NEW YORK - For some destinations, a reputation precedes them. They are thought to be expensive, inaccessible, and out of reach for many travelers. But don't judge them on their pasts. Far-flung places like Hawaii, New Zealand, Russia, and even China are becoming easier to get to, and some recent deals are too good to refuse. So in the interest of challenging stereotypes, consider these 10 destinations that just might be more affordable than you think.
Note: Deals listed are meant to illustrate a trend and many will expire soon; however, similar offers are likely to follow so check back with the providers mentioned for the very latest.
Moscow is an imposing and expensive city for many U.S. travelers. But it doesn't have to be. While hotel rooms in the Russian capital are often considered the most expensive in the world (at about $400 per night on average), flights seem to be getting more affordable.
At the time of publication, Kayak lists February flights from New York for just $469 round-trip on Aeroflot, and several other airlines are also posting fares for under $500. Additionally, Lufthansa's most recent special features flights from $529 round-trip for travel through mid-May; book by March 12. Swiss International Air Lines' published sale includes options from $746. And Singapore Airlines offers flights from Houston to Moscow starting at $819 for travel through April 30. Note that fares to Moscow are cheaper than to any other city mentioned in these sales.
Apart from airfare, Moscow is working hard to upgrade its image to that of a more tourist-friendly city. Through a Leisure and Tourism Development program that aims to be fully realized by 2016, it hopes to attract 70 percent more foreign tourists. The results are emerging. Just launched in December, the Moscow Pass claims to save up to 30% on main attractions. Other new additions include double-decker tour buses and tourist information centers. Although hotel prices remain on the high end, the city appears to be having a hostel boom, which includes new budget-friendly properties such as the Safari Hostel, with shared rooms from around $22 per night, and Moscow's first Sleepbox hotel for under $100 per night.
Over the past several years, faraway Hawaii has increasingly landed on SmarterTravel's affordable destinations lists (most recently, our Top Five Bargain Destinations for Winter 2012/2013). But thanks to an early 2013 sale from Hawaiian Airlines, the Aloha State just went from affordable to bargain-basement cheap, with fares from San Jose to Kahului starting at just $250 round-trip and from Oakland to Honolulu for as low as $335.
Other airlines have been making waves as well. For example, American has launched a sale matching some of Hawaiian's routes but also adding a few of its own, such as $479 from Las Vegas to Kona and $536 from New York to Lihue. Allegiant Air has been expanding into the Hawaii market, most recently with service from Phoenix to Honolulu beginning on February 8. Sample fares start at $343 round-trip for March departures.
Another option is to look for airfare-and-hotel packages. Pleasant Holidays, for example, lists a three-night Oahu deal from $479, which also includes a free mid-size car rental. As for hotels, Aston Hotels & Resorts has a slew of spring deals starting at $99 per night on Kauai, Oahu, and Maui; book by March 15 for travel through June. Air Canada is offering free nights on the islands when you book airfare. Deals like these have been the norm lately, so keep an eye out for new ones. The Hawaii Tourism Authority keeps a list of current promotions.
Land of adventure and now a burgeoning culinary destination, Peru has been catching the eye of many travelers lately. In fact, OneTravel.com just dubbed capital city Lima as one of its top five international travel destinations for 2013. Recent deals have made it more affordable to reach than ever.
LAN Airlines kicked off the New Year with a big sale featuring flights to Lima starting at $499 from Miami, $599 from New York, and $699 from Los Angeles or San Francisco. While that sale has ended, others will likely crop up. For instance, a flex search on Kayak yields fares from between $444 and $679 for New York departures in March. Also be sure to check with airlines like Taca and Copa, which both have extensive route networks for South and Central America.
