Flexibility, surfing Internet best way to snag deals
By LYNN SELDON
For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/27/08
With soaring gas and food prices, additional airline fees (from a checked bag to a Coke), and the declining U.S. dollar, it’s becoming more difficult to travel on a budget.
However, today’s value-oriented travelers do have the advantages of the Internet and lots of competition to make smart travel still affordable.
“I firmly believe that you can go anywhere you want to, though you may have to make certain sacrifices to do it on your budget,” says Erik Torkells, former editor-in-chief at Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. “Ultimately, if you want to go, figure it out. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Here are some money-saving options for travel around the corner or around the world.
• Tickets to museums and attractions can take a chunk out of a travel budget, but companies like City Pass can help save big bucks at many popular destinations.
The concept is simple: A booklet that’s thinner than an iPod saves time (researching must-see attractions) and money (tickets are much less than those individually priced).
The City Pass booklet contains tickets, attraction information, transportation directions, best times to visit, maps, and details from National Geographic Traveler. City Pass ticket holders also avoid most lines.
City Pass is available for Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Hollywood, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Southern California, and Toronto. As an example for a “staycation” or house guests, the Atlanta City Pass ($69 for adults and $49 for youth 3-12) costs about half the price of regular admission to six of Atlanta’s top attractions: Georgia Aquarium; New World of Coca-Cola; Zoo Atlanta; Inside CNN Atlanta Studio Tour; a choice of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History or the Atlanta Botanical Garden; and a choice of the High Museum of Art or the Atlanta History Center. 1-888-330-5008, www.citypass.com.
• Coupon books offer a great way to save almost anywhere. Atlanta’s “MVP” (Most Valuable Package) and the “Georgia Dream Pass” can offer significant savings to both locals and their visitors.
Through Sept. 21, MVP means entrance to five top Atlanta attractions (Atlanta Braves, Georgia Aquarium, New World of Coca-Cola, Six Flags Over Georgia, and Stone Mountain Park) for just $89 (a savings of 35 percent over standard admission).
The more general Georgia Dream Pass is free and features benefits at hundreds of participating attractions statewide — like shopping discounts, gift bags, behind-the-scenes tours, and free or priority parking. In addition, no coupons are needed for free admission to Georgia state parks on Wednesdays (be sure to ask about bargain-priced accommodations options as well, like a basic but fun yurt at Bobby Brown State Park for just $50 a night). 1-800-285-2682, www.atlanta.net for MVP; 1-800-847-4842, www.exploregeorgia.org for Dream Pass; 1-800-864-7275, www.gastateparks.org for Georgia State Parks.
Cruise for savings
• Cruising can be a very good value. The reasons remain the same: inclusive pricing (often including airfare, other transportation, accommodations, all or most food, entertainment, many activities); a range of categories, lines, cruise lengths, and destinations to meet most budgets; and more than 30 convenient home ports on U.S. soil.
Travel agencies that specialize in cruises, along with Web sites like CruiseCompete.com and eCruises.com, can be helpful in finding great cruise deals. Though their “Endless Summer” sale ends Wednesday, value-oriented Carnival Cruise Lines still has great deals, especially in the Caribbean; four- or five-night cruises out of Jacksonville or New Orleans start at as little as $349 for an inside cabin and $399 for an ocean view stateroom.
• Since it’s paid for in dollars and foreign currency is rarely used, a cruise can be particularly attractive in areas where the dollar remains weak.
Departing out of Trieste, Italy, on Sept. 21, the Costa Classica features Italian-style cruising for seven nights in the Eastern Mediterranean (including Greece and Croatia), starting at $699 per person (a 59 percent savings). Even a traditional transatlantic crossing aboard the luxurious Queen Mary 2 can be found for as little as $1,295 per person in mid-October. See www.cruising.org to find an agent near you.
Web site bargains
• Web sites often offer great research tools and bargains. Bed-and-breakfast fans will want to check BedandBreakfast.com, with more than 1,300 book-able B&Bs worldwide, detailed information on more than 7,000 B&Bs and inns, and an ever-changing list of bargains.
Recently, there were more than 150 “Tanks a Lot” free gas offers on the Web site, and a two-night stay booked online by Sept. 1 and completed by Dec. 31 leads to a $50 bonus check. 1-800-462-2632, www.bedandbreakfast.com.
• Special budget travel Web sites and pages are being created. For instance, great summer travel deals in California are available at www.visitcalifornia.com/summerdeals. Launched by the California Travel and Tourism Commission, the possibilities include gas cards, discounts, free nights and welcome packages. Closer to home, the just-launched www.coolashevillesavings.com offers a wide range of Asheville-area bargains, like mid-week hotel deals, adventure coupons, free attractions, low-cost lunches, live entertainment and even money-saving advice from the Visitor Center’s concierge.
