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Top five bargain destinations for winter 2006/2007

SmarterTravel

Winter promises bargain bounty for the savvy traveler. Sure, warm-weather destinations and ski resorts are busy, especially during the winter holidays. But whether you want an escape from the cold or just a break from the winter blues, it should be possible without paying a premium.

The destination choices that follow are the result of monitoring travel trends, industry news, and sale patterns to bring you the places that offer the best bargain value for the coming season. Below you’ll find examples of deals presently available for winter trips. Like all deals, these are sure to expire; however, a little research on your part can yield similar results when you’re ready to book.

Our top five picks for winter travel are Cancun; Florida; Mexico; London; and Puerto Rico.

NEXT >> Cancun

Cancun

Cancun stands out as a premier bargain destination this winter for its new and increased air service and expanded hotel options for different traveler types.

Four airlines have new or increased service to Cancun this winter. JetBlue will begin flying to Cancun from New York on November 30. The introductory sale has expired, but regular fares range from $129 to $399 each way, and at press time there were still some air-and-hotel package specials listed. Alaska has just begun service from San Francisco and Seattle. Frontier will be kicking off new service to Cancun with introductory fares of $149 each way from San Diego. And travelers coming from Canada will benefit from Air Canada’s 25 additional flights to Mexico each week from departure points such as Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton.

Wider accommodations choices make Cancun noteworthy this winter. A year after many hotels and resorts were damaged by Hurricane Wilma, most of Cancun’s properties are back in business. For instance, the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa and the CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort just celebrated their grand reopenings, and the Sun Palace and Cancun Palace will both reopen in December. November marks the opening of the previously adults-only and now family-oriented Club Med Cancun Yucatan. The restored spectrum of accommodations means that travelers can find the right fit regardless of budget.

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

NEXT >> Florida

Florida

As the hurricane season winds down and much of the country descends into chilly winter, Florida’s warmth and sunshine beckon vacationers south. And, fortunately for bargain hunters, the state is making a strong showing with more air service and interesting ways to save on accommodations.

Florida is already well-served by the airline industry, and more service means even more options for people from a variety of departure points. AirTran is launching new service between Ft. Myers and Chicago starting December 21, Indianapolis and three Florida destinations beginning in November, Atlanta or Washington, D.C., and Daytona Beach starting in early January, and between White Plains, New York, and three Florida destinations starting December 21. Recently, AirTran, JetBlue, Southwest, and United have had sales for Florida travel, and these or other airlines may continue the trend.

There are a number of ways to find Floridian accommodations for less. The Wyndham in Orlando has a third night free offer for guests who book with American Express cards. The chain Masters Inn is running a free night promotion most useful for longer stays or more frequent visitors. Coastal Martin County has a stay free day three offer, which is valid through December 31.

VisitFlorida.com has a vacation auction, which sells attractions passes, lodging, and more for below retail (if you bid right). There aren’t a ton of auctions now, so instead of creating a narrow search, keep the search boxes general and then browse the options.

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

NEXT >> Mexico

Mexico

Cancun may have earned its own spot on the list, but the entire country of Mexico is a bargain diamond in the travel rough this winter, with new service from six airlines and ways to enjoy upscale accommodations on a budget.

New and expanded air service will mean increased competition that often leads to lower fares, as well as inaugural discounts and more overall direct service from departure cities around the U.S. In the coming months, AeroMexico will be starting service from Orlando and San Antonio to Mexico City, and from Chicago to Guadalajara. In December and January, Mexicana will be operating flights between Zacatecas and Denver. Mexicana’s low-cost carrier Click (in Spanish only) has introductory prices of $86 each way until November 15 for its new flights between Los Angeles and Torreon. Alaska has just added five new routes between U.S. Pacific Coast cities and Mexico beach destinations. Delta is expanding service between Los Angeles and Mexico. And, Frontier will be kicking off service with introductory fares between cities such as Denver, Salt Lake City, and Kansas City and Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Frontier is gearing up to start service between California cities and popular Mexico destinations in late winter, pending government approval.

It’s not just getting to Mexico that’s cheaper and easier. Hotel and package offers are cropping up all over the place as well. CheapCaribbean.com recently launched its Ultra-Luxury for Less category, which features stays at upscale hotels and resorts at reduced prices. CheapCaribbean and is also running a passport rebate promotion. Through the end of the year, Expedia is offering $200 coupons with Mexico (and other warm-weather destinations) packages for trips of five nights or more. The new all-inclusive Riu Vallarta Hotel in Puerto Vallarta has grand-opening specials from November 17 to December 22, with rates that start at $79 per person.

A word on safety in Mexico: At press time, there were public travel announcements from the U.S. Department of State for Oaxaca and Nuevo Laredo. The major tourism destinations are unaffected, but if you’re planning on heading off the beaten path in the coming months, do a bit of current events research before you visit specific destinations.

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

NEXT >> London

London

It’s certainly not the steep exchange rate that makes London a bargain destination this winter, but instead the savings you can find before you go. A standout vacation package along with other sales and discounts put the big-ticket travel items in reach of budget travelers.

The eye-catching low number for a London vacation this winter is $499—the lowest price for Go-Today.com’s package of round-trip airfare from New York and six nights’ accommodations. For a little more, you can trade up for better lodging. Many of the other major package providers also have noteworthy prices for London trips from New York and other departure cities this winter.

Winter sales on flights to London are common. American, bmi, Continental, and the all-business class carrier Maxjet have all had sales recently, some of which may be extended or renewed for later travel. And, British Airways has holiday package specials and free nights at select hotels.

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

NEXT >> Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

As of January 8, 2007, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will be the only Caribbean islands that won’t require a passport to visit by plane, making them suddenly more accessible than their neighbors (though the new rules are inspiring travel providers in destinations affected by the requirements to subsidize travelers’ new passports, which can be a good way to offset the cost if you plan to travel to that destination anyway). And new service to Puerto Rico makes it an even more convenient bargain destination this winter.

New air service from JetBlue strengthens Puerto Rico’s position as a top bargain destination this winter. On December 13, the airline will begin seasonal service from Boston to San Juan, with fares from $109 each way. And, at the time of publication, Spirit had sale fares for travel to Puerto Rico, with business-class fares between Ft. Lauderdale and San Juan from $146 each way.

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

The time to start planning winter trips is now. For information on the latest sales and tips about traveling, visit SmarterTravel.com’s destinations page, and type in your preferred vacation spot. Whether you choose one of these spots or another to explore this winter, remember that spending even a little time researching and comparing prices before you book goes a long way.

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