Thursday, January 22, 2009

The travel deals take off

With the recession cutting deeply into airline and hotel revenues, bargains abound Stocks aren't the only bargains in this recession: Travel companies are slashing prices on flights, cruises, and hotel rooms to get you to loosen your purse strings.

Airfare isn't the only thing that's on sale. Cruise lines and hotels are also offering deals to boost travel.

Princess Cruises is touting its "2-for-1 Escape the Economy" for Alaskan and European cruises in marketing e-mails that tell customers "fares haven't been this low in years." The sale cruises, including a nine-day trans-Atlantic Portugal cruise that now starts at $445 per person, must be booked by Feb. 28.

In the Caribbean, Costa Cruises is letting kids sail for free through early March. Other cruise lines, such as Crystal Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, and Holland America Line, are offering free or discounted on-board services, shore excursions, room upgrades, air travel, and other rewards.

"The cruise industry is under severe strain," said Stuart MacDonald, chief executive of, a cruise website. He estimates this year's winter cruises are priced 15 to 20 percent less than they were last winter, in part because the industry has stripped away its fuel surcharges. "Suppliers are reducing prices in order to stimulate demand, which will likely make 2009 the best year for deals in recent memory, should you choose to cruise."

Hotels also are discounting heavily. The Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco, for example, is giving guests their third night free through April 1, while Four Seasons Resort Maui is making the fifth consecutive night complimentary for most of the year.

The Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis is reducing rates on all rooms by 40 percent for residents of Barnstable County (and 25 percent off for everyone else) during the last week of January.

And hotels in New York have filled up three full pages of Travelocity's website with deals ranging from 10 percent off - like the $269 per night room at W New York Hotel - to 40 percent off - like the $167 per night Tudor Hotel New York.

"New York is definitely on sale right now," said Brown, the Travelocity editor. "The first quarter has always been the slowest time of year in New York, but these deals are unheard of."

The deals are even better at Steinhatchee Landing Resort, about an hour's drive from Gainesville, Fla. Guests staying at least two nights pay half-price. A year ago, the resort didn't offer any discounts.

"The desire to travel - to really get away and relax - doesn't just go away in a tough economy," Dean Fowler, the resort's developer, said in a statement.

"People need a break, so we decided to meet our guests halfway by offering them half off."