-- The leaves aren't the only things dropping this time of year. In a bid to stay busy during the lull between summer vacation and the holidays, many destinations and travel providers are willing to cut travelers a break. And that translates to deep discounts on air-and-hotel packages, hotel stays, and plenty of free and cheap activities when you arrive. In a sea of options competing for fewer fall travelers, these five destinations really shine.
I've monitored trends, industry news, and sale patterns to point you in the direction of places that offer the best bargains for the coming season. Below you'll find examples of deals presently available for fall 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.
New York City
The stars—or at least the discounts—are aligning this fall to make New York City an unusually good bargain for this time of year. Theater price breaks, usually a sign of winter, are arriving early. And sale hotel rates from a variety of sources help keep the biggest New York City visitor expenses in check.
Good news for theater buffs looking for entertainment without excessive ticket price drama. Broadway Week offers two-for-one tickets from September 18 to 30 and includes more than a dozen shows, among them Billy Elliott, Jersey Boys, and Wicked. From September 26 through October 9, Off Broadway Week offers the same two-for-one pricing for more than 25 shows, including Avenue Q and Blue Man Group. Tickets for both promotional periods are already on sale, so you'll need to book soon for the best availability.
Expedia is featuring rooms at the Pod Hotel New York from $95 per night on select dates. At the Aloft Hotel Brooklyn, the second night is 40% off when you arrive Thursday through Sunday for stays through the end of the year. Hotels.com includes New York City in its fall hotel sale, with discounted rates such as $139 per night at Condor Hotel.
This fall also marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks and the opening of the 9/11 Memorial. Entry to the memorial is free, but advance reservations are required.
There's gold in them thar hills. Not to mention vivid scarlets and deep oranges. Gunnison-Crested Butte Valley in Colorado, home to the country's largest aspen grove, delivers dazzling fall foliage without the extortionate lodging prices. So get ready to enjoy the autumn splendor on mountain drives, hiking trails, or from the seat of a mountain bike or on horseback.
To celebrate the September and early October peak of fall color, Gunnison County is promoting September Splendor in the Rockies, a winning combination of activities and discounts for early fall stays. The packed calendar of events includes concerts, harvest festivals, and art fairs. And unlike some fall foliage destinations, autumn lodging prices in Gunnison-Crested Butte come at a discount, not a premium. For instance, throughout September stays at the dozens of Crested Butte Mountain Resort properties are 20% off; while the fourth night is free during September and October at Peak Property Management properties.
If you're willing to trade a few degrees and some daylight for spectacular nighttime light shows and a serious thermal spa culture, you'd do well to consider Iceland this fall. Discounted airfare and value-adding packages put it on the bargain radar. And if you've been waiting for the perfect time to visit Iceland, this fall might be it: 2011 and 2012 promise the best northern lights displays in more than a decade.
Icelandair has sale fares for late fall flights. Round-trip airfare is $449 (before taxes and fees) for flights booked by September 15 for travel on varying dates in fall and early winter from Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Iceland Express is offering a stopover special that will get passengers traveling between North America and Europe four days and three nights in Iceland for the price of two nights. The package is good for travel October 1 through December 15.
This year and next are peak times to see the aurora borealis, which makes Icelandair's current Iceland Northern Lights & Glacier Walk package particularly compelling. The package is available between November 1 and December 15 (and again in early 2012) from $675 per person, based on double occupancy. It includes airfare from Boston, New York, Seattle, or Washington, D.C., plus three nights' accommodations, a glacier-and-northern-lights tour, and spa day-pass.
Not quite ready to face the bare trees and chilly breezes of fall? Prolong summer with a visit to San Diego, where prices are dropping even as temperatures hold steady.
Fall is a great time for free and inexpensive events in San Diego. The season kicks off with discounts on dining during San Diego Restaurant Week from September 18 to 23. And September is Arts Month San Diego, with dozens of events, including the free Coronado Art Walk on September 17 and 18 and the San Diego Film Festival, which runs from September 28 to October 2. Fall also brings the free, two-day Adams Avenue Street Fair on September 24 and 25, with more than 70 musical acts, and the Day of the Dead celebrations in Old Town San Diego on November 1 and 2.
Autumn is a good time to find discounts on stays, as well as activities. Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity are all currently running specials for San Diego stays, both on hotel rooms and on air-and-hotel packages. For example, Orbitz is advertising a rate of $471 per person, or 30% off, for a three-night stay at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego including round-trip airfare from Seattle.
New air service, free companion airfare deals, and other deep discounts make the Bahamas a real bargain this fall. And while hurricane season lasts through November, the hurricane cancellation policies offered by many travel providers take most of the risk out of booking a fall jaunt to paradise.
Vision Airlines is continuing its expansion with new routes to Grand Bahama Island from Ft. Lauderdale, Louisville, Raleigh/Durham, Baltimore, and Richmond, Virginia. Fares start at $39 each way (before taxes and fees) from Ft. Lauderdale and $99 each way (before taxes and fees) from the other cities. Nonstop flights begin November 3.
Meanwhile, Nassau Paradise Island and The Out Islands are offering four-night air-and-hotel packages with free companion airfare on flights originating in the continental U.S. Book by September 19 for stays through February (there are holiday blackout dates). CheapCaribbean.com is also offering discounted fall packages to the Bahamas, including a four-night, all-inclusive stay at the Atlantis Paradise Island Beach Tower. The package includes airfare from Ft. Lauderdale (other cities available for an additional cost) and start at $369 per person with promo code PARADISE 400A or PARADISE 400B for bookings made by September 14.
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