If you take a vacation this spring or summer, you'll have company, lots of it. Travel bookings are up in nearly every category, from hotels to cruises, and that means prices are up too. Don't despair. You can find deals if you know where to dig.
A EURO SAVED IS A DOLLAR EARNED Think twice about going to Europe: It's expensive for U.S. travelers because of the dollar's fall in relation to the euro (with one exception: Portugal, especially the Azores, is affordable). But your greenbacks can still take you far in Mexico and South America.
SKIP THE HOTEL Maybe it's time to take that camping vacation you've always talked about. Too rustic? Try hostels: They're no longer just for youth. Hostelling International (www.hihostels.com) properties are known for being safe and clean, and many offer private rooms with bathrooms. Also, consider a home exchange (www.homeexchange.com or www.homelink.org). If you're a San Franciscan who wants to visit Barcelona, likely there's a Barcelonan who dreams of seeing the Golden Gate.
CHECK OUT ALL-INCLUSIVE TRAVEL Resorts and cruises that cover everything for one price provide value—particularly for families who take advantage of the activities. With both cruises and resorts, the Caribbean and Mexico are your best bets. An Alaskan or European cruise will cost you. The AAA Travel Agency (888-937-5521) can help you track down special deals, or visit aaa.com.
GET WEB SAVVIER No single Web site delivers all the lowest travel prices or all the options. JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, for instance, almost never appear on major third-party sites (www.expedia.com, www.orbitz.com, and www.travelocity.com, so you should check whether one of the low-fare carriers flies to your destination. Many hotel chains, such as Best Western and Holiday Inn, guarantee that you'll get the cheapest rates directly through their own sites, so compare their prices with those on www.hotels.com. Also, visit "aggregator" sites that collect prices from several sources: www.kayak.com, www.mobissimo.com, and www.qixo.com. And if you don't mind finding out the name of your airline, hotel, or car-rental company only after your credit card has been charged, try www.hotwire.com. and www.priceline.com. Bottom line: Shop around.
BE IMPULSIVE Starting in May, check out aaa.com's new Last Minute Deals Travel area, where you can save on trips booked three hours to 14 days in advance. It's a great source for reasonable prices on weekend travel to domestic destinations such as Las Vegas, San Diego, and New York City.
SAVE ON GAS Before leaving on a road trip, take your car into the shop for a checkup. If your mechanic fixes a faulty oxygen sensor, for example, your fuel economy can improve by as much as 40 percent. Also, don't stay loyal to one brand of gas while on the road. The best-priced brand in your hometown might be the most expensive elsewhere.
Photo Illustration by William Duke
This article was first published in May 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.