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.
With airfares on the rise and the economy on the decline, giving thanks may seem a bit harder than usual this holiday season. When several of my readers, however, asked for my help in planning a Thanksgiving getaway, I immediately took their cases. I decided to solve three vacation quandaries: one each in the U.S., Central America, and Europe.
Christmas is also going to be a difficult time to travel this year, but don't despair, I'm here to help. Send me any questions you may have about holiday travel, and I'll do my best to save you a little extra money to see (or escape) your loved ones.
Questions of the Week
NYjamie writes, "I'd like to go to New York this Thanksgiving— November 22 to 27 or 28. I have just one child under 10 and we'd like to see a show and some of the historical sites. What's the best way to get from Southern California to New York City, and where should we stay? Oh! And I have a tight budget, so how do I find the best deals?"
The Big Apple is a great place to visit with your child. Be aware, however, that hotel prices over the holiday will be more expensive. Fortunately, NYjamie's dates actually fall the week leading up to Thanksgiving, so I think we'll have a bit more luck finding a good deal.
For starters, I was able to find flights to New York City from Southern California (San Diego) for about $390, including taxes and fees, per person on Delta returning the day after Thanksgiving. These are probably the cheapest tickets you'll find, as flying out Thanksgiving Day (November 27) really only saves you about $40 per ticket. I highly recommend booking now or as soon as possible.
Accommodations in Manhattan have a reputation of being expensive any time of year. So, you have three options: You can resign to spending about $200 (or more) per night ($1,200 for the six nights) in a centrally located (but maybe not the nicest) hotel; you can stay in a chain hotel outside of Manhattan, such as Brooklyn, starting at about $150 per night ($900); or you can search B&Bs, which start at about $75 per night ($450), but you'll want to double check the area before booking. One last option is my old stand-by of keeping a close eye on websites like Hotels.com for new or last-minute deals.
The total cost for a flight and B&B booked separately starts at $1,230 ($615 per person). If this seems overwhelming, you can always book a vacation package through a site like Expedia, where you will find a bundle deal that includes airfare and hotel starting at $1,222 ($611 per person). Take into account that both of these prices are for bare minimum accommodations, so you may want to spend more for a better location and a few extra perks.
When it comes to things to do, New York is filled with a slew of wonderful museums, tours, restaurants, and sights to see. You may want to consider buying a New York City Explorer Pass, which starts at $69.99 for adults and $42.99 for kids; this price includes any three attractions of your choice. If you book through the website by October 16, you can save 20 percent off the listed price.
motiger2000 writes, "My boyfriend and I, along with another couple, are looking for an inexpensive ($1,000/person or less) vacation over Thanksgiving. We'd rather go somewhere warm than cold. We're more into relaxing but wouldn't mind doing a little sightseeing. We were thinking Puerto Rico or Costa Rica, however, I feel like those are places you need to stay at least a week. Can you give us some suggested destinations?"
Let me start by saying that while spending a week anywhere is obviously more ideal than just a few days, you'd be surprised by how much you can do in Costa Rica or Puerto Rico for a limited amount of time.
With that thought in mind, I'm going to tackle Costa Rica as the place for the four of you to spend Thanksgiving, and I'm going to try to do it for less than $1,000 per person.
Start your search through a vacation website like Gate 1 Travel, where you'll find a five-day package, including airfare from Miami, San Jose hotel, fuel surcharges, and daily breakfast starting at $549 per person. Plus, you can also book optional activities, such as a San Jose city tour or a rainforest aerial tram tour, along with the package.
If you want to stay somewhere outside of the city, there are several places to choose from. Manuel Antonio is a popular spot on the Pacific Coast, and offers endless beaches, rainforests, and wildlife. I priced round-trip flights from Miami to San Jose from November 26 through 30, which started at $236 per person. From there, you can fly to nearby Quepos for $44 each way per person. There are plenty of places to stay in Manuel Antonio, including a hotel listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, La Mariposa. Rooms start at $205 in November, so you'll spend about $820 for four nights. The per-person total price for this trip, minus hotel taxes and food or activities, comes to $734. This leaves about $266 for meals and things to do. Remember, though, it doesn't cost a thing to lounge around the beach or take a walk in the forest.
Lastly, I'd like to take a brief moment to cover some European options for Thanksgiving. If you don't mind leaving the traditional behind, traveling abroad during this American holiday is an excellent time to save a little extra cash. Since this is low season for many destinations, you're more than likely to escape the crowds and high hotel prices. All packages listed below do not include taxes and fees.
Several booking websites offer especially tempting vacation packages for holiday getaways. For instance, the aforementioned Gate 1 Travel is offering a six-day airfare-and-hotel deal starting at $699 per person to London, while go-today.com has a four-night air-inclusive package starting at $799 per person to Paris. Other places to search for bargains include EuropeASAP and EuropeanDestinations.com. The latter is offering a six-night multi city vacation, including Rome, Florence, and Venice, starting at $685 per person with airfare, hotel, and transportation.
Flexibility is important when planning a trip to Europe. The more you can play with your travel dates, the more you can typically save. Also, be prepared for colder temperatures and pack accordingly.
That's all I have to say about Thanksgiving for the moment, but I do hope that your holiday is filled with all the blessings that give you reason to be thankful whether you stay at home or travel.
Also, if you have any other tips on places to stay, things to do, or different destinations for "Turkey Day," please share any and all ideas below.
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