On the lookout for a good deal on a family vacation? The first thing you'll notice is how many headlines promise wild savings and freebies. Unfortunately, a good many sure-fire bargains will fail to deliver, so savvy shoppers should always do the math before booking any trip. Here's how a trio of special offers stood up to our scrutiny.
Save Up to 33 Percent at Colorado's Brand-New One Ski Hill
New resorts offer more than just that new-hotel smell; they often run terrific introductory deals to convince you to give them a chance. Rock Resorts -- a small chain of upscale resorts with properties in Vail, Aspen, and as far away as St. Lucia -- is opening a new resort in Breckenridge this June, 100 miles from Denver International Airport and 70 miles from the Eagle/Vail airport.
Next winter, One Ski Hill Place will offer a ski-in/ski-out resort with access to four lifts. But before that, this summer, the lifts can bring you to hiking and biking trails, as well as the Peak 8 Fun Park (opening June 18) which features an alpine slide and miniature golf. Summertime pursuits will also include golf and nearby horseback riding and whitewater rafting. Year-round, the hotel features a movie lounge, game room, indoor pool and a two-lane bowling alley. Lodging, meanwhile, ranges from studios to four-bedroom condos, each equipped with kitchens, fireplaces and Wi-Fi.
The resort is offering two introductory packages:
Be the First: Book by June 1 for a stay during June and you'll get 33 percent off regular room rates, as well as a complimentary breakfast. When we checked dates online, we found one-bedroom condos starting at $149 per night for a family of four, down from the regular $224 rate -- indeed, a hefty 33 percent off.
Early Bird Winter Package: Book by July 1 if you want to get a boot up on the resort's first ski season, starting November 12. The offer, good for stays between November 18 and April 18, 2011, promises up to 44 percent in savings. When we price-checked a November stay for a family of four, we found one-bedroom condos starting at $183 per night, compared to the regular November rate of $285 per night. That works out to a 36 percent savings -- also a hefty deal, even if it doesn't max out the "up to 44 percent" promise.
As usual, rates are subject to availability, and blackout dates may apply. Quoted rates are based on double occupancy per condominium. Tax, gratuities and resort fees are not included. Book online by clicking on the package rate, or mention the appropriate package when calling 888/906-6303.
All-Inclusive Packages at the Arizona Biltmore
If you can stand the heat, there are super summer deals to be had in the desert. At Phoenix's Arizona Biltmore -- a grand dame that first opened in 1929, and was designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright protege -- a pair of packages look good enough to make you forget that summer highs average about 103 degrees. (To be fair, the cliche is true: it really is a dry heat.)
There's a lot for families to do here in the summer, beyond just finding a shady spot next to one of eight swimming pools. There's a 92-foot waterslide, golf, tennis, basketball, spa treatments, and -- a nice desert touch -- a canopy-covered playground. There are marshmallow roasts, cowboy balladeer sing-alongs and dive-in movies, and a Kids Korral program that offers supervised sports, games, and arts and crafts for children 4 to 12 years old. For grownups, there are wine tastings, cigar-rolling lessions, and live concerts.
From May 23 through September 10, the 740-room hotel is offering two packages that include three square meals and more per day: the All-Inclusive Package with Classic Room accommodations in the main hotel or the Exclusive All-Inclusive Package at the hotel's Ocatilla concierge-level area, which has its own private pool and a VIP lounge outfitted with unlimited snacks and drinks. Guest privileges even include wines by the glass and chair massages. We priced a three-day stay in June. The basic All-Inclusive Package includes:
Classic accommodations (standard room with two queen beds, regularly $249/night or $747 for three nights)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner for two (worth $193/day per couple x 3 days= $579 for three days)
50 percent off spa a la carte services (at least a $70 value; 50-minute massages start at $135)
Free self-parking (usually $12/day x 3 days = $36)
Resort charge ($28/day, but factored into regular rates too)
For the June dates we tested, the all-inclusive package is priced at $359 per night, bringing the cost of a three-night stay to $1,077. Meanwhile, the regular rate for a classic room with two queen beds is $249 per night, including resort fee. By opting for the regular room rate and paying à la carte for adult meals and parking, the total for a three-night stay would come to $1,362. In other words, the special offers deliver a 20-percent savings -- but keep in mind that you'd still have to pay for kids' meals.
