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Our top 10 bargain destinations for fall 2003

SmarterTravel

We’ve scoured the Web to determine the top 10 bargain destinations for travel this fall. All offer exceptional discounts, relatively good weather, and a unique appeal. Bargains are scattered all over the globe, including those nearby, such as the Southwest, those far away, like Hong Kong, and those in between, such as Europe. This season, you’re sure to find a good deal no matter what your travel tastes are.

Top 10 bargain destinations
1. Hong Kong 6. Belgium
2. Prague 7. Hawaii
3. Vancouver 8. San Francisco
4. London 9. The Blue Ridge Parkway
5. Paris 10. The Southwest

1. Hong Kong

Hong Kong is back as a force in the travel world, and it just keeps dazzling us with some of the lowest prices we’ve ever seen for the city. United Airlines has declared October “Visit Hong Kong” month by reinstating all its routes and reducing prices, and multiple companies are offering airfare combined with hotel accommodations, transfers, and extra goodies for less than the price of a typical round-trip ticket. With warm and sunny weather usually extending well into fall, combined with big savings, the coming months provide a unique opportunity to visit the city for the first time, or again.

We were most impressed with the breadth of choice we encountered when looking for Hong Kong packages. Go Today, Virgin Vacations and United Vacations all have affordable options for different dates, length of stays, hotel choices, and extras, so you’re sure to find something to suit your schedule and preferences. The best value we found was a Virgin six-night package at $549 from San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Honolulu. The package prices for five- to seven-day trips with all these providers generally range from $525 to $899.

If you’ve got airfare covered and just want a good deal on a place to stay, multi-night hotel offers bring the per-night price down. Hong Kong Hotels is offering packages that include transfers and city tours combined with hotel stays. When we looked, we found rates from $46 per night.

2. Prague

Since emerging from behind the Iron Curtain in 1989, Prague has been an up and coming hotspot for travelers, making it an affordable alternative to popular and more expensive destinations nearby. You can experience what many consider to be the most beautiful and well-preserved of European cities for even less than usual this fall by booking air-and-hotel packages, which seem to be popping up everywhere. Three- and four-night offers from around $380 even make jetting off for the Thanksgiving holiday an economical option.

Fall specials from companies such as Go Today and Nordique Tours include airfare and your choice of hotel (the price usually varies by hotel class). When we looked, we found three-night packages starting at $379 from New York or $529 from Chicago from Go Today; and four-night packages starting at $399 from Boston or New York, or $499 from San Francisco from Nordique Tours. Longer stays are available as well, with prices from around $749 for seven-nights’ accommodation and round-trip airfare.

3. Vancouver

A seasonal airfare sale, plus hotel competition that’s driving prices down, makes Vancouver a top fall destination. Not to mention that Vancouver boasts Canada’s mildest weather, and tends to have warm and sunny days through October (though light rain becomes more common as the season progresses).

Alaska Airlines has just embarked on its “Sale into Fall Fares,” which, when booked by September 17, include an extra $10 discount off the base fare. We found fares such as $79 each way from San Francisco, $111 from Los Angeles, $165 from Miami, and $176 from Boston. And, with over 10,000 hotel rooms downtown to choose fromÃ?Â?Ã?Â?with per-night prices as low as $43 and averaging around $70Ã?Â?Ã?Â?a Vancouver getaway won’t get away with your wallet.

FYI: The mild weather is a pleasant backdrop for the Fringe-Vancouver’s Theatre Festival in September, and the Vancouver International Film Festival in October. Also, keep mind that October 13 is Thanksgiving in Canada, so if you plan to travel around then you might encounter booked hotels and higher rates.

4. London

Want more low-priced fall vacation ideas? Read up on the top five off-peak destinations for the coming months.

We featured London as a top 10 bargain destination for summer, and although we wanted to bring you a whole new batch of locations for autumn, we simply couldn’t ignore the prices we’re seeing for fall travel. Many companies are offering specials to London, and all that competition makes hotel and airfare a buyer’s marketplace. So whether you want to hit the museums, shops, attractions, or pubs, you can get to and stay in London for less this fall.

We’ve been seeing low airfare to London everywhere lately. When we looked, Virgin Vacations had fares from $186 round-trip from New York, and $356 round-trip from San Francisco. British Airways was offering two-for-one airfare and discounted upper class tickets. We suspect that these airfare trends will continue throughout the season.

United Vacations is offering autumn hotel specials, such as a fourth night free at select hotels. We found packages from Go-Today that started at $379 for a three-night Thanksgiving getaway, and $499 for a six-night vacation, all with airfare from the East Coast. Four-night packages at Expedia, with luxury accommodations and airfare, were $561 from New York.

5. Paris

As with London, competition between travel companies means lower prices in Paris this fall. While there may never be a time when you won’t have to wait in line for tickets at the Louvre, fall is a great time to enjoy the City of Light without the tourist mobs that characterize Paris in the summer.

