All Ireland: Saving the green

Clients who are concerned about saving pennies and stretching their travel dollars will have plenty of opportunities to do both when visiting the Emerald Isle this year, thanks in large measure to currency exchange rates that favor the U.S. dollar.

Tour operators report that for the coming season prices will, at best, be lower than 1998 levels and, at worst, increase anywhere from 1% to 5%.

"Ireland is the most unbelievable bargain out there. You can go to Ireland cheaper than you can go from the Northeastern part of the U.S. to Florida and the Caribbean," says Michele Conway, president of Conway Hammond Tours, an operator based in Albany, N.Y., that is entering its fourth year of doing business to Ireland.

Conway notes that this year her firm's independent tours start at $33 per person daily, including car, accommodations, tax, service charge and full Irish breakfast. Call (800) 684-5413.

At Aer Lingus Vacations, the lead-in nightly price on its pre-booked hotel program is $35 per person, double, including accommodations at a three-star hotel, full Irish breakfast, service charge and tax.

Getting to Ireland need not be expensive either. Conway cites a promotional fare of $318 roundtrip on Aer Lingus from New York that's available through March. "Even during the [high] season, if you're careful and watch the sales you can get air fares for under $500."

Here's what a sampling of operators have in store, price-wise, for the year ahead.

  • Aer Lingus Vacations, Melville, N.Y. Has dropped hotel prices an average of 15%, in some cases much more. Call (888) IRISHAIR.
  • Brendan Tours, Van Nuys, Calif. Many prices remain the same as in '98; increases, where applicable, are "almost negligible." Call (800) 421-8446.
  • Brian Moore International Tours, Boston. Self-drive prices will remain at 1998 levels; escorted tours have increased by approximately $10 for a $900 package. Call (800) 982-2299.
  • CIE Tours International, Cedar Knolls, N.J. Price reductions of an average 2% to 3%. Call (800) 243-8687.
  • ETM Travel Group, Westport, Conn. Prices will remain fairly steady compared to 1998 with maximum increases of 3% to 5%. Call (800) 992-7700.
  • Lismore Tours, New York. Prices are either reduced below 1998 levels or remain the same. Call (800) 547-6673.
  • Terry Flynn Tours, Lake Elmo, Minn. Increases of about 4% to 5%. Call (800) 678-7848.
  • OFF-SEASON SAVINGS

    Clients interested in traveling during the shoulder and low seasons, from October to April, will find the best prices, as much as 20% to 30% off peak season prices, sometimes more. For example, for clients traveling in March CIE Tours

    International offers its Irish Heritage Tour for $795 per person, land. That's a savings of 22% off its peak season price of $1,019.

    Celtic International Tours in Albany, N.Y., offers a five-night air-inclusive coach tour that's priced as low as $818 per person in early February; the off-season price peaks at $1,068 on April departures but drops back to $998 in October and $878 in late November. Call (800) 833-4373.

    The drawbacks to traveling in these months are few if any. In a press release last fall announcing an off-season travel promotion, Catherine Gale, marketing and promotion manager for the Irish Tourist Board in New York, was quoted saying, "Veteran travelers to Ireland know that an Irish vacation from October to April is the best-kept secret around. Crowds are gone, prices are dramatically lower and the weather is temperate."

    What's the weather like in the off-season? Temperatures in the spring and fall average in the 50s, and drop to the 30s and 40s in the winter. Year-round, the weather is apt to be quite changeable but rarely as harsh as northern U.S. winters.

    WEST COAST BARGAINS

    The Irish Tourist Board's off-season promotion, dubbed Priceless Ireland, features savings of 30% to 50% on tours to the west coast of Ireland. Offered in conjunction with Aer Lingus and several Irish marketing and development organizations, the program features nine air-inclusive vacations that are available until April.

    Among them is a Go-As-You-Please plan by Celtic International Tours, that starts at $439 per person, including three nights' accommodations in a choice of country homes or farmhouses, rental car with unlimited mileage and Irish breakfast daily.

    Isle Inn Tours has put together a six-night self-drive vacation as part of the promotion that's priced from $599 per person, including accommodations with full Irish breakfast in a selection of bed and breakfast properties and rental car with unlimited mileage. Prices on Isle Inn's plan, called the Irish Experience, are available through March 8. Call (800) 237-9376.

    Both prices include roundtrip air travel from New York, Newark or Boston to Shannon as well as hotel service charges and local taxes. Clients who travel on a Priceless Ireland tour also receive a gift of a Royal Tara Trinket Tray when they make purchases at the Shannon Airport Duty Free Shop.

    The Priceless Ireland promotion also features escorted coach tours by Brian Moore International, CIE Tours International, Celtic International and Isle Inn Tours; a three-night Romantic Castles Vacation by CIE Tours, and a six-night chauffeur-driven plan by Brian Moore International Tours.

    A three-night Golfing Getaway by Brendan Tours starts at $828, including air, rental car, three nights in superior first class hotels or deluxe castle, Irish breakfast daily, and three rounds of golf at Lahinch, Adare and Dromoland golf clubs. Prices on Brendan's Golfing Getaway are effective through March 31.

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