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Dear Deal Detective:
My boyfriend and I would like to get away this winter. We can’t leave before March 5, and we need to be home by March 16. Our budget is $4,000 between the two of us. He doesn’t have a passport, so we must stay in the U.S. We would prefer to travel someplace warm—maybe sit on a beach and drink mai tais—but are open to all ideas. We are okay spending a bit of money for a nicer hotel, but certainly don’t need the Ritz. We’d be leaving from Detroit. Any suggestions?
I have good news and bad news. First the bad news: By limiting your vacation to very specific dates, you lose some of the savings that would come with flexibility. Now the good: You can get a great vacation on a $4,000 budget. In fact, I’ll do my best to help you come in well under that so you’ll have plenty of spending money left over for the trip.
You mention that your boyfriend doesn’t have a passport. While the new immigration rules will prevent you from leaving the United States when you travel as a couple, that doesn’t mean you have to stay on the mainland. Have you considered Puerto Rico, Hawaii, or the U.S. Virgin Islands? All three will afford you that “tropical getaway” feeling you’re looking for, and you won’t need to pack a passport to enjoy them.
Right now Expedia is offering a Winter Getaway Sale that includes 25 percent off your hotel in Hawaii if you book an airfare-and-hotel package of three nights or longer. You need to book by February 29 and travel by April 30 to take advantage of the discount. I priced out a trip to Maui from Detroit using your specific dates, and found a price of $1,312.10 per person (including taxes) for airfare and five nights at the five-star Sheraton Maui Resort. Add a car rental for an additional $25 a day.
If Hawaii’s too far away, look closer to home. At VacationOutlet.com, you can get an airfare-and-hotel package to the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa in St. Thomas, USVI, from $1,449 per person. That price includes round-trip airfare from Detroit, five nights’ hotel accommodations, taxes, and airport transfers. For $1,859 per person you can make it all-inclusive: All meals, unlimited drinks (including beer, wine, and liquor), and non-motorized water sports are included in the price.
Not to be outdone, Orbitz is currently offering a $75 instant discount on airfare-and-hotel packages of three nights or longer to Florida, Hawaii, and Caribbean destinations when you use the promotional code “SAVEONSUN” at checkout. Book by March 2 for travel by April 15.
Okay, readers, now it’s your turn. Got any ideas for Beth’s passport-free winter getaway? Send me your suggestions and I’ll print the best ones in an upcoming Deal Detective column. Please be aware I’ll use your full name when I print your letter, unless you specifically ask me not to.
More Disney deals
Speaking of reader suggestions, you were full of ideas about Disney. Last week I asked you to help some of my readers who had Disney questions that I didn’t have a chance to answer when I covered this topic in January. Here’s a sampling of the best responses.
Reader Micayla McElvain offered the following suggestions for Brenda, a single mom who wants to take her daughter to Disney World over the Christmas holiday: “There are tons of ways to save money on Disney World, but the best answer for Brenda is to try another time of year besides Christmas. Christmas week is the busiest week of the year at Disney, making for both a more expensive visit and an unpleasant trip spent waiting in line rather than riding rides or meeting characters. My sister’s first visit was during Christmas and she would never have gone back had I not [taken] her and her children along years later. It was a completely different experience.
“Ticket prices are pretty fixed but a small discount can be had on legitimate tickets at UndercoverTourist.com. If Brenda will be driving or able to rent a car, she can rent a condo fairly inexpensively from SkyAuction.com. I’ve heard of condos going for as little as $250 to $300 a week in the off season. A condo can save a lot of money in terms of food as well, since it offers a kitchen and the grocery stores on nearby International Drive are quite reasonable.
“The ‘budget board’ section of disboards.com has a ton of very helpful people who will be able to answer almost any money-saving question, Disney-related or otherwise. Mousesavers.com is perhaps the most comprehensive source of Disney deals and tips available anywhere. The best airfare is going to vary according to where you are flying in from. From Dallas, I recommend signing up for Southwest’s Ding! alerts.”
W. G. says, “One thing I have found when going to Disney is always get the meals vouchers. They really are one great savings if you have kids.”
M.L. recommends getting park tickets through AAA, as does R.J., who writes, “I found AAA has the best prices for Disney tickets, and I always buy the multi-day passes that don’t expire. I keep the tickets in my safe deposit box for future visits, which helps when the price goes up every year. As far as accommodations, rent a timeshare. Try Redweek.com to see what’s available. If you get a unit with a kitchen, you can save on dining expenses, even if you just make breakfasts daily. Plus if you do dine out, you save your leftovers and reheat them. Most resorts also have shuttle service to the major parks if you don’t want to rent a car for your entire stay. But with your own wheels, you are not limited to eating at the parks. And you can see more than the parks. I highly recommend a day trip to Cape Canaveral.”
Letter of the week
Reader D.L. of Gaithersburg, Maryland, weighed in on last week’s Deal Detective column with her own suggestions for planning a family reunion on a cruise ship: “I read your response to the woman who was looking for a cruise for a family reunion. I wanted to remind you about Costa Cruise Lines. It is owned by Carnival, but Costa has an Italian flair. They frequently run “Kids Sail Free” promotions, which are often good during school holiday periods. They are a reasonably priced line which provides excellent value for the dollar. We have sailed on them twice with our two children and find the cabins to be set up well for families, and the kids activities are fun and interesting. The last time we sailed on Costa it was for a family reunion and we had three families that were all extremely happy at the end of the week-long Caribbean cruise.”
Have a question of your own? Please email me your request. Be aware that due to the volume of requests I receive, I cannot personally respond to every email. The more compelling your question, the better the chance you’ll be selected for an upcoming case.
(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.