Hawaii and Bermuda for under $500? Even I can't believe it.
I've been writing Escapes Under $500 for nearly five years and have yet to mention Hawaii. It seems that perfect Aloha deal was always the one that got away. Not this time. Hawaii is more affordable than it's been in years, and you can visit for less than $500, particularly if you're from the West Coast. East Coasters won't make it to Hawaii for that cheap, but I have something as special in mind for you, too. In 2009, Bermuda will be celebrating its 400th anniversary, and the combo of great savings and special events make it one of the best island vacation opportunities for the New Year.
So whether you live on the West Coast or the East Coast, tropical paradise is still in reach. And even if you live somewhere in between, you might still be able to afford a trip to one of these islands, despite the struggling economy.
Hawaii for the West Coast
Hawaii is hurting right now, primarily due to two bankrupt airlines earlier this year, a bad economy, and a perception that the state is still really expensive even though travel providers have slashed prices. According to John Monahan, President and CEO of Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, "These discounts and other offers have continued as the global economic crisis worsened and began to suppress travel this fall. Recently, airfares have been dropping, making Hawaii an even better value especially when purchasing a package that includes air, hotel, car rental and activities together." In fact, package prices are cheaper in 2008 than they were in 2007. And believe it or not, some fit within a $500 budget.
For example, Pleasant Holidays is offering three-night, air-and-hotel vacation packages to Oahu from $389. When I checked (using the test dates of January 27 to 30), trips departing nonstop from Los Angeles and staying at the Aqua Continental in Waikiki came to $889 for two including taxes, or $444.50 per person. If you think that's impressive, couples departing from San Francisco pay only $659, or $329.50 per person, beating the list price (yes, I triple checked the math on that one!).
I expect deals like these to ebb and flow in the coming months. For the latest Hawaii vacation packages, visit GoHawaii.com. Also, check SmarterTravel.com for the most current Hawaii deals. At press time, for example, sale fares started at $306 round-trip from Seattle to Kahului, not including taxes and fees. Pair that with a room at an affordable Maui B&B such as Old Lahaina House for $89 per night, and an escape under $500 is yet again possible (just be sure to divide the rate by two people sharing a room).
While the best prices are typically from the West Coast, don't rule out a visit to Hawaii just yet if you live in cities further afield. Hawaii vacations are cheaper than they've been in a long time and the opportunity might be too good to pass up.
Bermuda for the East Coast
For East Coasters in particular, the Bermuda travel equation is just as nice as Hawaii's. Also given a bad rap for high prices, the Atlantic island is bringing out the welcome wagon for 2009 (to celebrate its 400th anniversary), and it's filled with deals.
William Griffith, Director of the Bermuda Department of Tourism, says, "Bermuda's 400th Anniversary is an opportunity to honor and showcase the people, the culture, and the events that have helped to build Bermuda over the past 400 years and make it what it is today. We are honoring this milestone with a variety of celebrations throughout the entire year as well as offering an unprecedented travel package to visitors to our island. The Compliments of Bermuda 400th Anniversary offer is our way of welcoming all to join in celebrating Bermuda and her people."
So what's on offer? Expect up to $400 in credit for vacation packages at 11 resorts and a "400th Anniversary Passport" with $1,000 in savings. To me, that can only add up to one thing: An Escape Under $500.
Here's how it works. The credit is more like a discount on the total air-and-hotel package price. You get $200 off per booking for a two-night stay, $300 for three nights, and $400 for four nights or longer. The passport is composed of coupons and special offers on spa treatments, meals, golf, and tours, but supplies are limited so you'll have to book soon. The booking deadline is March 27 for travel though March 31.
I put this offer to the test, and the results were shocking (in a good way). Using the same dates I used for Hawaii (January 27 through January 30), I found package rates at the Surf Side Beach Club for $799.18 including taxes, or $399.59 per person, departing nonstop from New York on JetBlue. Combine that with the discounts on food and activities, and Bermuda suddenly doesn't seem so expensive anymore.
The deal is also available from Atlanta or Boston (Delta Vacations), Miami (GoGo Worldwide Vacations), Philadelphia (US Airways Vacations), and cities in Canada (Air Canada Vacations). Not all departure cities will result in trips for less than $500, but there's no better time to see and experience Bermuda, with deals, special events, and all. And when this offer has dried up, look for other promotions with Bermuda Tourism throughout 2009.
Know of other money-saving tips for Hawaii or Bermuda? If so, add a comment below. Or, feel free to suggest more Escapes Under $500 destinations, and I will research them for you and report back in a future column.