Drop everything! Time to book a bargain trip

Travel deals

With many bargains good through autumn and into 2010, now is the time to take a break from the beach and book a trip ahead - far ahead. You might save hundreds.

Nabbing a deal takes quick action and flexibility because many sales may last only a day or two and be limited to certain dates and flights.

"They're designed to shake some money loose" from wary consumers, says Mike Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, aviation analysts in Evergreen, Colo.

 

Airlines

By June, they finally had trimmed flight schedules enough to keep planes fairly full, despite selling fewer tickets. "Now, demand is starting to fall like a piano out of the 33rd floor," Boyd says. Hence the sales. Watch out for November, though, Boyd added, when he expects big capacity cuts, leaving fewer discounted seats.

Book now or later? It's a tough call.

Boyd's advice: "Buy now." You may even land a bargain for ski season.

Tom Parsons, chief executive of BestFares.com, says you might benefit by waiting to book winter trips until fall, when he expects to see more sales, but if you see a decent fare for Christmas or Thanksgiving, grab it now, he says.

 

Hotels

There's plenty of room at the inn. Nationally, average hotel occupancy in 2009 is projected to be 55.5 percent, the lowest in more than two decades, and the average room rate is down to 2005 levels, said Robert Mandelbaum, Atlanta-based director of research information services for PKF Consulting. But not everywhere. To find the best rate, "check all distribution channels," Mandelbaum says. Call the hotel; check its Web site; run searches on Expedia, Travelocity and other big online sellers, and consult a travel agent.

 

Cruise Lines

Demand is down for many destinations, notably Alaska, where "we're seeing a lot of last-minute deals," says Melissa Baldwin Paloti, managing editor of CruiseCritic.com. But you don't need to sail on short notice to save. High-end lines are already putting late 2009 and 2010 voyages on sale, bringing them within reach of some middle-class travelers.

"If you've ever considered luxury, this is the time to make the jump," Paloti says. Luxury line Silversea Cruises has offered early-booking incentives of 60 percent off for 2010.

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