Top five bargain destinations for winter

If you can manage a vacation this winter, you'll find bargains all over the world. The recent gains the dollar has made against the euro and the pound have put Europe within reach for budget travelers for the first time in years. And, prices in more tropical destinations have also come down for winter travel as providers try to lure vacationers reluctant to part with their travel dollars.

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.

Hawaii

Dear budget travelers: Hawaii wants you back, and is willing to cut you a deal to make it happen. Years of courting well-heeled vacationers with big bucks and the spike in airfare prices caused by the bankruptcies of Aloha and ATA in early 2007 kept bargain hunters out of paradise until recently. But when the two airlines shut down, revenue streams to hotels, resorts, and attractions took a major hit, one that was worsened by a drop in visitor numbers brought on by the struggling economy. So to stay afloat, the islands are bringing prices back down.

How much are prices dropping? Enough to put them below—well below, in some cases—2007 rates. In fact, the tourism bureau is currently listing packages featuring lower prices than last year from online travel agencies such as Orbitz, Expedia, Pleasant Holidays, and others.

Though packages are offering the best value this winter, airlines are tempting travelers with unusually low fares as well. For example, at press time, Hawaiian was running a sale with prices as low as $306 round-trip from Seattle, and new sales are cropping up all the time. Plus, there are more choices with new Alaska Airlines flights from Seattle, more service by Delta from Los Angeles and Atlanta, and added flights by WestJet from Vancouver. Hotels are also offering discounts, free nights, and resort credits. And Conde Nast Traveler blogger Wendy Perrin reports that vacation rental prices have dropped dramatically for winter. This kind of across-the-board savings in Hawaii hasn't been seen in a long time, and it likely won't last, so if you're a budget traveler with a hankering for Hawaii, then seize the day. Better yet, carpe vacation!

Ireland

In its latest ad campaign, Ireland wants to know: Can you afford not to go? While the truest answer is probably yes, it's a good question, especially for bargain hunters. A much better exchange rate, drop in oil prices and airfares, and great accommodations deals team up to make this winter a very affordable time to visit the Emerald Isle.

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