel plans.

Start on a Sunday

The move by Delta Air Lines to eliminate Saturday night stay requirements has opened up a lot of options for bargain-hunters. If the cheap seats to your destination are booked for Saturday, think about starting the vacation a little later, or maybe coming back early, before the following weekend.

"Going into Florida, generally the cheap days are Sunday, Monday and Tuesday," said Tom Parsons, president of Bestfares.com "Coming out, the best days are Wednesday, Thursday, maybe Friday. Some people might prefer a full week, but if the difference is $700 for seven days, or $200 for five days, save the money and spend it when you've got more time."

Off the beaten path

Nicole Hockin, spokeswoman for Hotels.com, said that the travel Web site's list of hot Spring Break destinations is no surprise -- cities such as Daytona Beach, Honolulu, and Cancun. And she said while there are bargains there, those cheap rooms are going fast.

But some warm-weather destinations that are growing in popularity still aren't too crowded, meaning you can find good bargains. She listed San Diego and San Antonio, Texas, as the types of cities that are picking up business.

"Non-traditional cities are starting to see some real interest, especially from young families, rather than the typical collegiate spring break traveler," she said.

Ski instead of sea

For those who like snow more than or as much as sun, there are a lot of spring skiing bargains, particularly in the Rocky Mountains, where snowfall's been heavy this season. Some ski areas may stay open until May, and there are bargains to be found in late February and March as well.

"We're seeing hotels in places like Crested Butte (Colorado) and Jackson Hole (Wyoming) are offering, stay three or four nights and get last night free," said Hockin.

Go the distance

The dollar has fallen versus the euro in the last year, making European vacations 15 to 20 percent more expensive once you get there. But there are cheap air fares to get Americans to the major hubs of London, Paris of Frankfurt to make up for at least some of the loss in purchasing power.

Parsons said round-trip flights to those three cities can be found for much of the spring for as little as $289, plus taxes. The problem, he said, is that flying to cities other than those three hubs can quickly double the cost of a travel.

There are also bargains to be found in some of the countries devastated by the tsunami in late December. Even some coastal hotels and resorts in countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives were not affected by the devastation caused by the disaster, and other areas that had some limited damaged are again open for business.

But not surprisingly, travelers are staying way, prompting the countries to make efforts to win back tourists, and the dollars lost.

"In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami we did not encourage tourists, but now that many parts of the affected east and south coasts are clear we have given the green light," wrote Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka's deputy minister for tourism, in a recent column in London's Daily Telegraph. "It is vital that tourists return to Sri Lanka. It is not just the hotels and resorts that have suffered, but the thousands of subsidiary businesses that rely on tourism."

Don't wait too long

Parsons said while it's possible to find bargains for travel as soon as President's Day weekend, it's best not to wait too long. The major low-fare carriers such as Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and AirTran all have fare sales set to end as soon as Monday.

"This is an ideal weekend to be comparison shopping," he said.  Top of page


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