Travelwise

It’s cheap season in the Caribbean

 

Special to the Miami Herald

For more than one reason, summer and fall are when many South Floridians visit the Caribbean, but the reason that appeals to most people is that hotel prices are lower — sometimes a lot lower — than in the winter high season.

“A four-night stay at Aruba’s Divi Village cost $235 a night last winter. It’s $175 in July and $155 in September,” pointed out Joel Frey of Travelocity, an online booking agency. Similarly, at the Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort All-Inclusive in Jamaica, the price was $489 last winter, is $339 in July and drops to $228 in September.

A Travelocity survey of prices at several other Caribbean resorts revealed discounts of as much as 43 percent off high season for July stays to 53 percent in September.

Why the difference in prices?

“It’s a tradeoff,” said Frey. “There are better deals, but keep in mind the weather.”

Ah yes, the weather. Summers are always hotter than winters, but in the Caribbean, only by a few degrees. So that’s not a big issue with South Floridians, who have less reason to travel to the Caribbean in the winter because South Florida’s climate at that time of year is just as pleasant as the islands.

What does matter is that late summer and early fall are the peak of hurricane season. There’s always a risk of a tropical storm ruining vacation plans, though it’s not a big risk.

“You should not let hurricanes prevent you from taking a Caribbean trip, even during the height of hurricane season,” Robert Curley of About.com writes in his Caribbean Hurricane Guide. He quotes Bob Sheets, former director of the National Hurricane Center, saying that “your chances of getting hit by a hurricane in the Caribbean is probably not a whole lot different than it is in Miami or on the Gulf Coast.”

Additionally, the Caribbean’s most southerly islands — Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago — rarely see hurricanes. Hurricanes also are less risky for cruise-ship passengers because ships can avoid the storms.

However, it’s wise to book travel insurance in case your vacation is interrupted or ruined by a windstorm. Some resorts issue refunds or future stays in the event a hurricane strikes, but that’s not a given.

Some of the best Caribbean deals are the all-inclusive resorts, which have proliferated in recent years and can be found on many islands. At these resorts, the upfront price usually includes lodging, dining, airport transfers, water sports and alcoholic beverages.

For example, a four-night stay at the Sandals resort in Negril, Jamaica, booked as of late June for a September stay is priced at $232 per person per night, double occupancy, and includes a $135 air fare credit for the room. A seven-night stay in the same month is $208 per night, with a $335 air credit. Prices are subject to change, and air credits are not always available.

While the cost of lodging is lower in summer than in winter, air fares do not follow that pattern.

Depending on your destination, season, days of travel, how fast flights are filling up and how far in advance you book your trip, fares to the Caribbean can vary considerably.

“Winter is a big time in the Caribbean for some islands, summer for others,” said Martha Pantin, an American Airlines spokeswoman.

For example, the average August/September fare last year from Miami to Barbados was quoted by Travelocity at $582.48, compared to $438.67 for February/April of 2012. On the other hand, a Miami-Antigua roundtrip in August/September last year averaged $682.90 while the February/April average was $1,011.98, according to Travelocity.

In general, the further ahead you book your air travel the better the price, but air fares can change daily or even hourly.

Cruise fares can vary considerably as well, though they don’t change as quickly as air fares. Summer cruises are priced higher than those in winter, with holiday cruises the highest, according to Vance Gulliksen of Carnival Cruise Lines. In summer, kids are out of school and ships are packed with families and others taking annual vacations.

However, the end of that season brings with it the lowest prices of the year. In September and October, kids are back in school, many employes are back to work and hurricane season reaches its peak.

Fall is the best time to snag a bargain cruise fare, with November offering many more choices because ships based in Europe have returned to South Florida. It’s also best for couples who don’t like to cruise with a lot of children on board.

Holiday cruises are an exception. Any cruise over Labor Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays is going to be higher priced, and some may sell out. If you’re thinking of a yule cruise, know that cruises over the New Year’s holiday are the most popular, therefore highest priced.

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