Travel

For deals, take ‘summer vacation’ early

One way to save money on a spring vacation is to take a repositioning cruise as the cruise lines move their ships from the Caribbean to Europe and Alaska.
One way to save money on a spring vacation is to take a repositioning cruise as the cruise lines move their ships from the Caribbean to Europe and Alaska. Miami Herald Staff

I want to talk to all you cheapskates out there who want to experience a posh resort, but would rather not pay the posh prices.

This is your time. Don’t worry. Be happy.

Right now is the best time to slide into a last-minute resort vacation. The snowbirds will be going home soon, and the rest of us are waiting until Memorial Day to start our summer vacations.

That presents an opportunity for you, my penny-pinching friends.

Now, there’s one obstacle between you and the cheapest rates you can find on fancy resorts. It’s called spring break. In Mexico, it’s Semana Santa. And usually it’s found in the two weeks before and after Easter, which this year is April 5. During those weeks, you might see a price surge in otherwise low spring-season prices, as families travel with their kids and college students head off to party.

But you can still find some deals then, because resorts that specialize in holding conferences are on temporary hiatus, while the would-be conference-goers are taking the kids to Daytona.

Generally, your best bet for deals is now right up until Memorial Day weekend — and even into early June. In the Caribbean, the deals extend well into fall. Travel soon and you can benefit from last-minute offers, plus avoid the crowds.

I discovered this by accident, when I spent a long weekend around Santa Fe, New Mexico, just before a recent Memorial Day. Santa Fe is normally quite a pricey town for hotel rooms — more than $200 per night in the historic district — and I’d always end up in the less-desirable outskirts near the cheap restaurants.

This time, though, we stumbled onto a beautiful historic bed-and-breakfast walking distance to the plaza, at an astonishingly cheap price. And we found the same in nearby Taos. Along with half-empty restaurants, museums and tourist attractions.

After this happened a few times in other locations, I realized that most people have a herd mentality. They’re all waiting for the magical Memorial Day starting date to launch their summer vacations. This is hugely to the benefit of those who don’t follow the herd.

For example, at this writing, the website CheapCaribbean.com is offering four nights at the Occidental Grand Xcaret on the Riviera Maya near Cancun for $659 per person (regularly $1,079) including air, from Miami, if you travel from May 1 to June 30.

Like Hawaii? At this writing, Hawaiian Airlines was offering some of its best rates of the year, including a four-night package with airfare from Los Angeles to the five-star Ritz Carlton Kapalua in Maui for $1,106, for departures April 13, returning April 17. In the summer, you’d pay that much for the airfare alone. Go to Hawaiianair.com to see more of their package deals.

In some cases, “spring” can mean until early June. In others, the door slams shut on Memorial Day, so check around.

And speaking of spring lasting until June, that’s true in Alaska, more than anywhere else. I just got an offer from JetBlue to fly from Long Beach to Anchorage from May 16 to June 22 for $278 round-trip – half of what you’d pay in the summer.

If you like to cruise, think about taking a “repositioning” cruise. Cruise.com lists a 14-day cruise on the Royal Princess, from Fort Lauderdale to Southhampton, England, for $794 per person for an inside cabin ($57 a day) or balcony stateroom for $989 a day ($71), departing April 25. Generally, these ships sail between now and May, (PortMiami and Port Everglades each have one ship departing in June), so jump aboard.

And don’t forget the one-way car rental deals available if you’re driving out of Florida in late spring. Rental agencies need the cars that snowbirds drove into Florida this winter moved back to the northeast and elsewhere, and will charge cheap rates and no dropoff fees if you drive to certain cities. Hertz will charge daily rates starting at $9.95 for one-way trips between April 6 — the day after Easter — and June 30 to certain cities in the Southeast and Northeast. Enterprise is charging the same rate for trips between April 1 and May 31. Google “drive out of Florida 2015.”

When you book your return home, consider traveling by train as well as by air. If a train trip doesn’t involve overnight travel, such as from Charleston or Savannah, it can be cheaper — and less stressful — than flying.

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