American, Lufthansa, and United have been offering slightly reduced prices for European airfare; however, the best deals are on packages this fall. Paris package prices have dropped considerably, so we suggest booking your airfare and hotel together. At press-time, three companies had fall deals to Paris, and we expect to see more like these in the coming months. Go-Today’s Thanksgiving getaway starts at $379 for three nights’ accommodation and airfare from Boston, United Vacations offers free nights when you stay at one of its listed hotels, and Expedia has four-night packages at central hotels from $562.

6. Belgium

Whether you are interested in Belgium as a stop on a larger European tour, or as a destination in itself, tour operators are making it easier to visit this season. Just over an hour by train from Paris, Brussels is a great place to start an exploration of the country known for its rich food, almost endless variety of beer, and of course, chocolate.

American, Lufthansa, United, and Northwest have reduced their fares for fall departures to Europe, with sample round-trip prices to Brussels starting at $417 from Chicago on American, and $505 from Boston on Northwest. Like Paris, the airfare is good, but the package prices are better. We found six-night packages from $699 with air from New York, and six-night air and car rental packages from $699. Virgin Vacations offers similar prices for fall trips to Belgium starting at $669 for six-night packages. Or, you can stopover in Brussels for three nights including daily breakfast from $109 with Go-Today.

7. Hawaii

Falling in between the peak summer and holiday seasons, autumn is Hawaii’s shoulder season, making it a more affordable time to go, especially for travel from the West Coast. And you won’t have to sacrifice any of the nice weather or activities, as temperatures stay between about 70 and 85 degrees F, and the water temperature hovers around 80 degrees F through November. This year, you can find a variety of good deals on airfare, accommodation, or packages that combine both at exceptional prices.

Aloha Airlines has web-only fares from the Western U.S. with round-trip prices starting at $398 between Los Angeles and Honolulu, and $59 for inter-island flights. American is sporting round-trip September fares to Honolulu starting at $329 from Los Angeles or $469 from Chicago’s O’Hare.

Pleasant Holidays, United Vacations, and Expedia are all offering fall packages to Hawaii. Sample prices include $391 for a four-night package to Oahu from Los Angeles through Expedia, $323 for a four-night package to Waikiki from San Francisco through Pleasant Holidays, or $689 for a five-night package to Oahu from Los Angeles through United Vacations. STA Travel, a student travel company, is offering Honolulu hotel packages to people of all ages, with rates starting at $183 for four-nights’ accommodation and hotel transfers.

If you just need a hotel, Hotels.com and Orbitz regularly offer low rates to hotels on the islands. We found a rate of $42 per night on Oahu through Orbitz.

8. San Francisco

Lower prices for non-holiday, cross-country air travel, as well as air sales from Western U.S. cities, make San Francisco an affordable fall destination for many in the U.S. Enjoy the best weather of the year with warm, fog-free days in September and early October as you walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, visit one of the city’s museums, stroll through Golden Gate Park, or hang out in North Beach.

Alaska, JetBlue, and AirTran have recently offered low fall fares to the Bay Area. We’ve seen fares such as $48 round-trip on Alaska between Santa Ana and Oakland for those who want to go between northern and southern California, $158 round-trip on JetBlue between Atlanta and Oakland, and $258 round-trip on AirTran between Baltimore and San Francisco.

In addition to many budget hotels, San Francisco has a variety of boutique hotels. The Kimpton group of hotels includes nine boutique hotels in the city, and offers an interesting version of a low price guarantee. If you find a lower price for a Kimpton hotel on a discount hotel website such as Orbitz or Expedia, but you book directly through the individual property, the hotel will undercut the lowest rate and offer you extras such as room upgrades and late check-out.

9. The Blue Ridge Parkway

Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in autumn, combining a colorful road trip with reasonable prices that are hard to find in other popular fall foliage destinations such as New England. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile road that follows the ridges between the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, which provides stunning views anytime of the year, particularly in the fall.

Gas prices are slightly lower in North Carolina and Virginia than in New England states, making a driving vacation in the area more economical. Plus, the National Park Service offers low-cost lodging along certain stretches of the Parkway, including cabins from $54 per night and a room in a lodge for $78 per night. Other accommodations like motels and hotels average between $40 and $80 along the route, and bed and breakfasts are plentiful and don’t charge the high season rates you’re likely to find in places like Vermont during the fall months. Plus, availability might be less limited.

10. The Southwest

Autumn in the Southwest brings not just the relief of lower temperatures but also lowered prices. From Santa Fe to Sedona, and Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, you could spend weeks exploring the beauty and heritage of this region without creating a Grand Canyon of debt.

Recently, Southwest Airlines has released low fall fares for flights into Phoenix, including round-trip fares from Albuquerque from $58, Oakland from $118, or Providence from $198. Also, September 20 is the annual fee-free day at the Grand Canyon, so you can save the $10 per person or $20 per car that’d you’d normally pay to enter the park. And, if you’re planning on touring the region in a rental car, but don’t want to return it to the same location where you started, look into renting from Advantage or Budget, both of which currently have no drop-off fees on one-way rentals, and offer reduced rates.

Keep in mind that many of these offers don’t include all taxes and fees, so you might need to pay a little extra than the rate we’ve quoted. Also, although the deals we’ve listed for these destinations may come and go as the season progresses, you can expect to find more like them throughout the fall, as these trends are likely to continue.

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