Top five bargain destinations for spring 2009

Torn because you need a vacation but are worried about the economy? Sales on airfare, hotel discounts, and other ways to save distinguish this spring's crop of top bargain destinations, and give budget travelers more getaway options.

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 spring 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.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas thrives in times when visitors embrace a burning-through-money mentality. So it's no surprise that fewer people are making Sin City pilgrimages these days. In fact, in 2008, Las Vegas McCarran Airport saw the biggest drop in passenger numbers since 1981. Travel providers are reacting with sales meant to entice wary travelers into a Vegas vacation. was advertising packages with round-trip airfare and two nights' accommodations starting at $111 from San Francisco or $247 from Chicago. Alaska has a sale through February 19 (for travel through May 20) with fares such as $198 round-trip from Portland, Oregon. Southwest, United, and Virgin America all recently ended sales that included Vegas, and are likely to offer similar deals for spring travel. US Airways Vacations is promoting four-night, air-and-hotel packages to Las Vegas starting at $118.

Hotels are cutting prices and adding perks as well. Circus Circus is offering up to 35% off room rates, the Golden Nugget has a $59 weeknight special, and has a package available through April 30 that offers two nights' accommodations at the Las Vegas Hilton, six buffets, two spa passes, and two cocktails for $135.

SmarterTravel readers reported on their recent experiences in Vegas. Some noted particularly good deals such as $71 round-trip from Phoenix on Southwest, $39 per weeknight at the Flamingo Hotel, and deep discounts at upscale clothing stores on the Strip. And one reader mentioned that it didn't seem as busy as usual, citing fewer lines for cabs and easier table access at casinos.

The Bahamas

The sun may be shining and the sea clear, but in the Bahamas, resorts are feeling the clouds of the economic downturn. Fewer visitors this winter—traditionally the busiest season—means travel providers are scrambling to convince undecided travelers with flashy (and steep) discounts.

You can't swing a beach towel without hitting some kind of discounted vacation deal for the Bahamas this spring. For bookings made by March 1, the mega-resort Atlantis has a package offering four nights for the price of three, free stays for kids 11 and under, and a swim with dolphins from $499. Visitors to Nassau Paradise Island can receive a $200 rebate on three-night air-inclusive vacation packages booked by March 9. Plus, JetBlue just started daily nonstop service from Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando with introductory fares from $49 each way.

The major online travel agencies are getting in on the discounting action as well. At press time, Orbitz had a "stay four nights, pay for two" offer at the Wyndham Nassau Resort. Expedia was offering 30 to 50% off hotel rates plus a $50 rebate on four-night stays. And Travelocity has a Spring Break Treasure Chest with offers such as round-trip airfare and four nights' accommodations from $466. Plus, package provider is offering up to 70% off air-and-hotel packages to the Bahamas.


It's not as cheap as a weekend road trip, but the amount you can save on a trip to the U.K. this spring compared to last year makes Britain a true bargain. Winter prices, which tend to be a lot lower than prices the rest of the year, seem to be extending into spring—great news for travelers looking to travel for less but also enjoy better weather. The two keys to savings are the sales on airfare, hotels, and packages; and the exchange rate, which has been hovering at its best for Americans in 30 years.

So what kind of deals can you expect for spring travel to the British Isles? American Airlines is running a companion ticket offer for travel to the U.K. (or the Caribbean) for AAdvantage program members who book by March 31. With the offer, you'll pay full price for the first ticket, but only the taxes and fees on the second. Lufthansa has a sale for bookings made by March 1, with spring flight offers such as $472 roundtrip between Dallas and Manchester.

Tours and packages to Britain can also offer good value this spring. Trafalgar Tours is discounting airfare on spring, summer, and fall European tours booked by February 27. And's London at its Best package was priced at the winter rate of $549 through late March and $649 through late May for airfare from any of eight cities plus six nights' accommodations. Though the offer was set to expire just before press time, there's a very good chance it will be renewed with little alteration for at least a few more weeks.

Visitation to the U.K. is down, and hotel prices have dropped along with the demand for rooms. Add in the favorable exchange rate and you've got an equation for savings on accommodations. has a bunch of discounts at hotels around the city, for instance £99 instead of £264 for three days at the Marriott Marble Arch. The newly refurbished four-star Radisson Edwardian Bloomsbury Street (formerly the Marlborough Hotel) has an introductory rate of £139 (about $200; see for current exchange rates) per night until April 30.

If London is cutting travelers a deal, you know you'll be able to find even better offers in other cities around England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. has a whole list of money-saving ideas including cheap eats, budget sleeps, and a London-for-less audio guide.


New air service, great deals on packages, and a favorable exchange rate makes Mexico a bargain hunters' dream this spring.

New and upcoming service puts Mexico within easy reach from more departure points around the U.S. and helps travelers maximize their vacation time. Aeromexico just started new Mexico City nonstop service from San Francisco and will begin service from Denver in early March. JetBlue started daily service between Tampa and Cancun and Saturday flights between Cancun and Washington Dulles in December, and plans to launch daily nonstop service between Ft Lauderdale and Cancun starting in June, with airfare from $71 each way.

If you are flexible about where you stay, you can find good prices on packages for spring travel. For instance, Pleasant Holiday's current hot deals include three nights with round-trip airfare to Puerto Vallarta from $369 per person. also has discounted packages for spring travel. And, beach destination Los Cabos has its own Fly Me to the Sun promotion with a $400 credit per room meant to cover the cost of one airfare.

A little research should yield sales on a-la-carte accommodations as well. Orbitz' current Beach Deals offers up to 45% off rates at Mexico hotels. And the resort chain Riu is promoting all-inclusive spring specials from $89.

For more ideas about affordable travel to Mexico, check out this month's Special Report all about Mexico. Find out Six Secret Mexican Gems for the Budget Traveler, Readers' Favorite Places to Stay in Mexico, and even the best places in Mexico for couples, families, adventure travelers, and more.


Hawaii headed into the current economic crisis already down on its luck, and now it's working extra hard to get more visitors to say "aloha."

The normally thriving tourism industry was hit hard last year by the bankruptcies of Aloha and ATA and the resulting drop in visitor traffic. Now, with more people skipping annual vacations to save money, the islands are awash in offers designed to be too good to pass up.

Deals, particularly air-and-hotel packages and discounts on hotel stays, are the norm for spring travel to Hawaii. Nearly two dozen package providers, including Liberty Travel and Pleasant Holidays, have spring deals you can access through For instance, Pleasant Holidays is listing an Oahu three-nights-plus-airfare package from $299 per person. It also offers up to 50-percent off on companion airfare from Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Here's a taste of the sort of discounts and perks you should be able to find at hotels and resorts: Oceanview rooms at the Royal Kona Resort are being offered from $135 per night. With the Ohana Plan at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, you can get four nights for the price of three, plus a $100 dining credit and an all-day family pass at the Waikiki Aquarium. And Hilton has 50 Years of Aloha packages that offer a fifth night for $50, $50 in resort credits, and more at select hotels. Throw in Alamo's $10 per-day weekend rental rates from airport locations, and you've got yourself an affordable tropical vacation.

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