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The top five bargain destinations for spring 2005

With the weak dollar and the rise of the euro, finding bargain travel destinations this spring isn’t as easy as it’s been in years past. However, there are still plenty of choices for the traveler on a budget. We’ve been watching travel trends, current events, and exchange rates to determine the top five bargain destinations for spring 2005.

Our top five picks for spring travel are Mexico; Buenos Aires; Thailand, Maldives, and Sri Lanka; China; and the Azores.

Mexico

The U.S. dollar hasn’t suffered against Mexico’s peso the way it has against the euro and the pound and the variety of offers this season is especially noteworthy. Deals are available not just in a single city or beach destination, but across the country. This is good news for people who want to hit the hotspots and for those who want to head off the beaten path. Book just after Easter and spring break to avoid crowds and the highest prices. Rates for travel in May and June drop significantly.

Mexico’s appeal extends beyond that of just a bargain destination. Its close proximity to the U.S. and abundance of airlines willing to fly there make for easier travel. With airlines such as AeroMexico, American Eagle, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Mexicana, Spirit, and United expanding routes and increasing flight frequency to Mexico, travelers this year will have more options. Fares are also competitively low, with many flights hovering between $200 and $300 round-trip.

At press time, Expedia, OffpeakTraveler.com, Pleasant Holidays, and other online companies were offering air-and-hotel packages. Sample prices include a three-night stay in Mazatlan with airfare from Los Angeles for $343 per person (Expedia), or $591 per person for four nights in Puerto Vallarta with airfare from Chicago (Pleasant Holidays). For an overview of the current noteworthy Mexico vacation packages, check SmarterTravel.com.

Buenos Aires

It may be called the Paris of the South, but it doesn’t use the euro. The current exchange rate favors the U.S. dollar; however, the Argentina peso is slowly rising against the U.S. dollar, so this excellent value may not last long.

The best deals we’ve seen so far for spring travel are coming from air-and-hotel package providers; in some cases, these package prices cost less than the price of an airline ticket alone. Go-today.com, OffPeakTraveler.com, and Gate1.com all have packages that include airfare and hotel accommodations, starting from around $100 per day per person. For up-to-date information on packages to Argentina, check the SmarterTravel.com vacation section.

Those who want more flexibility than a package provides can benefit from reasonably priced accommodations: Equivalent hotels in Buenos Aires cost a fraction of the price of hotels in popular European cities.

As an added bonus, the southern hemisphere is midway into its summer season, offering warm, comfortable temperatures for vacations this time of year. In addition, it’s an easy trip: The time difference is minimal, so travelers may experience very little jet lag (or none at all).

Thailand, Maldives, Sri Lanka

The thought of travel to a country affected by December’s tsunami requires a delicate balance between respect for the lives changed by the disaster and the reality that these countries depend heavily on tourism. In recent weeks, tourism councils, government organizations, and travel providers in such countries have made appeals for visitors, saying that tourism will be an important part of the region’s economic recovery.

According to the World Travel Organization (WTO), most of the areas affected by the tsunami were not tourist destinations. As the winter months are usually high season for countries such as Thailand, the low occupancy rates at hotels and resorts in untouched areas are already having a real impact. A Tourism Authority of Thailand deputy minister announced recently that spring will bring deep discounts on airline tickets, airport fees, and hotels. Already, regional low-cost carrier Tiger Airways has announced $9.98 one-way tickets.

According to the Singapore-based media outlet Today, Sri Lankan Airlines has launched a BounceBack Campaign with discounted packages to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The airline is also introducing a travel and volunteer work package for visitors who want to assist in relief and rebuilding. (Other volunteer organizations offering relief trips to areas affected by the tsunami include Global Crossroad and i-to-i.) Also, Malaysia Airlines is offering an AsiaPass, with three free stopovers within Southeast Asia.

China

With a good exchange rate set to hold through spring and noteworthy package deals—many including tours and meals in addition to air and hotel—China has emerged as a top candidate for bargain travel this spring. However, analysts predict that the Chinese currency (yuan) will be allowed to appreciate against the U.S. dollar by mid-year, so the current travel value may be yet another limited-time offer.

Go-today.com has an array of packages, including multi-city options. Its five-day Hong Kong package is $729 (excluding airport taxes and fees) per person with airfare from San Francisco. To put that in perspective, when we checked United.com for mid-week flights in late March, the airfare alone was $200 more than the Go-today package price. Some packages also include multi-country stops to neighboring countries such as Japan. Gate1Travel has both guided package tours and independent options. Air China will also begin offering air-and-hotel packages in February. For additional options, the China National Tourist Office website has a tour operator locator that searches by state.

The Azores

Though its currency is the euro, the Azores, a group of islands 800 miles west of Portugal have so far not been subject to the rising prices seen in the rest of Europe. And this spring, the price of getting to and staying in the Azores qualifies the islands (fabled to be the lost empire of Atlantis) as a bargain destination.

The nine Portugese islands that make up the Azores sit in the Atlantic, just four hours by plane from the East Coast of the U.S. The airline Azores Express (part of the SATA airline group in Portugal) has travel packages that start at $569 through the end of March (prices will rise slightly for April) for round-trip airfare from Boston and six-nights’ accommodations. And while flying business class is prohibitively expensive to most of Europe (especially for the budget traveler), Azores Express offers an upgrade to business class for an extra $300 added to a round-trip ticket.

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