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THE SOURCEBOOK

8 ways to find good deals

Looking to save while seeing the sights? Think off peak and off the beaten track.

January 22, 2006|Rosemary McClure | Times Staff Writer

1. Congratulations: You're a winner. The sad truth about stalking deals is that they're rarely available for the dates and places you'd like to go. Almost everybody wants to lie on the beach at Maui during the winter, when it's cold on the mainland or during the summer, when the kids are out of school. So airlines and hoteliers don't need to discount their prices then. But check websites and travel agents anyway. "Sometimes a new hotel needs a little help getting the word out, so they'll have a great special," says Aaron Brown, a producer for deal magnet www.travelzoo.com. A current example: It's peak season in Palm Springs, meaning the highest rates of the year, but Hotel Zoso, which opened Dec. 1 after a $20-million renovation, is offering "superior" rooms, complete with plasma TVs, for $129 a night. Call [760] 325-9676 and ask for code TZ1 or see www.hotelzoso.com. Availability may be limited on these deals.)

2. Some like it hot. Savvy travelers quickly learn the best deals are available off-season. That means warm up to Phoenix, Los Cabos, Mexico, or the Virgin Islands in the summer, when temperatures are soaring and hotels need business. Or cool off in Europe during the winter, when five-night round-trip air and hotel packages from Los Angeles to Paris can be found starting at around $520 per person, double occupancy, plus airport charges. (France Vacations, [800] 332-5332, www.francevacations.net).

3. Leavin' on a jet plane. Airfare deals are out there, but you have to do some homework. That means no one-stop shopping. Research your fare on several websites, then go to the site of the airline you think has the best deal. You'll usually find a less-expensive fare on the airline site, have an easier time choosing seats and save on booking charges, said William McGee of Consumer Reports Webwatch, www.crwebwatch.com. Also, be flexible about your dates (midweek fares are the cheapest), the airport you fly from and into (airports on the outer reaches are often less expensive) and the time you fly (overnight flights are usually the least expensive).

4. Call me Calamity Jane. When disaster strikes, grab your beach towel and go. Not only do such places need tourist dollars to recover, great deals are often available. Cancun, Mexico, hit in October by Hurricane Wilma, is a current favorite. Other good choices: late summer or fall (hurricane season) visits or cruises to Florida and the Caribbean, but stay alert for threatening weather once you're there.

5. Make pen pals. Sign up for travel newsletters and price alerts from airlines such as Aloha and Southwest -- both of which pass along great deals to subscribers -- and from suppliers like www.travelzoo.com and www.cheaptickets.com. You do have to act on the deals immediately (Travelzoo, for instance, has 9 million subscribers), but your promptness can mean big savings.

6. Paris in the springtime. If you're planning to hop around Europe, comparison-shop your flights on European websites, says McGee. "American travel sites have the lowest prices on travel from the U.S., but use a European site if you're departing from a European city." Try www.opodo.com and the European versions of www.travelocity.com and www.orbitz.com.

7. Sailing takes me away. Cruising has become so popular that many of the deals have dried up. But there are still ways to save. Check with your travel agent about booking into group space -- rooms that are reserved in bulk -- which can be a tremendous bargain, says Vicky Voll of Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Glendale. Another tip from Voll: "Booking a category guarantee is usually a wise move versus confirming a specific cabin. By booking a guarantee you may be upgraded to a higher category without paying the higher fare."

8. A fool and his money.... If it seems too good to be true it probably is, says Kathy Sudeikis, president of the American Society of Travel Agents. "Make sure you're doing business with someone reliable and that you have recourse if something goes wrong," she says. A good idea: Check the company out with the local Better Business Bureau and chamber of commerce.

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