Discounts for singles
• Single supplements often penalize those traveling alone, but not with Single Travel International. This solo travel specialist offers “Solo Super Savers,” with selected departures.
For instance, a “Spanish Winter Fiesta” April 11-19 that includes Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Grenada, Cordoba and Seville has a price starting at $1,959 per person for a shared room — or for a single room. 1-877-765-6874, Ext. 705, www.singlestravelintl.com.
• House rentals provide a great way to save money on accommodations and food expenses. Combined with an early start to fall rates, Pristine Properties Vacation Rentals is a great place to start down around Port St. Joe (about six hours from Atlanta).
While many house rental summer seasons run from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Pristine Properties goes to lower fall rates on Aug. 16. For example, a three-bedroom oceanfront house that costs $2,100 per week in early August is $1,600 after Aug. 16. Plus, unlike most rental companies, there’s no weekly minimum, making long weekends from Atlanta easy (and budget-friendly). 1-800-215-0677, www.visitfloridabeaches.com.
•Many may not know that vacation ownership units (often called “timeshare”) are often available for rent direct from the company, at discounts.
For instance, through Dec. 21, villas at Orlando’s Sheraton Vistana Resort and Sheraton Vistana Villages go for $99 (one-bedroom) and $129 (two-bedroom). A three-night minimum stay must be booked by Sept. 30, with packages including resort discounts. 407-903-4372 (ask for rate code DRMPK), www.starwoodvillarentals.com.
• Apartments in foreign destinations can be a great deal through companies like Rentalo. Their Smart Search feature reveals a range of apartments starting at just $23 per person in Paris. A one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city that can sleep up to six (a king bed and two double sofa beds) and has a small kitchen starts at $134 per night, with a three-night minimum.
The company has more than 200,000 properties for all budgets in the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, and elsewhere. 1-877-710-5914, www.rentalo.com.
Save on hotels
• Often, finding one independent hotel “group” with a number of choices in one city can lead to good values. For instance, Charming Inns in Charleston has a trio of accommodations options with different styles, and prices that are substantially lower than normal until Sept. 11.
The basic King Courtyard Inn starts at $139 (normally from $170). The historic John Rutledge House is from $179 (normally $235). And, the normally budget-busting (but worth it) Wentworth Mansion can be enjoyed from $299 (normally from $400). All are convenient to Charleston’s Historic District. 1-877-753-9704, www.charminginns.com.
• Look for deals at luxury hotels such as Ritz-Carlton. An upscale “staycation” in Atlanta is possible with the “Reconnect Package” with a deluxe room, breakfast for two, and valet parking starting at $199 per night at the downtown property and $219 per night in Buckhead.
The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation (75 miles east of Atlanta) offers a “Bed and Breakfast” package that’s $319 on weekdays and $439 on weekends, including a resort view room, breakfast for two, valet parking and s’mores by the campfire.
Further afield, the French Quarter’s classy Ritz-Carlton of New Orleans has city-view accommodations starting at $169 until the end of September (with tasty “COOLinary New Orleans” three-course lunches ($20) and dinners ($30) at select area restaurants).
Down at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, the “Fairways & Greens” package through Oct. 31 includes accommodations, two rounds of golf (played by one or two guests), and breakfast buffet for $279 per room, per night. In Palm Beach, Fla., the “Summer Escape” packages are actually running through Oct. 1, including three-nights-for-two and eight-nights-for-six deals that drop daily rates dramatically, depending on date and room view. 1-800-241-3333, www.ritzcarlton.com.
• With high-cost tickets, parking, food, accommodations, and more, a NASCAR race weekend can run big bucks. But fans heading to Darlington, S.C, for the inaugural Historic Racing Festival Aug. 30-31 will have money to spare for a speeding ticket.
Held at historic Darlington Raceway, highlights of the event include attendance and autograph sessions by Buddy Baker and Darrell Waltrip; more than 150 race cars from all periods of the track’s history; plus food vendors, collectible dealers, and a Kid Zone. Two-day passes are $25 and kids are admitted free. The Hartsville Comfort Inn starts at $63 per night and local places like Jewel’s Diner serve up a meat and three sides for less than $7. 843-395-8823, www.darlingtonraceway.com.
Tours for less
• The “hybrid” budget tour offerings of Untours appeal to many who want some — but not too much — help in foreign countries. This tour operator typically offers two- and four-week packages that feature apartment or farmhouse accommodations, rental car (when appropriate), local host support, and often airfare from New York (with low add-ons from Atlanta).
Their Web site’s “Last Minute Untours” page is often packed with enticing offers (which must be booked by phone). For instance, a two-week stay in a Montalcino, Italy, two-bedroom farmhouse apartment starting Aug. 27 that’s typically $1,889 per person (ground only) was recently posted at $1,389. 1-888-868-6871, www.untours.com.
