The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel.com's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Misty writes, "I'm 19 and I have a good friend who's in her 50s who just lost her husband in death. This is the first time in her life that she can go somewhere and not have to ask anyone if she can. So now she really wants to go somewhere fun and relaxing and new. Where can I bring her? I was thinking a cruise or an all-inclusive hotel in Mexico or an island or New York. But whatever we do it has to be under $500 (including food, hotel, and airfare) per person. We live in NW Arkansas, so Houston, where the cruises [depart], is driving distance from us. Sometime in December (not Christmas time) and January. I know it sounds picky but I just don't have very much money and I really want to bring her somewhere. Two other people have already canceled trips on her, so if you have time can you tell me what to do?"
I am sorry about your friend's loss, but I commend you for being there for her during her time of need. So, let's come up with something fantastic that the two of you can enjoy and remember for years to come.
I think your best option for keeping spending to a minimum is a cruise, especially if you can avoid paying for high airfare by driving to Houston. Start by searching Carnival, which currently sails from Houston due to hurricane damage at its Galveston port, for available routes that might fit your budget and needs. I priced a five-day Western Caribbean cruise leaving December 13 starting at $329 per person, with stops in Cozumel and Progresso, Yucatan. The total amount, including taxes and fees, comes to about $765 for two people. This leaves you a bit extra for gas, shore excursions, and drinks onboard. I think Carnival will be a good fit for you because there are enough options to satisfy a variety of ages, including you (19) and your friend (50s). Read our Carnival profile for more information on the cruise line.
If you'd prefer to fly somewhere, I have to be honest with you: Your prospects are pretty bleak on such a tight budget. Most of your money will go to airfare, which will leave little leftover for lodging or food. All is not lost, however. If you can fly from Little Rock, your chances improve. For instance, I was able to find tickets to Las Vegas on CheapAir.com starting at $198 per person, before taxes and fees. You can pay the same price to fly to New York City, but the cost after you land will more than likely put you over your limit (read my previous column on the Big Apple for a few ideas). The great thing about Las Vegas is it's fairly easy to find rooms for cheap right on the strip. Or, if you're willing to stay in the old part of Vegas, the Golden Nugget can't be beat for prices, with rooms starting at $59 per night in December. For a four-night stay, you'd probably pay about $800 for hotel and airfare.
These are only two examples of the many vacations you two can take. Search websites such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Cheap Caribbean for new deals or specials. You may want to look into a vacation package, too.
I wish you both the best, and I hope you have a wonderful vacation! If any of you other readers have suggestions on cruises or places to go for Misty, please share any and all ideas below.
Deal or No Deal?
Instead of investigating a deal this week, I've decided to clue you in on a new offer—nay, a new way to travel—from Gate 1 Travel. Layaway is something that has been around for years, and many of us have used this purchasing tool as a way to buy coveted items that we simply can't afford that exact moment. Well, Gate 1 and Gutsy Women Travel have taken this idea and applied it to vacations.
The way it works is simple: Put down as little as $100 for land packages or $200 for cruises up to a year in advance, and then pay in installments until the due date (usually 45 days before land departures and 120 days before cruising). This helps to insure that you can still take that dream vacation without having to pay a hefty sum up front.
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