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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Hot tips for vacation bargain-hunting

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Storm Lake travel pros encourage thinking outside the box for hot trips.

Wouldn't you like to get away from it all - without spending it all to get there?

"People are finally getting back in the swing of traveling again, and that's great to see - and it seems like there are some pretty decent bargains out there waiting for them," said Jean Paterson of Nomad Travel in Storm Lake.

For the savvy traveler, the tropical appeal of Cancun has recently come at a beachy discount, but even so, don't be afraid to think a little outside of the box, the pros say. "I've seen bargains to the likes of the Riviera Maya, which is near Cancun but a separate resort area where you can get many of the same advantages without all the hubub. The wise bargain shopper shouldn't be afraid to look beyond the obvious choices for their winter getaway," Paterson said.

There are also bargains to be had right now on travel to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Along with the hotspots of Mexico, those seem to be the best deals in the business for this season, and among the favorites of Storm Lakers looking to vacation abroad.

"For people looking to stay in the country, Vegas is always, always hot, and of course, the attractions in Orlando seem to be as popular as ever," Paterson said. "Since these places are so popular and have so many hotel spaces, they also tend to get the sale prices quite often. It's all about supply and demand."

Beyond the casinos of the strip and lure of Disney World, this is a perfect time to travel to less known places in the United States, she added. "It's an amazing, beautiful country out there when people take time to see it. There are so many places that we don't always think of for a vacation that are just wonderful to explore. Now is a pretty good time to look for discounted prices in a lot of places, and if you can match up a good airfare, you can travel quite affordably."

With a few more dollars in the adventure account, one might want to look at a cruise. Timing is everything in that field, and some good prices are available right now, although costs tend to be unpredictable.

"Often we see that a particular voyage might have left-over inventory after tickets are sold at the regular price. So you can grab them up at a real good discount, but the catch is that you don't get long to think about it. On some of the offers I'm seeing, you might have only four to 10 days to book it from the time they announce the deal," Paterson said.

The whole secret to bargain travel is flexibility, the local professionals know.

"The more flexible you can be with plans and travel dates, the better you will do at finding the bargains. If you can let a travel agent know basically what kind of destination you would like, and a range of times you could go - and it helps to have an idea of the maximum amount you would want to spend - you have a good chance of finding a good deal, although people who think they are going to Jamaica on $200 are probably not looking at reality," Paterson said.

Despite a mild winter to date, many in Storm Lake are beginning to think about planning family vacations for next spring and summer. You can't start too early, Paterson advises, as some of the better deals on packages can disappear quickly for peak seasons.

"The timing can really differ according to destination and hotel. For many popular places, the key may not be the best time to go, but the best time not to go. Prices and availability can be much worse during holidays and certain events in those areas, and for people looking at around March, they may want to investigate whether they really want to do a trip at the same time certain places may be just full of college spring breakers," Paterson said.

Since the travel scare, even some places where "discount" has normally been a foreign term are loosening up the prices, she finds.

"For example, Hawaii has finally come back to being a little more affordable lately. I saw a deal recently for Des Moines to Honolulu, 10 nights with a stop over in Vegas for $835 a person. Those kind of deals are out there, but it's hard to advertise them, because as soon as they come, they're gone."

It never hurts for a flexible traveler to keep in touch with their travel agent, and to keep an open mind to opportunities. "Many of the real deals come in on a fax to the travel office, sometimes just offered for a day or two. We almost need to have someone in mind for those cases," she said.

Wise travel shopping doesn't always mean traveling on a shoestring, either. "Some people just want the least expensive trip possible, but for other people, a bargain might mean staying in a really nice luxury hotel that they otherwise wouldn't treat themselves to. Some of those deals on the really upscale places are out there too. It still might not look like a bargain, but some people figure that if the situation allows you to move up in luxury without moving up too much in price, why not?"

One impact from the travel scare that is still being felt is long-term planning.

People are flying and vacationing again, but they aren't planning the trips many months ahead as they used to, Paterson said.

"It's become a different pattern for planning. Normally at this time, clients in Storm Lake might be planning their trips to Europe or perhaps Alaska to go in the summer, but that isn't happening yet."