-- Jittery travel marketers from the Caribbean to the Colorado Rockies are playing Santa this year, delivering resort credits, fewer length-of-stay restrictions and a flurry of last-minute discounts for Christmas and New Year's getaways.
But whether they'll succeed in persuading cash-strapped procrastinators to fly over the river to grandfather's house or trade tinsel for trade winds remains to be seen. According to a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 63% of respondents said they were cutting back on holiday travel, despite tumbling gas prices that are less than half their all-time record in July.
A sampling of deals, subject to availability:
Don't expect any bargains on peak travel days, particularly Dec. 19, 20 and 28, and Jan. 3 and 4. But holiday ticket prices have fallen sharply as sluggish demand and frustration over new baggage and other airline fees trump a cutback in seat capacity of about 10%. This week, the average round-trip fare for Christmas travel was $357, down 6% from the same time a year ago, says Farecast.com's Mike Fridgen. In late August, the average was up 30%.
•Southwest.com has extended its winter sale for travel between Dec. 12 and Feb. 28, with fares as low as $90 round-trip for tickets bought by Dec. 4. A 14-day advance purchase is required.
The U.S. hotel industry is hurting, with rates and occupancy plummeting in recent months. Last-minute holiday deals are increasingly common. (Witness Vegas' pricey Bellagio, where rates are as low as $149 for Christmas Eve.) Bargain for free breakfasts, resort credits and more. And if you've already made reservations, call to see whether prices have dropped and your rate can be lowered.
•The Bellagio isn't the only part of Las Vegas that's on sale. Individual hotel sites are showing deals, plus Vegas.com offers include Stratosphere from $26.95 and Planet Hollywood from $59.95. For New Year's Eve — a hot time in Sin City — Vegas.com is selling the Palace Station (a local favorite) for $256.27 for two nights, including taxes and fees.
•Hotels.com's Four Day Sale, which launches today and runs through Dec. 1 for travel through Dec. 31, offers average discounts of 30%-45% at nearly 500 hotels nationwide.
•Continental breakfast for up to two people (a $22-$30 value) is $1 more than the best available rate at Kimpton Hotels (kimptonhotels.com, use the code EAT) through March 1.
The Caribbean and Mexico
Airfares may not be low, but as resorts assess bookings, prices are dropping and promotions are being extended.
•The U.S. Virgin Islands tourism office (usvigetaway.com/winterescape) extended the booking deadline for its "Winter Escape" promotion till Dec. 10 for travel Dec. 15-March 31. Sweeteners include $300 in travelers' checks, $50 toward meals, $50 on attractions and fifth night free with a paid four-night stay.
•Travelocity.com's holiday sale has $75 off three-night stays or longer. In the Caribbean, rooms start at $63 per person, per night.
•Expedia.com's holiday deals include a two-person package at the Hyatt Regency Cancun from Dec. 23-Dec.30 for $2,677 (including taxes, fees and round-trip airfare from Baltimore.)
•Sandals Resorts (sandals.com) offers up to 55% off regular rates at 12 Caribbean properties, for travel through Dec. 26 of next year. Christmas is covered, but 2008 blackout dates are Dec. 27-31.
•As of this week, two adults and two children could check into an ocean-view room at Mexico's Tesoro Ixtapa (tesororesorts.com) Dec. 22 to Dec. 29 for just over $100 a night (down from about $150). The offer includes a buffet breakfast for all four.
Most airlines reduced flights to Hawaii this year, and Aloha and ATA are out of business. Still, "there's far more availability than normal during the holidays," says Jeff Tucker of BeatofHawaii.com. Fares are still high — $804 round-trip on average for holiday trips booked this week — but cost 17% less than a year ago, says Farecast.com.
•Pleasant Holidays specials (pleasantholidays.com) include a four-night, ocean-view package at Maui's Royal Lahaina Resort; rates start at $899 per person including airfare from San Francisco over Christmas.
•On Kauai, United Vacations (unitedvacations.com) gives the third night free plus daily breakfast for two for Christmas/New Year's bookings at the Sheraton Kauai Resort and the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas.
The chilly economy is taking a toll on ski resorts this winter, particularly those that aren't within driving distance of a major metropolitan area.
•Ski.comoffers 50% off select lodging in Steamboat Springs, Colo., over Christmas and New Year's. Four nights in a two-bedroom at Canyon Creek at Eagle Ridge starts at $939 a person, quad occupancy, with three-day lift tickets included. Must book by Dec. 1.
•Mammoth Mountain(mammothmountain.com) in California, which launches direct flights from Los Angeles this winter, has a "Christmas on Us" package valid for arrivals on Dec. 21. Book four nights' accommodation and four lift tickets, and get a fifth night's lodging free plus free skiing on Christmas Day.
•Under a new "Kids Eat Free" deal (snow.com), parents who book a three-day, three-night vacation through Vail Resorts reservations by Dec. 14 get up to $30 in dining credits per child, per day at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone or Heavenly.