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Top five bargain destinations for summer 2004

SmarterTravel

Summer brings long days, sunshine, and vacation. It’s a popular time to set out to explore new destinations and revisit old favorites. But travel prices tend to rise with demand, and finding a good deal during summer can be tricky. We’ve scoured the world to bring you five destinations with both appeal and value. By keeping tabs on destinations with promotions and price reductions for travel in the coming months, we can bring you summer travel suggestions that reflect the latest bargain trends.

Be sure to check the SmarterTravel.com air and vacation pages for current offers from travel providers to these and other destinations. While we will give some examples of the deals you can presently find for summer 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.

Our picks for the top five summer bargain destinations include Costa Rica, Belize, the new countries of the European Union, Hawaii, and U.S. National Parks.

Top bargain destination in your backyard: Philadelphia

Philly is shaping up to be among the hottest U.S. bargain cities this summer, with a slew of low-price airfare options. Southwest will begin flying to the City of Brotherly Love in early May, with fares from $29. And where a bargain leads, bargains will follow, so look for lower prices from other airlines as well. US Airways has already launched GoFares that start at $29 each way, plus frequent flyer bonus offers for either double or triple miles.

Plus, take advantage of free nights at hotels, and more activities than anyone could squeeze into just one trip.

Costa Rica

Typically considered off peak, summer is becoming a more popular time to visit Costa Rica, as more people discover that this season is when the country yields its most vibrant landscapes. In fact, the summer rainy season is known as the “green” season. No matter what time of year you visit, there’s plenty to do, whether you want an eco-tourism adventure or prefer to just lounge at the beach. Plus, the prices continue to be some of the lowest of any tropical destination easily accessible from the U.S. And, during the summer months, prices will be lower than any other time of the year.

Air-and-hotel vacation providers have been putting together cut-rate packages for some time, with the cheapest rates coming from Jet-A-Way and Gate 1 Travel as of late. We’ve seen package prices including air and hotel that start around $370 for six days; when you break the price down, that’s about $60 a day for a complete vacation. Go-today also has been promoting a slew of affordable vacation packages, with four-day trips starting at around $399.

Airlines such as American, US Airways, United, Iberia Airlines, and TACA have recently been discounting their routes to Costa Rica, with some fares under $150 round-trip. As a testament to Costa Rica’s rising popularity, airlines have also been adding more routes to and from the country, most recently with United launching weekly service from Chicago to San Jose. The airline also says that it will build vacation packages around the route.

Accommodations in Costa Rica tend to be cheaper than in many other warm weather destinations. The Costa Rica tourism website offers a useful search page, which allows you to see results by region, amenity, hotel class, and more. Our vacation and air editors keep close tabs on all the latest offerings, so check back throughout the summer for the latest.

Belize

On the verge of becoming a mainstream tourist destination, Belize has the right combination of reasonable rates, accessibility from the U.S., and outdoor attractions for a summer trip. Situated on the Caribbean coast of Central America, Belize touts itself as nature at its best. Indeed, 40 percent of the country is preserved as parks and natural reserves. It’s easy to take even a short trip to Belize, as the official language is English, and the country shares a time zone with U.S. Central Standard Time. Whether you want to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef, explore Mayan temples, or visit national parks, the country offers tourists a wealth of affordable options.

And this season, Belize is both popular and cheap. We’ve seen air-and-hotel vacation packages, such as those from Jet-A-Way Holidays, that run under or around $100 per day. Also, some airlines, like American and TACA, have recently been putting Belize routes on sale.

If you need affordable accommodations, the Belize Tourism Board website allows you to search hotels by price range, as well as read other information about the country. The price range for nightly stays starts at $20 or less, but amenities such as 24-hour electricity or air-conditioning may cost you a bit more. For complete hotel-and-air packages, our vacation editors keep up on the latest deals to Belize and other Caribbean destinations. Also, for more tips on good package providers to Belize, check out our vacation guide for the region.

An old EU bargain

Prices for travel to France during the summer tend to be sky-high, but this year, special travel deals in honor of the 60th anniversary of D-Day are making visits to Paris and Normandy more affordable. Veterans in particular can take advantage of discounted airfare and more.

The new countries of the European Union

The Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia are the newest countries to join the European Union (EU). Many of these countries have long been popular bargain destinations. However, with the economic opportunities that will arise with EU membership, travelers may find that these bargains will soon be history.

It will take years before the euro is adopted as the national currency of these nations, so Americans can get around the weak dollar for the time being. Low-cost European airlines make getting from major gateways in Western Europe to these countries very affordable. There are ways to save on rail passes as well. For details on budget travel to the EU’s newest countries, read our feature.

Hawaii

Many people head to Hawaii in winter, when the islands’ tropical weather and temperate waters provide a haven from blustery weather on the mainland. But summer also has great weather, and those who venture to Hawaii at this time will likely find lower prices and smaller crowds, which could make for a better vacation experience.

If you’re a one-stop shopper, look for travel packages from providers such as Pleasant Holidays and Offpeaktraveler.com, where we’ve seen offers that start around $560 for six or seven nights and airfare for summer travel. If you prefer to buy airfare separately, Hawaiian Airlines is running a promotion with fares from $278 round-trip.

Traveling outside of the peak winter period can also mean paying less for accommodations. When looking at hotel, bed and breakfast, or vacation rental websites, keep an eye out for the low- or off-season rates that may easily save you $10 or $20 per night. To browse the many accommodations options on the islands, try the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau’s accommodations search. Or, use a search engine and type in your preferred island name and lodging type. For current hotel specials, check SmarterTravel.com’s hotel page for Hawaii deals. Or, learn how to plan a complete vacation for less with our Hawaii vacation guide.

U.S. National Parks

The best thing about a summer trip to a national park, aside from the great outdoors, is that it can easily be tailored to any budget. Camping or volunteering are the least expensive options, and most national parks have lodges and hotels nearby for those who want to play outdoors and sleep inside. Recent budget cuts have put the squeeze on park service resources, and may cause entrance fees to go up a hair, but if you’re looking for a cheap way to enjoy the season, national parks can still be a great option.

The key to a hassle-free stay in one of the national parks, especially this summer, is to plan ahead. Fewer resources and services due to budget cuts could mean that space and activities fill up quickly. Also keep in mind that national parks tend to be less crowded at the beginning and end of summer, so you might find easier booking, and more privacy, in May, early June, and early September. To make reservations, find the website for the individual park, or research nearby towns and cities for other lodging options.

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