I've monitored trends, industry news, and sale patterns to point you in the direction of places that offer the best bargain values for the coming season. Below you'll find examples of deals currently available for spring trips. Like all deals, these are sure to expire; however, a little research on your part can yield similar results when you're ready to book.
New airline service from three low-cost carriers, plus deals all around, make Seattle an appealing springtime bargain destination. This year, the city really shines—sun or no sun—with two major (and limited-time) museum exhibitions.
Not just one but three low-cost carriers will debut service to Seattle this coming season. On March 12, Alaska kicks off service from Kansas City. On June 3, AirTran launches service from Baltimore, and on the same day, Southwest (which is acquiring AirTran) begins flights from Houston. It's a win-win for travelers, since not only does more service mean more choices, it also increases the competition and the chances of better prices.
Amtrak, meanwhile, is enticing train passengers with 15 percent off round-trip tickets to Seattle from any point on its Cascades (Eugene-Seattle-Vancouver), Coast Starlight (Los Angeles-Seattle), and Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle) routes. The offer is available for travel through April 29 when booked by April 22.
This spring, Seattle plays host to two noteworthy exhibitions. The Seattle Art Museum is the only place in the U.S. to host Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise, which features nearly 60 of the artist's paintings and sculptures. More than a dozen hotels have special packages that include accommodations and tickets to the show, which runs through April 29. And starting May 24, the Pacific Science Center will be the final U.S. stop for Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, which features objects never before displayed in the U.S.
Hawaii hasn't gotten any closer to the East Coast, but it might seem that way with the start of two new nonstop routes to the islands. Throw in some new service from the West Coast with hotel and vacation-package sales, and you've got a spring destination worth its weight in sunscreen.
Nonstop options from the East Coast to Hawaii have long been in short supply, so new service from New York City and Washington, D.C., is good news for the Aloha-starved. Hawaiian begins service between New York/JFK and Honolulu on June 4. The airline has also announced a partnership with JetBlue that will seriously boost route and booking options for passengers. Then, on June 7, United will debut what is, for now, the only nonstop service between Washington/Dulles and Honolulu.
Service from the West Coast to Hawaii has been gradually rebuilding since the 2008 demise of both Aloha and ATA. The recovery continues on April 10, when Alaska Airlines adds flights from Oakland and San Jose to Honolulu.
A trend of Hawaii sales for spring travel seems likely to continue as we approach the season. Expedia's Winter Warm-Up sale offers 30 percent off hotel stays and vacation packages booked by February 29 for travel through March 31. And Pleasant Holidays is advertising three-night air-and-hotel packages to Oahu for $505 from San Diego or $555 from San Francisco.
Puerto Rico successfully walks the line between popular and affordable this spring season. With capital city San Juan named one of Expedia's 5 Hot International Destinations for Americans in 2012, plus three new airline routes from the U.S. set to launch, this is a destination on many people's lists. But at least for now, it remains a hotbed of deals as well. And in our books, that's just the sort of winning combination that earns it a spot on our top five.
San Juan gets increasingly more accessible with the season: Delta kicks off new service from New York/JFK in March, and JetBlue rolls out new flights from Newark on April 25 and from West Palm Beach, FL, on May 15. At press time, JetBlue had special offers from West Palm Beach from $113 each way and Newark from $163 each way. The airline also lists deals from other departure cities flying to Puerto Rico.
While they have short booking windows, the spring discounts on air-and-hotel packages at CheapCaribbean.com are worth a look when you're ready to book. For instance, when we checked, the advertised sale rate for airfare and four nights at the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa was $739 per person, down from a regular price of $1,519, for travel April 9 through June 30. Rates and discounts will vary depending on your booking specifications, but this spring is shaping up to be a good time to bundle air and hotel for solid savings in Puerto Rico.
Orlando and Central Florida
Spring is a great season to find deals in Orlando, but it's also an ideal time to set your sights a bit wider and embrace all the savings—and fun—that Central Florida offers. With the recent opening of Legoland and the yearly return of spring training, there's plenty of entertainment beyond the mouse and the boy wizard. And when low-cost carrier Spirit kicks off new service between Dallas and Orlando on March 22, it will enrich an already competitive low-cost landscape that includes JetBlue and Southwest.
Spring savings in Orlando include 30 percent off rooms booked by February 28 for stays from April 13 through June 14 at Disney Resort Hotels. You'll be able to take advantage of rates such as $86 per weeknight at Disney's All Star Sports Resort. Universal Orlando, meanwhile, is offering online ticket savings that shave $20 off the price of admission. Beyond the parks, the Orlando Magicard delivers discounts on attractions, dining, transportation, and accommodations. Deals include discounted tickets to Blue Man Group and three-for-two airboat rides.
Venturing into the surrounding region yields more attractions and savings. The Passport to Adventure and Savings bundles 140 special offers on accommodations, attractions, shopping, and dining in Polk County. At the new Legoland Florida, which opened in October, online tickets are currently cheaper than tickets at the door. The region is also the spring-training home of the Detroit Tigers and the Houston Astros. Tigers tickets for spring training games start at just $9.
This spring, Portugal should be on the radar of anyone looking for Old World charm on a budget. The country has long been one of Europe's most affordable destinations, but further price drops on hotel rates have put the average nightly cost of a stay at just €77 (approximately $100; see XE.com for current exchange rates), or even as low as €50 in places like Albufeira. Plus, in 2012, the city of Guimaraes hosts a full year of free and paid cultural and art events to celebrate its status as a European Capital of Culture.
Pousadas—inns housed in manor houses, monasteries, and even palaces—are a popular way to explore Portugal's countryside. Pousadas de Portugal lists accommodations discounts such as rates from €72, free nights, and savings on packages that include massages, meals, or horseback rides. And Pousadas of Portugal offers discounts of up to 50 percent to travelers 55 or older.
Portugal's TAP Airlines is currently offering round-trip fares from New York, including all taxes and fees, from $723 for early spring travel. When considering travel to Portugal, it's worth comparing flight prices to Madrid-Barajas Airport, which is just a few hours by train or car from Portugal. Since Madrid is one of Europe's largest hubs with service from major carriers and low-cost airlines, flight deals are more common.
What other destinations have you found that are easy on the wallet this spring?
Full story: Top five bargain destinations for 2012