Airfare-and-hotel packages make planning especially easy since you can book two components with one transaction. Go-Today is offering a four-night Lima escape from $899. Tack on Cusco and Machu Picchu and pay $1,599 for six nights total. Hotels offer affordability as well. At Terra Andina Hotel in Cusco, winner of TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice 2013 Award, rates for 2013 start at $149 per night. And Sonesta's Posadas del Inca Puno, set on Lake Titicaca, has two-night packages with breakfast for two from $204; add $25 for a Peruvian dinner. Posadas del Inca Yucay in the Sacred Valley of the Incas offers a similar package; however, you pay only $160 for February stays.
With stringent visa requirements and hard-to-find online planning resources, China is often considered "complicated" by many Western travelers. However, all that is starting to change. In January, the China National Tourist Offices launched a new website for North American travelers to highlight travel information, from suggestions on activities to planning assistance. And the country is finding other ways to encourage tourism. For instance, effective January 1, 2013, transit passengers from the U.S. and Canada are now allowed to stay in Beijing and Shanghai for 72 hours without a visa. And as China soars as a leading air-travel market with more airlines adding new service, it's becoming easier to get to.
The country is surprisingly affordable, too. At the time of publication, fares on Air China include $808 from New York to Shanghai and Guangzhou and $951 from Los Angeles to Beijing. Starting July 11, the airline will add new service between Houston and Beijing, so look for more introductory fares to appear. Tour operator China Spree has launched a 10-day Tibet and Beijing trip starting at $1,899, which includes round-trip airfare from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Beijing, round-trip airfare from Beijing to Tibet, four-star hotels, meals, and day tours. The company also lists an eight-day Beijing-only tour with round-trip airfare from just $899. For those yearning to sail the Yangtze, Viking River Cruises is offering up to two-for-one pricing on its China's Cultural Delights and Imperial Jewels of China departures (mention offer 03).
Want to take advantage of the 72-hour visa exception? Exotissimo Travel has conveniently launched a Beijing/Hong Kong Visa Free City Escape.
New York City
With average hotel prices close to $300 per night, you might quickly deem New York City way out of your budget. Don't cross it off your vacation list just yet, though. Change is in the air-or, should I say, in your hotel room. According to USA TODAY, Manhattan is experiencing a hotel boom with more affordable options. These new hotels, including Best Western Premier and Hyatt Place properties, will offer rooms for under $200 per night. Also, several other area hotels have announced 2013 discounts. While many sales apply to the winter off-season, others run throughout the year.
For example, The Out NYC, an urban resort, is offering savings of 15 to 25 percent through February; pre-discounted rates start at $179 per night (call the hotel to receive this discount). Also, NYCGo.com has posted a winter sale with rates discounted up to 20 percent in several boroughs for stays during the January-February slow period; The organization also announced its first-ever The Design Collection promotion at 19 boutique hotels, with discounted admission to venues including the Museum of Arts and Design and The Skyscraper Museum.
Additionally, you'll find the luxurious Lofty Pleasures Romance Package, starting at $239 per night through December 30 at The Tuscany; or browse Travelzoo's list of New York City discounts, including savings on hotels, airfare, Broadway-show tickets, and other attractions.
Recently highlighted in SmarterTravel's Top Five Off-Peak Destinations for Spring 2013, Istanbul is one to watch for rock-bottom deals, especially when it comes to flights. Over the past several years, Turkish Airlines-voted the Best Airline in Europe by Skytrax-has been adding new service to/from U.S. gateways, and it continues to expand (most recently adding Houston service for April 2013). The deals are following.
For example, flights from Houston to Istanbul are on sale for $799 round-trip though May 15. Even better, pay only $399 from Washington, D.C.; offer expires February 17. Other airlines are trying to compete. Expedia, for instance, shows flights from New York from $493 round-trip for February and March departures. With most fares to Europe and Asia costing over $1,000 round-trip, these flights are a steal.
