Snowbirds Flock to Hot Deals in Florida

Escapes Under $500
by , SmarterTravel Staff
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Great blue heron landing on the beach (Photo: Lisa Young/iStockPhoto)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on November 13, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, Amelia Island, Anne Banas, beach, Davenport, destination, Escapes Under $500, family travel, hotel, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, senior travel, shoulder season, Tampa, weekend getaways, winter.

Cold weather sends many packing for warmer climes, but with budgets extra tight this year, a few days away might seem impossible. Don't give up just yet. If you're a snowbird yearning for an ultra-affordable escape to someplace sunnier, I say, follow the economy south to where the deals are … in Florida.

Although I always put together vacations on the cheap, sometimes $500 is still too expensive. Surprisingly, a sluggish economy can be a boon for bargain seekers, especially those traveling during the off-season. In fact, many Florida destinations like Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami, and Orlando have slashed prices for early winter travel. I've rounded up a few of the best hotel deals with rates for less than $100 per night (before taxes), and paired them with accompanying airfare that's pretty darn cheap, too. With trips totaling between $250 and $400 per person, you might get to escape the cold after all.

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Florida Hotel Deals

According to Tampa Bay & Company's hot deals, Tampa's newly constructed Comfort Suites is offering two-person rates for $93.49 per night, valid through December 23. While it's still your basic chain hotel, you can be one of the first to sleep there and can enjoy amenities such as a pool, hot tub, and free breakfast. Alternatively, the Sailport Resort, which claims to be Tampa's only all-suite hotel, offers good value from $75 per night through December 15. One-bedroom suites come equipped with kitchens and private balconies that overlook Tampa Bay. For both offers, you must use the coupon available through the Tampa Bay & Company website.

Amelia Island, a former Escapes Under $500 haunt just outside of Jacksonville, will take you back in time and back to nature for less this season. The historic, turn-of-the-century Ash Street Inn has reduced prices by 45 percent through December 23, with rates for just $99 per night. Guests can hang out on the wrap-around porch and enjoy complimentary lemonade and fresh-baked cookies, as well as full breakfast. The inn is located within walking distance of the Victorian town of Fernandina Beach and is a short hop away from white-sand beaches and wildlife.

For something more upbeat, always-hip Miami has a bevy of worthy deals. At Century South Beach, I found late-fall/early-winter rates for $99 (normally $120) per night for a queen-sized bed. This art deco boutique hotel is located right on Ocean Drive and rates include continental breakfast. Additionally, just one block from the beach and boardwalk, Indian Creek Hotel has even more affordable prices. When I checked, November rates started at $79. Throw in extras like coffee and pastries each morning, and you have good all-around value. The hotel also offers a separate promotion online, where guests stay four nights for the price of three until December 2.

Families will likely head to Orlando. And in nearby Davenport, they can take advantage of a 20 percent discount at the Regal Palms Resort & Spa through rentalo.com, a vacation rental booking site. With the discount, a four-bedroom, three-bath townhouse costs $95.20 per night (two-night minimum) through December 20. The resort complex offers all the amenities families expect, such as pools, a casual restaurant, and even a complimentary shuttle bus to Disney's Magic Kingdom.

Cheap Florida Airfare

Often, the Murphy's Law of travel states that when hotels are this affordable, the trade-off is higher airfare, or vice versa. Not this time. Here is a sampling of Florida departures (including taxes and fees) from across the U.S. for less than $250 round-trip:

Jacksonville:

  • Philadelphia: $160 (Delta)
  • Indianapolis: $170 (US Airways)
  • Baltimore: $193 (US Airways)
  • Boston: $202 (American)
  • New York: $222 (US Airways)
  • Phoenix: $242 (American)

Miami:

  • Chicago: $157 (US Airways)
  • Washington, D.C.: $177 (US Airways)
  • Detroit: $179 (American)
  • Raleigh/Durham: $183 (US Airways)
  • Pittsburgh: $203 (US Airways)
  • Buffalo: $229 (US Airways)

Orlando:

  • Atlanta: $129 (AirTran)
  • Indianapolis: $129 (AirTran)
  • Rochester: $154 (AirTran)
  • Cleveland: $187 (US Airways)
  • Milwaukee: $188 (AirTran)
  • Dallas: $190 (American)
  • Minneapolis: $195 (American)
  • Seattle: $239 (US Airways)

Tampa:

  • Baltimore: $129 (AirTran)
  • Detroit: $157 (US Airways)
  • Little Rock: $181 (US Airways)
  • Houston: $203 (US Airways)
  • Charlotte: $208 (Delta)
  • San Francisco: $231 (Continental)
  • Seattle: $233 (US Airways)
  • Denver: $240 (Delta)
  • Salt Lake City: $240 (Frontier)

Florida flights tend to be plentiful and competitive, so I couldn't list all the fares I found for fear of going over my word limit. If you don't see the city pair you want, do a search on your own with a site like Farecast, which can help you pinpoint travel dates for the cheapest fares. More than likely, you'll find something for just a few hundred dollars round-trip, especially if your dates remain flexible. Also, don't forget to try Southwest Airlines, which has many routes to the Sunshine State but doesn't list its fares on third-party websites.

Cost Breakdown

Based on the pricing I found, here are two hypothetical examples of total trip costs for a three-night stay (note: hotel taxes and fees are not included in the equation):

  • Cheapest: $129 (airfare from Baltimore to Tampa) + $112.50 (three nights at the Sailport Resort in Tampa) = $241.50
  • Most expensive: $242 (airfare from Phoenix to Jacksonville) + $148.50 (three nights at the Ash Street Inn on Amelia Island) = $390.50

All other airfare and hotel combinations fall in between these two price extremes. Total costs are per person based on double occupancy.

Though I've highlighted four cities, there are plenty more deals to be had in Florida. For example, AirTran is offering $99 hotel rates at five beach resorts in Sarasota, Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Key Largo through February 10. The airline's website, as well as JetBlue's and Southwest's, often posts affordable vacation packages and other offers. Visit Florida, the state's tourism site, lists hot deals, but also check the tourism sites of individual destinations for the latest offers.

Know of another Florida deal or travel tip? If so, add a comment below and share your knowledge with others travelers.

 
 
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