• Walking and cycling trips are particularly popular ways to save dollars (and gas).
Those who like the support of an organized tour should look at the independent and escorted options of South Carolina-based Breakaway Adventures. With hiking and biking trips around the world, there’s sure to be a trip (and price) for practically anyone (trips are rated by difficulty).
For example, a five- or eight-night “Walking in Umbria” trip features 10-15 miles of hiking a day, quaint inns (luggage is sent ahead), many dinners (including great local wines), and logistical support for those in a group or on their own. The independent five-night offering is available April to November for $1,919 per person. 1-800-567-6286, www.breakawayadventures.com.
• Argentina remains a top international budget travel destination, thanks to the Argentine peso value against the dollar. Budget travel pioneer Lonely Planet recommends Argentina Turistica for all travel planning (including some inexpensive and ever-changing packages with direct flights from Atlanta). www.argentinaturistica.com; www.lonelyplanet.com.
• Gas prices have also taken a toll on airline travel. Once again, the Internet can really help find the lowest fare.
AirTran Airways offers several tools: weekly Net Escapes e-mails with special offers; last-minute web deals on airfare, hotels, rental cars, and more (posted Tuesdays and Thursdays); A+ Rewards leading to free flights; and, for those 18-22, special U Standby Programs for $69-$99 one-way on domestic flights (on standby).
AirTran recently partnered with the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau to create more than 100 Orlando values for travelers visiting the area (see www.orlandoinfo.com/offers). 1-800-247-8726, www.airtran.com.
• Many resorts are trying to help with rising airfare by offering rebates and more.
Sandals Resorts recently started a “Fly Free Promotion” that offers guests who book a three-night minimum stay by Sept. 2 an air credit of up to $550 per person. Available for travel through Dec. 20, 2009 (blackout dates apply), the offer is good at all 12 Sandals resorts in Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, and The Bahamas. This is in addition to 30 percent off rack rates for bookings of six nights or longer or 25 percent for bookings of three to five nights.
Air credits are $350 per person for travel to Jamaica or The Bahamas, $450 for St. Lucia, and $550 for Antigua (with a two-person limit). 1-800-726-3257, www.sandals.com.
• With direct flights out of one of their gateways (New York-JFK, Boston, Orlando-Sanford, and Minneapolis-St. Paul), Icelandair remains a great way to get to the Europe mainland for less â€” but Iceland and Greenland have become “hot” destinations in their own right.
Though mid-summer is traditionally the most popular time to head there, the fall means bigger bargains and fewer people. Starting with Aug. 25 departures, “Iceland Getaway” packages (including air and two nights of accommodations) start at $897 per person (with extra nights and other add-ons also bargain-priced).
Once there, visitors will find that Iceland’s krona has actually fallen more than 25 percent since last fall (meaning U.S. dollars are more valuable in at least one foreign destination).
Through its Reykjavik hub, the airline offers “Stopover” packages (up to seven nights in Iceland), making it easy to achieve two destinations (or more) for the price of one. The airline’s “Lucky Fares” frequently have great deals that include Iceland and Europe, as well as one- and two-night Greenland excursions. 1-800-223-5500, www.icelandair.com for Icelandair; www.greenland.com for Greenland travel (no U.S. phone number).
Deals in Florida
• The “Summer White Sale” in Panama City Beach is almost over, but there’s still time to book a vacation that includes discounts.
Through Aug. 31, savings include nightly rates as much as 25 percent off typical summer rates, gas credits up to $200 at 19 properties, and free amenities packages (such as rounds of golf, dolphin watch cruises, or kids-eat-free). 1-800-722-3224 or 850-233-6503, www.pcbwhitesale.com.
• Disney World’s Web site reveals $69 hotel nights (on Disney property) in August and September. Even Deluxe Villa resorts can be found for less than $180. Add in “Magic Your Way” park tickets that take per day one-day rates of $71 down to about $31 a day for a seven-day pass. 407-934-7639 (ask for package code DDH), www.disney.com.
• Many destinations have a high-cost reputation that’s not always deserved. Florida’s Palm Beach County is a perfect example. Value season lasts through mid-December and savings can reach 40 percent or more off high-season rack rates.
Packages with golf at PGA National Resort & Spa start at $100 per person ($215 off winter rates), while a “Palm Beach Getaway” at The Chesterfield Hotel that’s regularly $509 per person goes for $269 per person through Dec. 15 (including a deluxe king room, continental breakfast for two, and a romantic dinner for two with a bottle of wine or champagne).
There are many other hotel and resort bargains, plus many Worth Avenue stores drop prices as much as 75 percent to 80 percent during this period (consignment shops are also great for bargain hunting). 1-800-554-7256, www.palmbeachfl.com.