In an attempt to guarantee summer bookings and help stimulate the economy, many travel providers are trying to entice vacationers with pre-season deals. While the future of travel remains uncertain, I do know that the best deals won't last. My advice: pounce when you see something you like and let your summer holiday dream become a reality.
From beach destinations to national parks, here are a handful of summer getaways for under $500. All are located in the U.S., so you can stay closer to home and reduce travel costs. I've priced each hotel offering for two-, three-, or four-night stays (including taxes), leaving plenty of headroom in the budget for transportation:
Nothing says summer like a vacation by the sea, and popular—sometimes notoriously expensive—locales like Nantucket are catering to early-birds. For example, Nantucket Island Resorts has issued a "Hot Dates, Cool Rates" promotion where you can save over 50 percent off regular spring rates. For this tightwad column, the best option is the Jared Coffin House, which has posted rates of $105 to $125 per night for select dates in June. Rates more than double in July and August, so you'll also need to go early before the summer crowds arrive. Book by April 15.
Cost breakdown: $105 x three nights = $315 + 9.7 percent tax = $345.56 total for two, or $178.78 per person based on two sharing a room. With over $300 left in the budget, you'll have plenty of cash for the ferry and other aspects of your transportation to the island such as fuel or even a flight. Also note: hotel guests can save 15 percent on dining at the hotel group's restaurants with an Islander Diner Card.
For a classic family summer vacation, Colonial Williamsburg's Summer Saver Package is nearly too good to pass up. Not only does the whole family stay four nights for $599 at the onsite Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel & Suites, but everyone also receives daily continental breakfast, come-and-go admission to Colonial Williamsburg, and a $200 resort credit good for dining, golf, or spa services. And when the kids are done donning their tri-cornered hats and soaking up American history, they can let loose at nearby attractions such as Busch Gardens and Virginia Beach. Offer is valid for travel from May 31 through September 3.
Cost breakdown: With tax, the four-night stay totals $666.90, or $166.73 per person (based on a family of four sharing a room and checking in on a Sunday or Monday). Add in the $200 resort credit per booking and there's even more money left for getting there.
Mesa Verde National Park
Looking for history out West? Mesa Verde National Park, established over 100 years ago by President Theodore Roosevelt and is known for its ancient Pueblo artifacts, invites families to stay two nights at the Far View Lodge for $479. The package includes full breakfast, a half-day ranger-guided bus tour of the park, and free dinner for the kids.
Cost breakdown: For the dates I checked, the total came to $485 + $12.44 in taxes, which breaks down to $497.44 total or $124.36 per person (based on a family of four sharing a room). The remaining $375 can be used for transportation and any park fees that apply.
A favorite destination for BBQ and an up-and-coming entertainment town, Kansas City can be a great place to land with the kids or visit with your S.O. Best of all, the city is overflowing with money-saving promotions such as its "Sunsational KC" deals on hotels and activities. With the offer, you can spend as much on starting rates as $109 per night at the romantic Chateau Avalon right in K.C. or as little as $55 at the Olive Branch Inn in nearby Independence, Missouri—not to mention everything in between at the other participating properties. Packages are available May 1 through September 30 at Chateau Avalon and April 20 through August 31 at the Olive Branch Inn.
Cost breakdown: For the dates I checked, the three-night total at Chateau Avalon came to $447.18 (with taxes), or $223.59 per person based on two sharing a room. There are also plenty of free things to see and do such as the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Hallmark Visitors Center, making the city even easier on the $500 budget. Kansas City's central location means a likelihood of budget-friendly flights from all corners of the U.S.
Food lovers interested in visiting the Southwest, who are partial to a little luxury, might consider the special "Muy Sabrosa" (or "very tasty") package at the Inn on the Alameda in Santa Fe. Stay two nights from $376 and also receive a two-and-a-half hour cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, $40 gift certificate to a local Mexican cafe, breakfast, and daily afternoon port and cheese. Once you're had your fill, you can explore the arts and culture scene that Santa Fe is known for by gallery and boutique hopping right near the hotel.
Cost breakdown: For my summer test dates (July 13 and 14), the total came to $630 (including tax), or $315 per person based on two sharing a room. The package turned out to be quite a bit more expensive than the advertised "from" price, but is still a good deal considering all the extras. Plus, the city is gearing up for its 400th anniversary, and its sure to be an exciting time to go. Special note: While most visitors fly into Albuquerque (about an hour away), Santa Fe's airport will begin commercial service (with American Eagle) on June 11, making it easier for some to fly directly into the city.
If you crave summer heat as much as you crave saving money, places like Daytona Beach can be a great vacation option this year. In fact, the city has launched a summer sale on accommodations and attractions to help stimulate the economy. Did I mention its list of free activities? With the promotion, several hotels are offering rates from $99 per night, giving you an assortment of options that fit easily within the $500 budget. Independently, the highly rated, oceanfront Bahama House has "Hot Summer Savings" rates from $120 per night for summer stays.
Cost breakdown: At Bahama house, a three-night stay comes to $404.97 (with taxes), or $202.49 per person based on two sharing a room. With $300 left in the budget, you're sure to find a low-cost flight if you don't live within driving distance.
While travel providers try to stimulate the local economies of their destinations, you can stimulate your need to getaway this summer by taking advantage of affordable deals available right now. While these offers might come and go in the coming weeks, more will surely crop up as summer approaches. I'll do my very best to report back on the best ones.
Come across any great summer deals? Please share them with other readers by posting a comment below.
If you'd like to learn about other Escapes Under $500 destinations in between columns, follow me on Twitter @AnneBanas.