I've monitored trends, industry news, and sale patterns to point you in the direction of 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.
Good deals bask in the sun in Key West, Florida. New air service from two airlines put a winter tan within easy reach. And, a free companion airfare deal for future travel adds value to a trip.
AirTran will become the first low-cost carrier to serve Key West when it begins nonstop service from Orlando and same-plane service from Atlanta on December 17. Flights are scheduled to operate four times each week with fares from $119 each way. Also on December 17, Delta will expand its service between Atlanta and Key West, offering daily flights between the cities.
The well-known Cheeca Lodge & Spa will reopen on December 15 after a major renovation. The property is offering introductory winter specials of 10 to 30% off room rates. Not affordable enough? There are also seasonal discounts at more hotels around town.
A stay in Key West can help you save on your next trip as well. The Florida Keys Tourism Council has teamed up with hotels in Key West and other nearby cities to offer free companion airfare vouchers with qualifying hotel stays. The vouchers are good for future travel in the Continental U.S. on participating airlines through April, 2011. Booking restrictions are detailed on the vouchers.
Salt Lake City
Skiing vacations get pricey fast. But Salt Lake City and the surrounding mountain destinations stand out as an affordable winter vacation spot this year. Domestic airfare sales and ski-friendly offers make getting there a bargain, and more discounts on hotels and ski expenses can bring down the overall cost substantially.
Southwest and United are currently running airfare sales that include Salt Lake City, and Frontier just ended a promotion and will likely roll out another soon. Southwest also has this ski destination special: Book air-and-hotel packages by November 26 for travel through February 10, and every second person flies free to Salt Lake City. Plus, the fourth night is free, as is the third lift ticket day. The offer is valid at more than a half dozen ski resorts near Salt Lake City.
Many hotels and resorts are also offering a fourth night of lodging and skiing free when you book a four-night stay before December 15 for travel through spring. And, more hotels are offering early winter discounts of 10 to 35%.
Among Caribbean islands, St. Lucia has always retained an upscale, romantic allure. This winter though, you don't need to splurge on a honeymoon to enjoy the best of the island. The rough economy brought prices down this year, and new low-cost carrier service has put St. Lucia within reach of more travelers.
Late last month, JetBlue started new nonstop service three times a week between New York and St. Lucia with rates from $129 each way. The airline is promoting the new service with three-night air-and-hotel packages from $369 per person.
Hotels and resorts around the island are offering their own winter specials, including plenty of options under $100 and discounted rates or added amenities at popular resorts. For instance, winter rates with daily breakfast for two at the Fox Grove Inn range from $70 to $85. At the Marigot Beach Club-with average nightly rates of $237 according to SmarterTravel sister site Trip Advisor- winter rates for a beachfront studio are $181 a night.
Budapest was made for winter travel. Hundreds of thermal springs feed public baths and spa hotels around the city, offering endless ways to while away chilly winter days. Plenty of indoor shopping and sightseeing add to the appeal. This winter, air-and-hotel packages offer the best value, though airfare sales and generally reasonable hotel rates provide affordable options as well. And since Hungary isn't yet using the euro, it tends to be less expensive than many other European countries.
Vacation packages provide good value for the Budapest-bound this coming winter. At press time, Go-Today was advertising six night air-and-hotel winter packages to Budapest from $679, and multi-country packages that tack on cities such as Vienna and Prague for not much more. Gate1Travel has an eight-day Budapest and Prague package from $849.
There are ways to save on a-la-carte bookings as well. Delta currently has sale fares between New York and Budapest for $359 each way. Since the city is also well served by European low-cost carriers, combining a cheap fare to a major European hub with intra-European service to Budapest can be an affordable option. EasyJet flies from Paris and London, Ryanair from Dublin, Wizzair from a number of major European cities including London and Madrid, and Germanwings from London and elsewhere.
On the peaceful tip of the Baja California Peninsula, Los Cabos has been a longtime favorite among Americans seeking natural beauty, great water sports, and nightlife. This winter, a noteworthy airfare sale and dozens of vacation packages join forces to offer more Los Cabos for less.
Alaska Airlines offers the cheapest way to fly to Los Cabos this winter. Its current sale includes fares such as $95 each way from Los Angeles or $119 one-way from Portland, Oregon, for travel through March 17 booked by November 17.
Vacation packages are another way to make a winter trip to Los Cabos more affordable. Expedia has a Book Early and Save offer, with discounts up to 50% off for air-and-hotel packages, and rates from $375 for roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles and four nights' accommodations. US Airways is offering up to $100 off Mexico vacation packages booked by November 23 for travel through March. Travelocity has plenty of hotel-only options, with promotional rates starting at $49 per night. And, Los Cabos maintains a list of the most current hotel and vacation package offers.