Top five off-peak destinations for summer

This summer, hot-weather locales in the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean top our list of the best off-peak destinations. If you don't mind a little (or a lot) of heat and humidity, you can easily save hundreds of dollars on accommodations, airfare, and activities. New Orleans, Phoenix, Belize, St. Maarten, and Antigua round out this summer's list.

New Orleans

Put your travel dollars to good use this summer and plan a trip to the Big Easy. With tourism still below pre-Hurricane Katrina levels, the money you spend on accommodations, activities, food, and drinks will pump life back into local businesses. Plus, summer is traditionally New Orleans' low season so you'll find bargain prices, particularly at hotels and on airfare-and-hotel vacation packages.

In fact, I found savings of up to $384 compared to late-fall package prices.

Package:Airfare from Atlanta and three nights' hotel Provider:Travelocity Off-peak rate:$349 (July 16 to 19) Peak rate:$613 (November 12 to 15)

Package:Airfare from Chicago (O'Hare), four nights' hotel Provider:Travelocity Off-peak rate:$684 (July 28 to August 1) Peak rate:$1,068 (October 27 to 31)

Package:Airfare from Newark, five nights' hotelProvider:TravelocityOff-peak rate: $527 (August 18 to 23)Peak rate: $646 (November 3 to 8)

Package:Airfare from San Diego, seven nights' hotelProvider: Travelocity Off-peak rate:$717 (August 5 to 12)Peak rate: $982 (October 21 to 28)

Prices are per person based on double occupancy and include taxes and fees.

New Orleans hosts festivals nearly every weekend year-round, and summer is no exception. June brings PrideFest, a two-day celebration of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) lifestyles, with live music, drag performers, and more on June 28 and 29. July 4 through 6 brings the Essence Music Festival, headlined by major artists including Kanye West and Rihanna, with local artists such as the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's Gospel Revival performing on a smaller stage.

Satchmo SummerFest, dedicated to New Orleans native Louis Armstrong, is celebrated July 31 to August 31 with live jazz music on the lawn of the Old U.S. Mint and food booths with local specialties like shrimp po' boys, seafood gumbo, and pecan pie.

Looking for more New Orleans trip ideas? Escapes Under $500 columnist Anne Banas recently shared tips for affordable visits to the French Quarter and information about volunteering in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

NewOrleansOnline.com is a good source of information for trips to the Crescent City.

Phoenix

Named this year's number-one city for vacation value by Hotwire, Phoenix offers plenty of summertime off-peak discounts. If you don't mind dry, hot weather (think temperatures around 100), you can take advantage of slashed hotel rates.

In my comparisons of spring shoulder-season hotel rates with low-season summer rates, I found savings as high as $150.

Hotel:Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa Room type: Classic king roomOff-peak rate: $149Shoulder-season rate:$299

Hotel:FireSky Resort and SpaRoom type:Patio guest room with two queen bedsOff-peak rate: $145Shoulder-season rate:$199

Hotel:Gainey Suites Hotel, ScottsdaleRoom type: Studio suite kingOff-peak rate: $99Shoulder-season rate:$189

Hotel:Legacy Golf ResortRoom type: Studio suiteOff-peak rate: $81.75Shoulder-season rate: $105

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