The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel'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.
Lisa writes, "Hi, My husband and I (finally) have a little extra money and our number one goal is to TRAVEL! I think we are past the days of driving across the country, sleeping in the car. We live in Columbia, SC. Do you have any suggestions for weekend trips? We have traveled a lot around the US and a limited amount in Europe. We love to explore new places, eat great food and just soak in different cultures/scenes. Our car is not very reliable, so we would need a rental. Thanks a lot."
Lisa's query includes a fairly common theme among my readers. It seems many of you have saved enough cash for a quick trip but just can't decide where to go. Fortunately, although the options are limitless, they don't have to be overwhelming.
There are two ways to plan a vacation: Choose the destination and then tailor your budget around it, or let the deal choose the destination for you. The latter option means you search for offers that fall within the price range of what you're hoping to spend. For instance, a provider like CheapCaribbean.com has a slew of different deals to exotic locations in Mexico, Hawaii, and, of course, the Caribbean available every day. Since we're looking for a quick jaunt, we'll narrow the search to three- or four-night offers.
I priced a package to Puerto Rico starting at $399 per person (without taxes and fees) after a discount of $100 is applied using the promo code "100PR." The deal includes four nights' accommodations at the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort, round-trip airfare from Miami (other departure cities are available at a higher cost), Trip Mate weather insurance, and a $100 coupon if it rains. Plus, you'll receive a V.I.P. value card, which includes 25 percent off golf, tennis, spa, watersports, tours, and cabana rentals. Travel is valid between January 24 and February 12, and you must book by January 6.
The Bahamas are also on sale at CheapCaribbean.com, and a four-night vacation starts at $399 per person (without taxes and fees) after a $300 discount is applied using the promo code "BAH300WIN." The offer includes round-trip airfare from Newark (other departure cities are available for a higher cost), four nights' accommodations at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island, daily breakfast, Trip Mate weather insurance, a $100 coupon if it rains, and full use of Atlantis' recreational facilities. Travel at this price is valid between January 7 and March 18, and April 19 through June 23. You must book by January 7.
Another provider, Funjet, is offering all-inclusive deals to Mexico. Prices start at $299 per person (without taxes and fees), and destinations include Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel, and Los Cabos. The deal includes round-trip airfare from Dallas (other departure cities are available at a higher cost), three nights' accommodations, all meals and drinks, daily activities, and transfers to and from the airport.
These are only a few of the many examples of packages that are available in the wide world of the Web. If you don't see a deal leaving from your particular airport, or if the price seems too high, you can always try booking a ticket separately to the cheapest available airport. For instance, if you booked the Bahamas vacation, you could find a flight from Columbia to Newark and compare the overall cost.
Since you mentioned the possibility of driving, you can find local deals that are perfect for a weekend excursion. In fact, we've recently rounded up the best of the best weekend getaway deals for January, and prices start as low as $55 per night. Also keep an eye out for hotel specials that will reduce the cost of road-trip travel. Hilton is offering up to 33 percent off rooms for weekend stays. The deal is valid between January 7 and December 26, but you must book by January 31.
Car rental can be a bit difficult, but, as long as you're flexible with which company you rent from, Hotwire provides rentals starting as low as $14 per day.
Lisa, I wish you the best in all of your travels, and I can't wait to hear about where you decide to go.
To all my other readers: Where would you send Lisa for a short getaway? Have you found any deals that are too good to pass up? Where have you gone for a quick trip? Please share your ideas in the comment field below.
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Editor's Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Hotwire.
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.