Dear Deal Detective:
I have two weeks' paid vacation scheduled for March or April of 2008. I want to go somewhere outside of the United States (maybe Europe, South America, or Asia?) and my budget is about $1,200. I'll be flying out of Detroit. For my flight I would like to spend around $700 or below, so the cheaper the flight, the more I can spend on a hotel, hostel, or food. I will be traveling with two other girls (we're all grad students) so we'd prefer somewhere on the safe side. Thank you for your help!
What a fun question! It's great that you're starting to think about your trip this early, especially since you're so wide open about where you can go. Bear in mind, though, that there's not much incentive for travel providers—especially the airlines—to discount their services six months ahead of time. Consequently, advertised deals aren't as plentiful as they will be in December or January, and it's way, way too early to book airfare unless it's part of a discounted package deal. This doesn't mean there aren't still some great deals to be had, though. It just means you need to know what to look for.
Since you're on a grad student's budget, my first goal was to find you a deal that maximized every single dollar. Often the best way to do that is by choosing a vacation provider that will bundle your airfare and hotel together for extra savings. One of the very best at this is go-today.com, a reputable discounter that I've mentioned in this space before.
You said you're interested in Europe, so I priced out go-today's six-night Paris at its Best package. Using Detroit as my departure city and March 5 as my departure date, I found a price of $975 per person for you and your two friends. This includes round-trip airfare, six nights' accommodations in a triple at the Paris Opera Hotel in the 9th Arrondissment (a great location from which to explore the city), daily continental breakfast, and all hotel and airfare taxes. With the money left over you can extend your return date beyond the six nights if you want to stretch your vacation out for the full two weeks and see more of France or the Continent.
For a taste of Eastern Europe, EuropeanDestinations.com's Prague & Budapest package is a simply amazing value. This trip features round-trip airfare, three nights in a triple at a three-star hotel in each city, and an overnight stay in a sleeper train between Prague and Budapest. Also using Detroit as my departure city and March 5 as my departure date, I found a price of $880 per person, including all taxes. At that price you could add a night or two in each city to extend the length of your trip and still come in under budget.
Many people have never heard of the Azores, but I'm seeing more and more great deals to these subtropical Portuguese islands. Azores Express' current six-night airfare-and-hotel promotion, starting at $894, is good for travel through October 2008. While it's only valid on Tuesday and Friday departures from Boston, you could easily catch a flight from Detroit to Boston for under $300 and still slide in just under your $1,200 budget.
You don't say whether or not you and your friends are the active type, but if you're up for a little adventure then consider G.A.P Adventures' Inca Discovery guided trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. The price is $895 for any of G.A.P's March or April departures, so you'd probably need to go just a hair over your budget for a flight into Lima. It's too early to price out flights to Peru at this stage, though; you wouldn't find a good deal. If you are interested in this trip, use a fare-tracking tool like Expedia's Fare Alert and watch for prices to come down. My guess is you'll find the best sale prices near the end of 2007 or the very beginning of 2008.
Last but not least, if you and your friends are the independent type you can save an absolute fortune by backpacking and hostelling for a few weeks anywhere in Europe, especially in March and April, which are considered shoulder season. The best strategy is to fly into a major European hub like London, Paris, Rome, or Frankfurt, because these cities have the most competition for good prices. You can then use a European ultra-low-cost carrier (Ryanair or easyJet, for example) to get around, or buy a Eurail pass to save on train travel. It shouldn't be difficult to find availability and really low prices in any of the top hostels at that time of the year, and an ISIC student discount card will also come in handy.
Natalie, thanks for the opportunity to find these deals for you. I really enjoyed it and I hope you and your friends find it useful.
To my other readers: If you need help finding a deal for your next trip, please email me your request. Be aware that due to the volume of requests I receive, I cannot always personally respond to every email (although I do try). The more compelling your question—and the more specific you are with your departure city and desired travel dates—the better the chance you'll be selected for an upcoming case.
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.