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The top five bargain destinations for summer 2005

SmarterTravel

The travel industry is showing an increase in demand for the first year since 2000, as record numbers of Americans plan their summer vacations. The upcoming peak travel season will be challenging for those looking for bargains, as providers no longer need to sway potential travelers with remarkably low prices. But while bargains are harder to come by this summer, they can still be found. We’ve been watching travel trends, current events, and exchange rates to determine the top five bargain destinations for summer.

Our top five picks for spring travel are Las Vegas; Puerto Rico; Canadian National Parks; Turkey; and Hawaii.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas’ 100th birthday celebration has put the city on the map as the top bargain destination this summer. Although festivities will run through the end of the year, the height of the celebration will be from May to July, and we’re seeing sales and discounts that correspond to these peak months.

Though there’s been plenty of news lately about Wynn, Las Vegas’ newest luxury hotel, Rob Powers of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (CVA) points out that one of the chief strengths of the city is its broad spectrum of price points. It’s easier here than in most places to spend as little or as much as you want.

Multiple airlines have just added new routes or increased service to the city, and cheap air-and-hotel packages abound. JetBlue has added service from Boston to Las Vegas, in addition to existing service from New York and Los Angeles. The small airline Sun Country has just doubled its routes to the city as well. FunJet and Southwest Vacations have low-priced air-and-hotel packages, with Southwest offering prices around $100 per person for two nights and air from Phoenix. In honor of Vegas’ 100th birthday, Travelocity is giving away iPods and free music downloads (“Viva Las Vegas,” of course) with the purchase of air-and-hotel packages. The CVA has a list of hotels offering summer specials. Also this summer, Vegas.com is offering discounts on air-and-hotel packages for people who depart for Las Vegas on Mondays.

Find current Las Vegas deals: Air (last-minute), hotel, vacations.

Puerto Rico

If the proposed law requiring passports for Caribbean travel goes into effect at the end of this year, there is some speculation that Puerto Rico—a commonwealth of the U.S. that won’t require passports—will see a surge in popularity and a rise in price. Because the good prices we’re seeing may not be around for long, Puerto Rico stands out as a true summer bargain destination. Keep in mind that while hurricane season starts on June 1, the peak of the season doesn’t start until late August.

At press time, BeachDestinations.com was offering packages starting from $431 with three days’ accommodations and airfare from Miami. JetBlue has rates under $100 each way for flights between New York and San Juan, though you must book by May 18. And, the airline has just added daily non-stop service from New York to Ponce, PR, with $99 introductory one-way summer fares for purchase until May 31. American has also released a sale with round-trip fares starting at under $200.

Paradores, which are small, family-owned lodgings known for personalized service, are being promoted heavily by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. Through the end of summer, you can find discounts on stays and free nights for kids. Prices start at around $69 per night, and may include extras such as meals, happy hours, and live music or other events.

Find the most current Puerto Rico deals: Air and vacations.

Canadian National Parks

This season, there’s a way to sleep cheap in the great outdoors that gives you even more for your dollar. With fewer annual visitors than the U.S. park system, Parks Canada has more room to enjoy the great outdoors, and less competition for prime camping spots and lodging. The park system is comprised of 40 national parks and three national marine conservation areas, and has just implemented an online camp site reservation service for easier booking. And, with the exchange rate the best it’s been since last fall, visiting these parks can be a budget-friendly option, too.

Those who live within driving distance of a park will benefit most from the value of Parks Canada. And, Canadian parks aren’t necessarily farther than parks in the U.S. For instance, La Mauricie national park in Quebec is a half hour closer to Boston than Acadia Park in Maine. And it’s almost exactly the same distance from Portland, OR, to Alberta’s Banff as it is to Yellowstone.

Turkey

Turkey is preparing its bid for European Union membership, which suggests that the cost of travel will most likely rise in years to come. And while it’s still cheap, prices are already creeping upwards. Visitor numbers are expected to rise sharply in the next five years as well. Because it’s a popular bargain, it’s best to book summer travel soon.

If you can find a reasonable fare to Germany (check SmarterTravel for the current air sales to Europe), consider catching a flight low-cost inter-European flight between Germany and Turkey, such as with low-cost carrier Germanwings. Or, try Go-Today, which at press time was offering airfare and six nights’ accommodations from $700 to $950, depending on travel dates. Gate1Travel offers both escorted tours starting at around $150 per day, and air and hotel packages starting from around $120 per day. Also, Octopus Travel had a variety of packages to destinations in Turkey.

Hawaii

For Hawaii vacations, travel providers are offering deals that are unusual for this time of year. Ground prices (except for car rentals) are still expensive, as rates for tours and food prices have risen with the increased visitor numbers of the last year. But airfare—a major factor to consider in a Hawaii vacation—and hotel accommodations stand out as bargains in a normally expensive market. Why? It’s difficult to say, but it could be related to the resurgence of tourist numbers. Increased demand makes prices rise to a point, but the travel industry—after a rough few years—may continue to encourage travel with tempting offers.

Therefore, now is a good time to find competitive prices for airfare, hotels, and package deals. At press time, both American and United were having a sale, with the lowest fares starting at $390. Aloha is expanding routes and offering discounted inter-island fares. Starwood hotels in Hawaii will be offering sale rates throughout summer. The Aston hotel chain is offering free nights through June 10. Pleasant Holidays has free nights and other perks with summer packages. For those who book before May 15, United Vacations is offering 25 percent off companion fares. Alaska Airlines Vacations has just started to offer packages to Hawaii as well.

Find current Hawaii deals: Air, hotel, and vacations.

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