Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Time to travel

This is the year of the travel bargain.

"I think the traveling public will be pleasantly surprised at the deals available right now," says Mike Right, vice president for public affairs of AAA Missouri.

Expect to see discounts everywhere, says Rudy Maxa, travel writer and host of "Rudy Maxa's World," a public television show.

"I don't think there is any destination that is exempt from a worldwide downturn in the economy," Maxa says.

In 2008, high gas prices and a weak dollar made travel unaffordable for many Americans. But this year, discounts abound. Expedia has slashed hotel rates. Cruises have been marked down. As of last week, Allegiant Airlines had flights from Springfield to Phoenix for $29 one way from Feb. 13-27. If you canned a vacation in 2008, take one this year.

You can start travel shopping at the The St. Louis Travel Show & Tastes of the World, a two-day consumer event, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the St. Charles Convention Center. Admission and parking are free.

Travel show

Julie L. Vonder Haar, director of events for RocketStar Shows, says there will be "show only" discounts available.

For example, book a three-night vacation and get two more nights free at the Universal Orlando booth.

"We have a lot of Midwest destinations for 'daycations.' Travel agents, cruise lines, CVBs, culinary people... kayak tours, canoe tours, travel services ... we have a lot of islands coming: Cayman Island Department of Tourism, Aruba," she says.

There will be more than 250 travel and culinary-based exhibitors, and seminars each day. Maxa will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday "about taking great trips in hard times," Vonder Haar says.

If you need more of an incentive, there will be free wine samples, live entertainment and trip giveaways.


Donna Cambridge, co-owner of Chesterfield Cruise & Travel, is seeing the best deals on cruises.

Most cruise lines give discounts for active military, but Carnival will give a discount to anyone who can prove they served in the military and had an honorable discharge , Cambridge says.

"They get a deep discount," Cambridge says. "The whole idea is just to get you out traveling."

Many ships offer special rates for passengers who have sailed on that cruise liner, so be sure to tell your travel agent if you have cruised before. Seniors can often get a deal, too, she says.

Travel agents have access to deals that the general public does not have, says Deana Crouch, assistant vice president of leisure sales at Great Southern Travel.

"Great Southern doesn't charge fees for cruises and tours. A lot of people don't realize that," Crouch says.

Chesterfield Cruise & Travel does not charge for cruises, either.

To get the best deal, be flexible, they both said.

Fall cruises often have big markdowns, says Crouch.

"Europe and Caribbean are having really good rates," Crouch says.

But deals go quickly, so don't hesitate, Crouch says.

Repositioning cruises, when the cruise ship is changing locations, are typically long voyages but can be a steal.

Web sites like 7-continents travel offer daily deals. Vacationstogo has a weekly newsletter, too.

Use the Internet for research, but then see if a travel agent can score you a better deal, Cambridge says.

When you shop online, you're not supporting local businesses, she says.

And when buying from a travel agent, you can go over travel insurance, which Cambridge highly recommends.

"We don't know when our jobs will be there. That is the best buy ... to protect your own money," she says.


Enterprise Rent-A-Car has an online deal: Rent a car from a Friday to a Monday and receive 50 percent off, Maxa says.

"There are a multitude of hotels offering stay two nights and get a third night free," he says.

A stronger dollar means travel to Europe is more affordable, Maxa says.

Before booking a trip, check online to see if the hotel offers any perks like a free breakfast or free parking, Maxa suggests.

If you're looking for a last-minute deal, check out sites like Priceline, which offers a published price and "name your own price," says Brian Ek, spokesman.

"It's a great vehicle for last-minute purchases," Ek says.

A hotel may be fairly empty and so it will slash a price or put more rooms online at the last minute, he says.

With name-your-own price, you give up some flexibility for savings. For example, when you book a hotel, you pick the city and geographic zone, the star level and then the price you want to pay. Once the transaction is complete, you find out what hotel you are staying at.

"Our hotel product is extremely popular because the discounts are the deepest," Ek says.

Also try Expedia.com's winter hotel sale right now.

Interested in Las Vegas?

Rooms at the three-star Sahara Las Vegas Hotel and Casino were starting at $31 a night on Expedia.

Orbitz has a winter sale, up to 50 percent off.

Being a member of AAA can get you a variety of discounts, says Right.

"We offer discounts at hotels, rental cars ... we have attraction ticket discounts at most attractions around the country ... If you rent a car at Hertz, you get a discount on the price and some bells and whistles not included in a regular rental," Right says.

AAA has arrangements with certain parking facilities at major airports -- including St. Louis -- where members get a parking discount, he says. AAA is a full travel agency with a variety of cruise deals and packages. A basic membership costs $54; add a spouse for $23 more.

Other organizations, such as AARP, can also help you score a price reduction.

Another place to look for value is the Caribbean, which has seen a decline in tourism. Deals abound.

Before Feb. 9, if you book a minimum 3-night air inclusive vacation to Nassau Paradise Island, at participating hotels, you receive a $200 rebate from the island promotion board for travel through July 31.

If you want to know how much your vacation will cost before you leave, try an all-inclusive.

All-inclusives are increasingly popular and there are some big discounts to Mexico, Jamaica, and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, says Crouch.

"That will include accommodations, drinks, meals, tips. That is a good thing. You can go and never open your wallet. People are so conscious about their budget they want to know right up front (what it is going to cost)," Crouch says.

Mexico is a low cost leader in vacation and there are direct flights from St. Louis, says Cambridge.

Whatever you choose, there are good buys out there.

"It's important to take advantage of the discounts in travel," Cambridge says. "It's very important to take time off work; it's a big stress reliever."