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Top five bargain destinations for spring 2004

SmarterTravel

Spring is just around the corner, and now is the time to come out of hibernation and begin planning for this year’s vacation adventures. In terms of money, climate, and crowds, spring is one of the most pleasant times of year to travel. March, April, and May mark the slow transition from snow and warm-destination vacations that define winter trips to the busy tourist season that you’ll find in most popular destinations during the summer. Our two main criteria for this season’s bargain destinations areÃ?Â?you guessed itÃ?Â?price and appeal.

We’ve been keeping tabs on destinations with sales, discounts, and price reductions for travel in the coming months. While we will give some examples of deals you can presently find for spring travel, we do so to illustrate the trend of cheap travel to these destinations. Our examples, like all deals, are sure to expire; but we’ve given you suggestions on where to look, so a little sleuthing on your part can yield similar results when you’re ready to book.

1. Mexico

It’s a short flight from anywhere in the continental U.S. and it offers something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for relaxation, adventure, or nightlife, you can do it this spring in Mexico without breaking the bank. March and April bring warm weather, but with fewer tourists than during the peak season winter months. If you visit after Easter (April 11 this year), you should find a drop in prices. And, whether you want airfare alone or a package that includes airfare and hotel, you can find reasonable rates for your Mexico vacation.

For ease of planning and overall value, you can’t beat air-and-hotel vacation packages to Mexico this season. Pleasant Holidays is offering a variety of packages under $500 to places like Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, for travel through mid-April. Or, Aeromexico has half-price companion airfare when you book your vacation package through the airline by February 29. And, if you’ve decided to head south on short notice, check out last-minute airfares to Mexico.

2. New York City

More spring bargains:

London and Paris have been top bargain destinations for the past year, and this spring is no exception. Competition among providers means that you can find low prices on airfare and vacation packages for London or Paris. Or, check out our authoritative hotel booking guides to get the best hotel for your money (London or Paris).

While there’s never a slow moment in New York City, spring travel to the Big Apple means you’ll enjoy some of the best weather of the year while watching the city’s parks and squares burst into bloom. And, because you’ll be traveling during a less-traditional vacation period, you’ll skip the high-density tourism of summer and holidays. We’re seeing a trend of good prices and exceptional value on airfare, hotels, and weekend packages for New York in the springtime.

This season, you won’t have to look far to find a tempting price on a flight to New York. With so many low-cost airlines offering service to the New York area airports (JFK, La Guardia, and Newark), it’s a buyer’s (or, in this case, flyer’s) market. Our air editors keep tabs on the most current sales on airfare to New York.

The savings don’t have to stop once you arrive in New York. The SmarterTravel.com hotel editors keep up on which discount sites offer good rates for New York hotels. March rates start as low as $22 per night (for super-budget travelers). To get Big Apple hotel savvy, read our authoritative guide to booking New York hotels. And, if you don’t mind spendingÃ?Â?and gettingÃ?Â?a bit more, the New York City tourism site NYC & Company is currently running its Paint the Town package specials for one-, two-, and four-night stays through the end of March. Starting prices range from $169 to $706, and include hotel accommodations and extras such as dinners, attraction passes, tickets to Broadway shows, and parking coupons.

3. Jamaica

Shoulder season in Jamaica, the period between peak travel periods and low season, is the perfect way to shake off the winter doldrums without exhausting your travel budget. Visit in March, April, or early May and you miss both the high prices of winter and the potential for hurricanes that come with the summer season. Jamaica is a popular discounted destination for package providers right now, and we’re seeing some interesting offers on airfare as well.

For those looking for airfare, US Airways is offering discounted first-class airfare for travel through March 31. For example, flying first class from Los Angeles to Montego Bay, Jamaica, starts at $650 round-trip. We’ve also been seeing noteworthy vacation packages from Jet-A-Way Holidays and CheapCarribean.com, with prices for air-and-hotel packages from around $560 for five nights, and all-inclusive package prices starting from around $100 per day, per person.

Another way to find a low fare to Jamaica (or to the Caribbean in general) on a budget is to try one of Travelocity’s lesser-known but extremely useful tools: the Dream Map. The Dream Map allows you to choose an area (in this case, the Caribbean), and a price limit for airfare from your departure city. You’ll then see a map with prices for destination cities in the area that meet your criteria. You must be a Travelocity member to access Dream Maps, but you can sign up for free. To find the tool from the “Vacations” section, look along the left navigation bar for “Destination Guides.” From there, look for a tab marked “Dream Maps” near the top of the page. It’s a great way to see, within a region, where you can travel on your individual budget. We’ve been watching the “Dream Map” for several months, and fares to Jamaica have been hovering between $250 and $320, excluding taxes and fees. Puerto Rico and The Bahamas have been regulars on the map as well in recent months.

4. Spain

With average temperatures in the 70s and eight to nine hours of sunshine per day, a springtime jaunt to Spain can yield ideal vacation conditions without the high-season prices of summer. Whether it’s the architecture of Barcelona, the dramatic Alhambra Palace of Granada, or the world-class art museums of Madrid that lure you, reasonable rates across Spain put spring travel within reach. Plus, April and May are full of regional festivals and national holidays, which make it all the easier to celebrate savings. We’ve found some sales and discounts that make Spain a budget traveler hotspot this spring.

Our vacation editors have been seeing low package prices on spring travel from Octopus Travel and Visit Spain Tours. Go-Today is another valuable source for anyone looking for European packages. For travel in March, we found packages that included airfare from New York and six nights’ accommodations for around $500. Visit before mid-May and you should continue to see very reasonable rates.

Those who like to book Ã?  la carte can find individual airfare, hotel, and car rental sales and discounts. You can find information on the latest airfare sales to Europe on the SmarterTravel.com Air page. For discounted rates on accommodations, the Accor family of hotels often has reduced weekend rates and specials that bring down rates. If you’re not interested in staying at a chain hotel, read up on alternative accommodations in Europe, and you just may find yourself a guest at a small inn or a farmhouse. And if you plan on renting a car, don’t miss the chance for discounted rates or free upgrades.

5. New Zealand

As things heat up in the Northern Hemisphere, New Zealand heads into its fall and winter. Visit during our spring and you’ll take advantage of the shoulder season between summer travel and the high season for winter sports. March and April is the best time to go to avoid big crowds, and to take advantage of lower prices and the lingering good weather (winter starts in June).

Air New Zealand is a great resource for budget travel to New Zealand. It’s currently offering both noteworthy airfare and vacation packages. Airfare starts under $1,000, and package prices will get you airfare, a week’s accommodations, and car rental for under $1,500. While travel to New Zealand is more expensive than to places closer to home, in terms of this type of long-distance travel, the prices we’re seeing offer exceptional value. Octopus Travel also has packages for people looking to explore the country. And once you arrive, you can continue the savings with a discount travel card, good for savings on accommodations, transportation, attractions, and tours.

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