Real deals: Travel slump prompts great rates

NEW YORK -- The travel slump has brought forth all manner of promotions and deals from airlines, cruise lines, tour operators and other suppliers determined to get people traveling again.

Many of these deals are promoted with patriotic patter to make people feel good -- but are the deals really good?

Travel Weekly decided to spot-check some recent prices to determine whether today's advertised bargains are good deals or just the same old components offered every fall, but showcased in red, white and blue.

We talked to suppliers and compared advertised prices against rates at the same time last year or standard rack rates. The deals are out there.

In the Caribbean, for example, the Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort, Country Club & Ocean Villas in Puerto Rico further slashed its off-season rates from 40% to 62% off high-season rates. Rates through Dec. 19 normally range from $245 to $395 per night, but now start as low as $150 per night. Other deals abound throughout the region.

The Bolongo Bay Beach Club in St. Thomas tied its nightly rates in red, white and blue ribbons for savings up to 60% off rack rates through Dec. 15.

The Radisson Cable Beach Resort in Nassau, Bahamas, offers a rate of $139 per person, per night through Dec. 22, compared with a standard rack rate of $250 per person.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. is promoting a "Fly Free" promotion through Dec. 14, with 50 hotels islandwide participating. Package rates cover air for two on major carriers from U.S. gateways and accommodations for three nights at rates less than the regular roundtrip, midweek discounted fare of $322 from New York (Kennedy) to San Juan for mid-November departures.

For travel across the pond, United Vacations came out with a four-night package to London priced at $399 per person, double, featuring roundtrip air from New York (Kennedy, LaGuardia or Newark), hotel, daily breakfasts, hotel taxes and fees as well as 5,000 United Airlines frequent flyer miles.

In October 2000, a London package with similar inclusions was put on sale with a lead price of $444 per person, double. This year's price is about 10% less and includes bonus miles, which are worth $125 at the 2.5 cent per mile price at which United sells them to consumers.

Last year's sale was only for London and Paris, while this year's sale includes many other European cities.

For Ireland, Sceptre Ireland, Rockville Centre, N.Y., cut the price of its six-night Emerald Castle package by 29%. The package is priced from $499 per person, double, compared with $699 per person last year. It includes roundtrip air from Baltimore, Boston or New York (Kennedy), and a manual transmission rental car with unlimited mileage.

The Malta Tourism Authority in North America is promoting special hotel packages to the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo through March.

Franco Debono, director North America of the Malta Tourist Office, said five-star properties, priced last winter from $80 per room, per night, can now be had from $40.

Roundtrip air from New York (Kennedy), Boston or Washington is priced from $512, a bit lower than the $550 which Debono recalled as the cheapest fare he'd seen last winter.

Closer to home, Mark Travel Corp. is offering a Funjet three-night, midweek package to Las Vegas, including roundtrip air from Milwaukee, priced from $259 to $359 depending on departure date. It was $439 a year ago.

An Apple Vacations seven-night package to the inclusive Bahia Principe Resort on Mexico's Riviera Maya is being offered for $598 per person double, including air from New York (Newark), accommodations and all food and drinks. Last year, seven-night packages for the property were offered at $828 per person, double. Prices are good until Dec. 15.

David Cogswell, Paul Felt, Kenneth Kiesnoski, Gay Nagle Myers and Kimberly Scholz contributed to this report.

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