Though more expensive, the "exclusive" package -- which includes everything above plus additional concierge-level perks -- gives you better value. The regular rate for an Ocatilla room on the VIP floor is $329 per night, so if you opted for the VIP floor and paid a la carte for adult meals and parking, your total for a three-day stay would come to $1,602. In comparison, the package rate starts at $409 per night, or $1,227 for the same three-night stay in June. The exclusive package translates into a 23 percent discount, plus -- here's the kicker -- you and the kids get unlimited access to free snacks and beverages, which could conceivably keep the cost of kids' meals down to a bare-bones minimum.
Deal or no deal? Both packages offer very good value, but we recommend upgrading to the exclusive package and taking full advantage of the free snacks and beverages.
The packages are available for stays through September 10. To book online, enter your travel dates then look for the all-inclusive deals in the list of rates. Alternatively, mention the All-Inclusive Package or Exclusive All-Inclusive Package when calling 800/950-0086.
Save Up to 30 Percent at Hilton Hotels Worldwide Ready to commit to your summer vacation plans? Hilton has launched a Great Getaway sale, with advertised savings of up to 30 percent off hotel stays between May 28 and September 6. Good at 2,800 hotels around the world -- including Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels, Doubletree, Embassy Suites Hotels, Hilton Garden Inns, Hampton Hotels, and Homewood Suites -- the offer often includes free breakfast for at least two people.
The discount varies a little by brand name: You'll get a full 30 percent off at Doubletree hotels; 25 percent at Hilton properties; and 20 percent at Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Hilton Grand Vacations, Hilton Garden Inn, Waldorf Astoria and Conrad. The deal is available at only select Embassy Suites.
Sounds pretty good, right? Not so fast. The discount applies to the Bed & Breakfast rate, which is always higher than the lowest regular rate and the regular advance-purchase rate. And the offer comes with some big restrictions: You have to book at least seven days ahead of your arrival and pay in full upfront, with no possible refund.
We shopped at some family-friendly spots to see how the special offer played out. At the Hilton Garden Inn in Williamsburg, Virginia, the special offer rate was $112 per night, down from the Bed & Breakfast rate of $141. Now comes the comparison pricing: That's 21 percent off the B&B rate but just 15 percent off the best regular rate of $129. Meanwhile, the regular advance-purchase, no-refund rate was $105. Think of the special offer as getting a free, cooked-to-order breakfast for each family member for just $7 in total. Rooms at the hotel, less than two miles from the city center, have fridges and microwaves, and the hotel has the obligatory pool.
At the Hilton Los Cabos resort in Mexico's Cabo San Lucas -- which has a beach, pool and kids' club -- the special offer shaves 25 percent off this property's B&B rate. The special offer rate for an ocean-view room with two queen beds was $194 per night, compared to $259 for the B&B rate, which includes two buffet breakfasts for the grown-ups each morning and free meals for kids 5 and under. When you figure in those free meals, the special offer probably has the edge over the regular advance-purchase rate of $179 per night -- but just barely, and only if your kids are very young.
Verdict: This is a great example of how marketing spin can make a just-okay offer sound much better than it is. And it's a good reminder of why you need to follow recession travel rule no. 1 and always do the math. Sometimes this special offer beats all the hotel's other rates -- and sometimes you can do better by choosing another rate from the menu. On the upside, this offer usually delivers a free breakfast, so long as you can also stomach the non-refundable risk.
Look for the Great Getaway rates when entering dates online, or mention the deal when calling 800/446-6677. You must book before July 15. Some brands have their own twists on the rules, such as a three-night minimum and no breakfast at Hilton Grands, or a two-night minimum night stay for Wednesday arrivals at Homewood Suites. As usual, other restrictions may apply.
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