Top five bargain destinations for summer 2009

Sale fares and vacation packages bring Australia's affordability into better focus. Qantas is running a sale with round-trip flights between L.A. or San Francisco and Brisbane, Melbourne, or Sydney from about $620, or from New York starting at $820. V Australia recently ended a similar deal, and may offer more sale fares to stay competitive. Qantas also has a four-city Australia air pass from $999, which allows travelers to visit multiple cities on a single airfare. For $999, the airline has an air-and-hotel package with six nights' accommodations as well.

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville earns top-five status by being an already affordable destination with new low-cost airline service. AirTran will begin flying between Orlando and Asheville starting June 11, with introductory fares of $69 one-way. You might also check flights into Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (about an hour and thirty minutes away) and Charlotte Douglas International Airport (about two hours away) to compare fares if the lowest price is a priority.

In the Specials and Deals section of ExploreAsheville.com, you'll find savings such as 50-percent off a second night at the Four Points by Sheraton, $25 per night gas rebate card from the Crowne Plaza, and discounts at museums around town. You can also take advantage of the site's Asheville budget travel planner, with free activity ideas and more savings opportunities. Plus, Asheville is an ideal jumping-off point for a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway, known as "America's Favorite Drive" and a can't-miss (and free) activity. For more information, the Asheville Travel Blog offers a current look at events and activities in town.

Bonus destinations

Want more budget destination ideas for travel this summer? How about:

• Virginia: To mark the 40th anniversary of the Virginia is for Lovers promotional campaign, Virginia has launched a 40 Off Travel Deals program. Look for $40 off, 40% off, or buy three get the fourth free at participating lodgings and attractions around the state.

• Bermuda: In honor of its 400th birthday, Bermuda is offering visitors staying four nights or more $400 back this summer.

• Scotland: Summer airfare sales and an exchange rate that will save Americans hundreds of dollars compared to years past are just part of the value equation. This year marks Scotland's Homecoming 2009, a year-long collection of festivals celebrating golf, whisky, Robert Burns, and other Scottish cultural cornerstones. Many events are cheap or free.

• Jamaica: Additional Air Jamaica service from Ft Lauderdale, Orlando, and New York make the Caribbean favorite more accessible this summer. Low-season rates at resorts offer extra affordability.

• U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI): The Sizzlin' Sampler Package includes a free fourth night, $300 off your vacation, and $100 in gift certificates for stays through October.

• Branson, Missouri: A new airport and service from Sun Country and AirTran make this music and leisure destination easier to get to than ever before.

Read previous columns

SmarterTravel.com features expert travel advice and unbiased coverage of travel deals.

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