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Top five bargain destinations for winter 2005/2006

SmarterTravel

The days are growing shorter, and now is the time to begin planning winter vacations. Three destination types are best suited for winter travel, and all of them factor in weather. Tropical vacations provide a welcome respite from the cold, ski and snow vacations make the best of the season, and urban hot spots offer so many indoor activities that cold temperatures don’t matter much. This winter’s top five bargain destinations include picks in each of these categories.

We’ve been monitoring travel trends, industry news, and sale patterns to bring you the destinations offering the best value this season. To illustrate the trend of cheap travel to these destinations, we mention deals available at press time. Our examples, like all deals, are sure to expire, while others are likely to pop up. When you’re ready to book, take our suggestions on where to look, and do a little sleuthing to uncover similar results. Also, be sure to check SmarterTravel.com’s new Travel Guides for current offers from travel providers to these and other destinations.

Our top five picks for winter travel are Mexico; Colorado; London, England; the Dominican Republic; and Greece.

Mexico

The geographical maps will stay the same, but for U.S. travelers, Mexico is about to seem a whole lot closer. In a move to meet the growing demand of the market, a new government agreement will increase the number of airlines allowed on each U.S.-Mexico route from two to three. What does it mean for visitors? Starting this winter, there will be more airline choices, more flights, and more competition (thus lower prices) to Cancun, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and other major Mexico destinations. Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Mexicana, and United are among the airlines that have announced plans for new routes or increased service. The agreement also expands codesharing opportunities, making it easier for frequent flyers to earn miles. Throughout this winter, keep an eye out for introductory fares as airlines add additional routes and service.

Not to be outdone, vacation package providers are offering noteworthy deals as well. At press time, Pleasant Holidays was listing packages starting at $415 for four nights in Puerto Vallarta with airfare from Los Angeles, and Alaska Airlines Vacations was offering perks such as additional nights and upgrades to Mexico destinations.

Additionally, Aeromexico has a Mexico pass for travelers who want to visit multiple destinations without purchasing separate airfare or coordinating long-distance ground transportation. Aeromexico is also running a family special with four airline tickets for the price of three.

For more tips on Mexico travel, visit the SmarterTravel.com Mexico Travel Guide.

Colorado

Colorado may seem like an elite ski destination, but it’s true bargain country this winter. The major value indicator is that Southwest recently announced service from 36 destinations to Denver starting on January 3, with fares from $59 one-way. This move will not only expand Colorado’s accessibility from around the country, but may cause the “Southwest effect,” a pattern of lowered average airfares across-the-board when Southwest begins service to a destination.

Additionally, airlines such as American, United, and Southwest are running annual winter snow-destination vacation specials that include bundled discounts and perks such as free lift tickets and kids’ airfare.

Airlines are not the only travel providers making Colorado more affordable this ski season. Dozens of ski resorts throughout the state are offering accommodations or lift ticket specials for trips outside of the winter holidays. The free Colorado Gems card grants holders discounts on lift tickets and even a few free lift-ticket offers at eight ski resorts. Many of the Colorado Gems are smaller resorts with fewer crowds and cheaper rates. And this winter, even some of the most popular ski resorts are offering specials. For instance, the Aspen and Snowmass Central Reservations website has an additional day/night offer for six-day packages, as well as last-minute accommodations and package specials.

For more tips on Colorado travel, visit the SmarterTravel.com Colorado Travel Guide.

London, England

Though the exchange rate prevents London from ever being a truly cheap destination, winter vacation packages and airfare sales have put it back in the bargain running after a long absence. Of course, the primary disadvantage of a winter vacation to London is the climate, but very few people visit Britain for its weather at any time of year. Plus, the city offers so many indoor activities that chilly temperatures are barely a factor.

There are noteworthy deals across-the-board for winter travel to London. Among the best at press time were 1-800-Fly-Europe’s airfare from $189 round-trip from New York, United Vacations’ 50-percent off companion airfare with packages, Go-Today’s three-night London getaways with airfare from Boston from $369, and American Vacations’ newly extended sale on airfare and three-night accommodations packages from $379. Go-Today is also offering two-for-one sightseeing specials in London for November bookings.

Though the offers expired just before press time, offers such as British Airways’ two-night complimentary hotel stays, and EuropeASAP’s $399 four-night and round-trip air package are likely to be followed up with similar offers. And, two low-cost business-class airlines have just begun flying transatlantic routes, offering comfort and service for less than current commercial airline business class.

To read unbiased analyses of the latest London travel sales, visit SmarterTravel.com’s London Travel Guide deals page.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has earned an international reputation as one of the best travel bargains in the Caribbean, and there’s no better time than the winter high season to put it to the test. The recently expired Spirit sale with fares such as $18 from Orlando to Santo Domingo is a good sign that the bargain trail is hot this season. However, people from around the world are discovering what this island has to offer, and hoteliers and tourism officials expect that bargains may be harder to come by in the future, so now is the time to go to ensure value.

This winter, it will be even easier to get to there. Beginning on December 10, Spirit will offer daily non-stop service to Punta Cana from Ft. Lauderdale. And, from December 16, Continental will offer a new route between Houston and Punta Cana. As with Mexico, travelers can keep an eye out for introductory fares offered by airlines promoting new service.

Travelers who prefer the simplicity of bundled air and accommodations can check out Vacation Travel Mart and E-Leisure Link, both of which are offering a variety of air-and-hotel packages, including stays at all-inclusive resorts starting at just over $100 per day, per person with airfare. And, the Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort has an early booking discount for reservations made by December 1.

Visit SmarterTravel.com’s new Dominican Republic Travel Guide for a list of all the most current travel offers.

Greece

Visitors are getting a lot for their money these days in Athens and around Greece. Though the 2004 Olympics are long over, the improvements to the area’s tourism infrastructure made in anticipation of the games remain. In Athens, visitors can take advantage of the new airport, ever-expanding metro system, and improved roads and pedestrian thoroughfares. Many of the city’s hotels underwent renovation before the games, and a number of new hotels opened. Refurbishments and more choices add value to already reasonably priced accommodations. Athens wasn’t the only city to benefit from an Olympic facelift: Thessaloniki, Patras, Heraklio and Volos hosted events as well. This winter is a good time to take advantage of Greece’s added value because travel prices have dropped precipitously since summer and the climate will be among the best in the Europe.

Both Gate 1 and Go-Today have noteworthy package prices to Greece. Gate 1 was offering six-day packages including airfare from New York to Athens from $399. And Rail Europe has just added a Greece pass to its offerings. The Greece fly-and-rail pass combines first-class rail travel and flight coupons. There’s also a dual-country Italy and Greece pass that includes ferry passes.

Visit SmarterTravel.com’s new Greece Travel Guide for a list of all the most current travel offers.

Winter offers many opportunities for travel on a budget, and it’s possible to make most destinations bargain destinations if you time a trip right, stay flexible, and choose travel services wisely. If you’re interested in a destination not listed here, you can find seasonality information, the most current sales, and other helpful information with SmarterTravel.com’s Travel Guides.

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