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Top five bargain destinations for summer 2006

SmarterTravel

All signs point to high fuel costs and record numbers of tourists in the coming months, creating a situation that may seem less-than-ideal for travelers seeking a bargain this summer. However, whether you’re looking to stick closer to home or head abroad, good values do exist, though they are less plentiful than in recent years.

We’ve been monitoring travel trends, industry news, and sale patterns to bring you the destinations that offer the best bargain value for the coming season. While we offer examples of deals presently available for summer trips, 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 research on your part can yield similar results when you’re ready to book.

Our top five picks for summer travel are Brooklyn; Atlanta; Australia, Merida, Mexico; and Toronto.

Next>>Brooklyn: New reasons to go, and ways to save

Brooklyn

It may never have the fame and glamour of Manhattan, but Brooklyn is making a name for itself as a more affordable borough with increasing visitor appeal. With a new major transportation hub, a just-out attractions pass, fun activities, and a variety of ways to stay for less, Brooklyn offers more than a few reasons to head across the bridge.

In April, Brooklyn joined the ranks of cruise port cities, putting it on the map for the million or so people who cruise from New York City each year. Two Cunard ships and two Princess ships will call the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal home. This is also the inaugural year of the Brooklyn Pass, a two-day passport that covers admission to some of the area’s top attractions and bonuses such as free cheesecake and beer (not at the same time, thankfully).

During summer, historic houses and gardens in the area are open, and free guided tours are sometimes available. And, an economical alternative to pricey Yankees or Mets baseball games, the borough’s own minor league Brooklyn Cyclones start their season on June 20.

Good value is easy enough to find in Brooklyn’s accommodations options as well. The Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge has a page dedicated to special rates; and in addition to the usual chain hotel suspects, there are a variety of bed and breakfasts that range from inexpensive to luxurious.

Early May falls between spring and summer airfare sales, so it’s difficult to pinpoint which airlines will announce the next batch. American, AirTran, JetBlue, and Midwest have all recently had sales on summer flights to New York, and it seems likely that at least some of them will extend sales or announce new ones.

Though most visitors prefer not to drive in New York City, those who need a car can take advantage of the new Avis neighborhood rental location in Brooklyn.

For the latest advice and current reviews of sales, visit the SmarterTravel.com New York City guide.

Next>>Atlanta: Busiest and biggest

Atlanta

World’s busiest airport, world’s biggest aquarium: Atlanta is all about superlatives this year. More air service, a new runway, and aquarium hotel packages add up to yet another distinction: one of summer’s top bargain destinations. And, yes, Atlanta is hot in summer; but the city offers plenty of indoor air-conditioned experiences designed to educate and entertain.

Getting to Atlanta is the easy part, since over 20 airlines serve the city. Both Delta and AirTran use Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta as a hub, so both of these carriers have a major presence at the airport. In fact, this summer, Delta will have more than 1,000 departures on peak days, with service to 30 more destinations than last June. And, though it expired before press time, AirTran’s recent sale on flights through October suggests that perhaps more sales for summer and early fall flights will pop up again. A fifth runway, scheduled to open in late May, will help the airport better serve the almost 86 million passengers who pass through yearly.

Atlanta’s biggest draw this year has been the new Georgia Aquarium. Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to make a trip to the wildly popular attraction less expensive. Even discounted children and senior rates are above the $15 mark. However, some area hotels are offering package deals that include accommodations and tickets. A quick rate check revealed that while the savings between regular and package rates aren’t substantial, packages that offer extras such as breakfast and free parking do add noteworthy value.

Those unwilling to brave the crowds at the Georgia Aquarium may find fewer visitors and cheaper admission prices at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga worth the two-hour drive from Atlanta. The aquarium has an educational focus and an IMAX 3-D theater that screens animal films.

For the latest advice and current reviews of sales, visit the SmarterTravel.com Atlanta guide.

Next>>Australia: Now is the time to save

Australia

In the case of Australia, the term “bargain” is relative. Its distance from the U.S. means that it’s never the cheapest destination on any list, but during summer in the northern hemisphere, sales to Australia during its winter crop up and make it the cheapest time of year to head down under. Plus, a lower number of Australians traveling within Australia means more providers will be offering additional incentives to visitors. So not only is it cheaper to get there, but it should also be less expensive to stay there.