Middle-earth (I mean, New Zealand) has been on many travelers' maps the past few years, with a renewed surge in interest since the release of The Hobbit in late 2012. Thankfully, several airlines are willing to get you to this distant locale for less. Starting March 13, Hawaiian Airlines will begin service to Auckland from 10 West Coast cities. When I checked, sample rates for airfare from Los Angeles came to $1,170 round-trip, which is on par with average flights to Europe. Making things more affordable, Orbitz is pairing airfare with hotel discounts (rates start at $51 per night for three-star properties and $134 per night for five-star properties).
Air New Zealand is offering comparable fares from Los Angeles and San Francisco from $1,218 ($885 from Honolulu); book by February 19. Or, The Lord of the Rings fans can choose the Fellowship of the Ring package with airfare, eight nights' accommodations, and a car rental from $2,649. Travelscene has a New Zealand Airpass from $1,399 that includes flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, or Queenstown; book by February 20.
While many of these offers are limited and will expire, fares and package deals like these have been the trend (Groupon, for example, recently offered $900 off a nine-night self-guided tour of New Zealand and Hawaii), so be sure to check back regularly with the providers mentioned.
Germany might be a land of fairytales, but visiting doesn't have to remain a fantasy. In 2013, the country celebrates the 200th Anniversary of the Brothers Grimm stories (along with other notable events such as Richard Wagner's 200th birthday), and transportation deals make getting there easier.
Lufthansa regularly runs sales to Germany, most recently with fares starting at $629 round-trip from New York to Dusseldorf and $719 to Berlin, and from $789 from Miami to Dusseldorf. Competitor AirBerlin posted a Valentine's Day sale with fares starting at $599 from New York to Dusseldorf and $698 from Miami. Check back with both airlines for the latest deals.
Also, traveling within Germany just got a little cheaper. You can get 20% off five- and six-day Bahn rail passes for travel between Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, and Hamburg, plus complimentary city cards with free public transportation and attractions discounts; travel through May 31 and book by March 31. For Grimm fans, Europa-Park, Germany's biggest theme park, will reopen for the 2013 season on March 23 with an expanded Enchanted Forest. Early birds save 20% at the park's themed hotels.
Unrest in Egypt continues to deter travelers, but if you've ever dreamed of visiting tombs in the Valley of the Kings or sailing down the Nile in luxury, now might be the best time to go. For one thing, getting there might be surprisingly affordable. Emirates recently posted fares to Cairo for under $1,000, and a flex search on Kayak yields fares from New York to Cairo for $788 round-trip on EgyptAir.
In country, upscale excursions and hotels can be had for less. Sonesta has slashed prices on summer Nile River sailings by 50 percent; book by February 28. High-end tour operator Abercrombie & Kent has several Egypt deals, including 25 percent off select February and March journeys and reduced single supplements. And discounts on luxury hotels are easy to find, including 20 to 30 percent off at the Le Meridien Heliopolis in Cairo (rates start at $80 per night) and up to 30 percent off winter breaks at the city's Kempinski Nile Hotel (nightly rates start at $147).
The U.S. State Department recommends that U.S. citizens avoid areas where large gatherings and demonstrations may occur, but check back for the most up-to-date warnings.
St. Croix, USVI
Considered more expensive and harder to get to than its USVI neighbor St. Thomas, St. Croix is now a stronger possibility for more budget-conscious travelers. The U.S Virgin Islands Department of Tourism has extended its Fantastic Flight Promotion, which includes a $300 airfare credit on six-night packages, the sixth night for free, and a $20 casino certificate, for travel through May 31; purchase by March 31. The offer is good at more than a dozen participating hotels, and you can book through 11 different partners, including CheapCaribbean, Expedia, and JetBlue. Also, USVI's Intimate Treasures promotion, available at a slew of hotels, includes dining and attractions certificates valued up to $100.
Several island hotels have their own deals, too. For example, Hibiscus Beach Resort offers a free fifth night and 25 percent off for those who book at least a year in advance, and Tamarind Reef Resort will discount stays by 15 percent (use promo code: SUN15).
Also remember that U.S. travelers don't need a passport to go to St. Croix, which makes a getaway even easier.
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