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Top five bargain destinations for fall 2004

SmarterTravel

As the days grow shorter, so do the lines at many top destinations. And with this decrease in demand, the travel world becomes a bargain-hunter’s dream. We’ve scoured the sale circuit, assessed the best offers, and now bring you our top five bargain destinations for this fall. Our picks feature new hubs with low airfare, foliage tours closer to home, and flights that cost less than a cup of hot apple cider (seriously).

This season’s picks are Washington, D.C., London, Florida, fall foliage destinations around the country, and Las Vegas.

Washington, D.C.

Autumn may bring cooler weather to the Washington, D.C., area, but with the upcoming election, things will be positively hot there. Add some great deals from airlines, and the nation’s capital easily tops our list. Explore the city’s monuments, museums, or culture and take advantage of some of the year’s best weather as well as prices. Plus, you can get into the fall-foliage spirit with a side trip to the nearby Shenandoah National Park or the Blue Ridge Parkway.

By summer’s end, Washington, D.C., will be the nation’s largest low-cost carrier hub. Dulles-based Independence Air is working toward 600 departures per day, with prices ranging from $39 to $79 each way and departure cities all over the Eastern Seaboard and Midwest (with cross-country routes to come). Other airlines are upping service and adding some competition: For example, Southwest has added a daily nonstop from Columbus, OH; and US Airways, which recently increased the number of daily flights to D.C. and has instituted its GoFares from $64 one way, is boosting capacity by using larger planes.

If you need a place to stay, brush up on the best ways to save on accommodations using our Washington, D.C., hotel booking guide.

London

If you’ve looked lately, you know that there are plenty of good deals to London this fall. Unlike summer, the busiest tourist season, fall means fewer crowds, better prices, easier booking, and (we suspect) less-harried hotel staffs.

Vacation packages tend to be the cheapest way to get to and stay in London. Choose from providers such as United Vacations and Go-Today. We’re currently seeing prices such as $389 for airfare from New York (or $589 for airfare from San Francisco) that include six nights’ accommodations. That’s about the same price as a coach ticket to London during the summer. Or, check the latest fall sales if you’d rather purchase airfare and accommodations separately.

Plus, you can take advantage of the lowest airfare prices we’ve ever seenÃ?Â?$1.85 one-way on RyanAirÃ?Â?if you’re planning to combine a visit to London with a trip to other parts of the U.K. or the European continent. RyanAir’s sale applies to travel in early September 2004 through January 2005.

Florida

As the hurricane season ends and temperatures become bearable again, people remember why they like visiting Florida. For many, a fall trip to the Sunshine State provides a last dose of warm weather and blue skies before winter descends (some even flock as snowbirds and stay for the winter). And this year, it’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to bargains.

On the air front, cheap choices abound, and we expect the trend to continue throughout the season. At press time, American was offering fares from $160 round-trip, and US Airways from $98, on flights from all over the U.S. Low-cost airlines like Spirit Air and AirTran also had noteworthy deals to Florida, while Southwest is adding more affordable routes to Orlando. Plus, Cheaptickets.com is reporting fares such as $103 round-trip from New York. For a more comprehensive look at your options, SmarterTravel.com’s Air editors keep tabs on all the big sales to Miami, Orlando, and other Florida cities.

For air-and-hotel vacation packages, visit E-Leisure, which posted a low rate of $289 at press time that included airfare and three nights at an Orlando resort; it also had hotel rates that started well under $100 per night at upscale properties. Or, check out more low-priced vacation packages from other providers. And, if Disney World is in the cards, fall is a less expensive time to go. Its “Value Season” runs from August 29 to September 29, and prices at Disney resorts are the lowest of the year.

Fall foliage tours around the U.S.

New England may be famous for its fall foliage, but it certainly doesn’t hold the monopoly on brilliant autumn hues. If you want to take a leaf-peeping voyage this fall, but don’t want to pay high season prices in destinations like Vermont and Massachusetts, you’ve still got plenty of options. No matter where you are in the continental U.S., chances are you can find a foliage hotspot without going too far from home. Are you from Florida? Try the wilderness of northern Georgia or the Carolinas. Texas? Check out the incredible colors of Colorado’s Aspen groves. San Diego? Orange and red hues are as close as northern California’s Inyo National Forest. And those from the Midwest can head north and choose from hundreds of miles of prime leaf-peeping back roads.

As there’s not just one place to go to see the colors of fall, you can choose a destination based on your budget. If you live within driving distance of fall foliage, consider a road trip. If you don’t want to put the miles on your car, look for discounted autumn rates from a car rental agency. As long as you don’t travel around Thanksgiving, you should be able to take advantage of low prices. Use a search engine to find websites dedicated to suggested fall foliage drives at your destination, or get a good guidebook. Then load up your camera and enjoy the season.

For flights, keep an eye out for cheap fares throughout the U.S. If you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type, check out last-minute fare sales the week before you go. Then, find a bargain-priced hotel. Prices for lodging can drop after the summer season is over, so you may be able to find yourself a deal (depending on your destination).

Las Vegas

The cost of a trip to Las Vegas can vary according to what you win or lose once you’re there. But this fall, at least getting and staying there won’t have to cost you too much. We’ve been seeing low prices from providers across the board, making Vegas a truly affordable destination this season.

At press time, OffpeakTraveler.com was offering airfare and seven nights’ accommodations at the Fairfield Grand Desert Resort from $299 (use the search function to find Vegas deals). Other providers such as Southwest, American Airlines Vacations, and E-LeisureLink.com have equally impressive deals for a variety of stays. From budget to luxury, and weekend to extended stays, Las Vegas packages can save you money. What you do with that money once you get there is up to you. While you have to book some of these offers by mid-August, our Vacation editors keep tabs on the latest and greatest Las Vegas packages.

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