Dear Deal Detective fans,
Yours truly has decided to try something a little different with this column. No need to fret, I'm still on the case to solve any and all travel dilemmas (so keep those questions coming!). But I'm also going to broaden the horizons a bit and start ferreting out deals to popular destinations that I think a majority of you will be interested in.First up, United Vacations is offering 20 percent off all Las Vegas hotels when you book a package before August 15. On the surface it sounds like a great deal to a hot destination, but is it really? Let's have a look.
To get the discount, you must purchase the Trip Cancelation Waiver for $39.99 per person. Though there are plenty of perks to this added benefit, such as the ability to cancel your flight without penalty, no unexpected fuel surcharges, and the freedom to change your reservations free of charge, one can't help but ask if you're really "saving" 20 percent in the end.
The truth is that this deal may offer a sense of security, but it's not likely to save you a ton of money. The 20-percent discount mostly pays for the waiver, and you may end up spending more money for a less expensive hotel than you can find elsewhere.
I compared airfare-inclusive packages departing from San Francisco for three nights in August at the Bellagio (rooms typically start at about $179 per night during this time period) and Excalibur (rooms typically start at about $51 per night during this time period) through Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and United Vacations (note that prices include taxes and fees).
For the Bellagio package, United Vacations' deal yielded the best price at $665 per person, while Orbitz was $706, Expedia was $709, and Travelocity came in at a staggering $1,128.
For the Excalibur package, Expedia was the least expensive at $400 per person, with Orbitz a close second for $412, and United Vacations in third at $451 per person; Travelocity once again came in last at $519.
What's it all mean? You'll probably save money with this deal if you want to stay at a more expensive hotel, where the 20 percent discount will actually compensate for the added cost of the waiver. But for a cheaper hotel, you're probably better off booking through another provider.
Now, on to this week's reader question.
Dear Deal Detective:
Please help our family of four adults find a trip for the Thanksgiving (Nov. 21-29) or December holiday time periods (Dec.19-Jan 3rd). We teach so are limited to these vacation times. We are well traveled and have cruised to most Caribbean locations as well as Central and South America. Europe is too cold at this time of year for us. Help, and cost is a consideration!
I will admit that this question initially left me a little stumped. Since you've been to many of the places I would originally recommend and you're looking for warmer weather, I had to search the old brain pan to come up with an idea that would fit your needs. And then like a shining beacon, the answer dawned on me: Hawaii. What better place to spend the holidays than in a tropical destination where you (hopefully) have never been?
You may be thinking that Hawaii is ultra expensive, and I'm not going to lie to you, it can be a bit pricey. However, there are ways to enjoy the islands without spending a small fortune.
You mentioned you're no stranger to cruising, and a cruise may be the best way to see Hawaii without going overboard on expenses. Most Hawaii cruises last at least a week or longer, so be prepared to spend your holiday away from home. I was able to find a seven-day cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America starting at $6,628 for four adults, or $1,657 per person, for an interior stateroom, round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, and all taxes and fees. The cruise departs on November 22 from Honolulu, stopping in Maui, Hilo, Kailua-Kona, and Kauai, before returning to Honolulu on November 29. If you divide the total price by daily cost, you're looking at spending about $236 per day for transportation, lodging, and food.
At the time of publication, I'm finding round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Honolulu starting at about $921 per person. When you then factor in a hotel for seven nights, even at the low end of $100 per night, you're looking at spending close to the same price as the cruise without the added benefit of seeing all the islands.
If you're looking to stay in just one place, however, search for vacation packages that will include airfare and hotel. If you want to hop the islands, consider the Hawaii Superferry. Prices start at about $120 per person without taxes and fees for passage between Oahu and Maui. For things to do on land, read my previous column on the hidden Hawaii.
I hope this helps! If any of you other readers have tips or recommendations on warm places to visit over the holidays or ways to save in Hawaii, please add your comments below.
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All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.