Coming from the U.S. or Canada, the biggest expense on an Australia trip will most likely be airfare. The Qantas multi-city pass, available from $999, includes round-trip airfare between select U.S. West Coast cities and Brisbane, and also covers up to three additional flights within Australia. Australia’s tourism website has packages that include airfare and accommodations from $1,399. And through the same site, American Express offers additional discounts such as statement credits and double miles to cardholders.

For the latest advice and current reviews of sales, visit the SmarterTravel.com Australia guide.

Next>>Merida: New air service and good value accommodations

Merida, Mexico

Merida, on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, has new direct air service from Atlanta that makes it even more accessible from the U.S. Add the good value on accommodations, and plenty to do in the city and surrounding area, and Merida easily swings a spot on this season’s top bargain destination list.

With its laid-back vibe, colonial architecture, and reasonable accommodations rates, it feels a world away from the Yucatan Peninsula’s other famous destination, Cancun. The inland city of Merida is a popular jumping off point for day trips to the beaches, ruins, and swimming holes of the Yucatan. Areas affected by last year’s hurricane have, for the most part, made a speedy recovery; but for coastal destinations, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research before visiting.

The recent governmental move to increase air service between the U.S. and Mexico serves Merida well, since it is close enough (about six hours’ drive) to Cancun to benefit from additional service to the popular beach destination. More importantly, Delta has just started direct daily flights between Atlanta and Merida, and will join airlines Aeromexico, Mexicana, and Continental in offering service from the U.S.

Accommodations offer good value as well. Compared to many of Mexico’s other popular cities, hotel prices in Merida tend to be lower. In addition to larger chain hotels, there are a variety of smaller inns and B&Bs that can be searched on the useful Yucatan Today website. Lodging
specials and discounts
are updated regularly on the website as well.

For the latest advice and current reviews of sales, visit the SmarterTravel.com Mexico guide.

Next>>Toronto: More flights, luxury discounts

Toronto

This summer, Toronto has one new flight route and one being reintroduced, a major musical debut, and hotel offers that make staying cheaper. This season will likely be the last busy summer tourist season to visit Canada without a
passport
. And, Toronto is known for food, music, and arts festivals during the summer, many of them free.

Expanded air service will connect more of the western U.S. to Toronto. On June 8, Air Canada is starting daily, nonstop service from Salt Lake City, and will be offering 1,500 bonus Aeroplan miles for flights between June 8 and July 8. On July 1, the airline will reintroduce daily, nonstop service from San Diego, with the same bonus mile offer in effect through the end of July.

Hotel specials that offer very different experiences are easy to find in Toronto this summer. At the Fairmont Royal York, a
summer sale
offers luxury accommodations at a moderate price. From May 15 through September 5, rates start at $139 (U.S.). Those who book by June 30 with an American Express card can receive additional food and beverage credits that make it an even better value.

The Toronto tourism website also has two hotel offers. First, the
Lord of the Rings
musical debuted in February, and hotels around the city responded to the musical’s popularity with
packages
that bundle accommodations, tickets, and bonuses such as breakfast and attractions passes. Restaurants are getting in on the action by offering three-course, prix-fixe Lord of the Rings
menus
. The second hotel offer, which can be paired with the first or used alone, is a $25 or $50
gasoline card
available with stays at participating properties through the end of May.

For the latest advice and current reviews of sales, visit the SmarterTravel.com Toronto guide.

Finding another bargain destination

There’s a good reason the term “summer vacation” is so familiar. Most destinations are warm and appealing, there are many festivals and events, and families have the flexibility to take longer trips when kids are out of school. But it’s also the most difficult season to find the best prices for travel. However, summer can yield great bargain trips for those who are willing to get slightly off the beaten track and take the time to find the deals that are out there. For more ideas on ways to save and reasons to visit destinations around the world throughout summer, visit SmarterTravel.com Contributing Editor Christine Sarkis’ Destination Watch blog.

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