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new england mill fall autumnEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Fall has arrived, and so has this year’s crop of shoulder-season travel deals. Especially ripe for the picking is AirTran’s latest three-day sale, which launched this morning with fares as low as $43 each way. The airline is offering reduced-rate flights to destinations all over the U.S. as well as to Aruba, Bermuda, Mexico, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

Travel is good between October 7 and December 14 — ideal dates for catching some fall foliage or booking a tropical getaway before the busy winter season. The cheapest domestic flights we saw were between Boston and Baltimore ($43 in either direction), while you can escape the continental U.S. to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from as little as $69 each way (from Tampa).

Eight Unique Ways to Experience Fall

The Catch: The lowest sale fares are only available for domestic travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; on any other day of the week you’ll have to pay peak prices. Fortunately, travel dates for international itineraries are a little less restrictive: You can fly Monday through Friday. And of course, sale fares are unavailable on the most convenient Thanksgiving travel dates (November 22 – 23 and 26 – 28).

The Competition: Southwest Airlines is offering a similar three-day sale with matching fares on competing routes. Southwest doesn’t fly to any international destinations, but it’s worth checking out this deal if you’re flying within the States, as the airline covers some cities and itineraries that AirTran doesn’t.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

paris winterEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Fall’s first day is Friday, but travelers mourning the end of summer can take comfort in knowing that super-cheap winter flights are a-comin’. Scratch that — they’re here already. Aer Lingus, the Irish discount airline, has just rolled out an expansive low-season Europe sale featuring tickets as cheap as $227 each way plus taxes and fees. Travel is valid this winter, from November through March.

Book early for your winter trip and you’ll snag low fares — but you’ll also have plenty of flight options from which to choose. We did some digging and found low-priced tickets available on a wide range of Aer Lingus transatlantic flights. For example, a quick search for discounted flights departing on November 23 turned up 16 departures throughout the day, each for $233 each way or less. The cheapest total price we unearthed, for a flight from New York to London in November, totaled $691.76 including all taxes and fees.

The Catch: Be choosy about your European destination when planning a winter trip. Some places in Europe — the ones with skiing, Christmas markets or dog sledding — make for spectacular cold-weather travel. Other European cities and towns basically shut down when the tourist season ends.

The Competition: Fall and early winter flights to Europe are currently on sale from Icelandair, with fares starting at $489 roundtrip plus taxes and fees. However, the very cheapest fares are only available on a few dates in October.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

— written by Caroline Costello

Group deals are always popping into my life. My mom gives me print-outs of Groupon deals for Christmas each year without fail (she puts the coupons in boxes and wraps them). And when I’m not opening Groupons from “Santa,” I see group deals shared aplenty in my Facebook feed, or forwarded to my inbox from friends, family and, well, people I barely know.

I’m heading to Paris for vacation this week. So I caved to social pressure and checked out the Groupon Paris page to see if any boulangerie bargains or cut-rate city tours could be found. I stumbled upon this deal, a half-price cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin:

paris groupon

Not bad. This Groupon offered a scenic canal cruise, which normally would have cost 18 euros, for just 9 euros per person. But there was one problem: You may have noticed that the Groupon was published in French. I desperately combed this page for a mini American or British flag and found nothing. The solution, I found, was to copy and paste all text into Google Translate (http://translate.google.com/). Or learn to speak fluent French.

Now, this was where things got tricky. The booking process was in French as well. And the bit where I had to enter my address didn’t give the option to specify a country. Here’s what it looked like:

booking paris groupon

I tried to type in my U.S. address along with my credit card information, but my order was rejected; I assume this happened because the system, by default, deemed that I live in France. I took a second stab at the purchase, but paid with PayPal instead of a credit card. It worked, probably because PayPal already has my home address in its system. I paid $25.29 for two cruise tickets; this was the final price according to PayPal’s exchange rate, which was a slightly more expensive conversion rate than the current interbank rate as seen on XE.com ($24.55).

It’s clear that Groupon’s international pages are designed for local customers. Still, with a PayPal account and a little translation, it’s possible to grab some good discounts in faraway destinations. The same goes for Living Social, which, like Groupon, has a wide selection of international deals that are published in local languages. Given that these sites often run promotions for restaurants, excursions, transportation and other goodies that would be useful during a trip, it’s worth signing up to receive local deals e-mails for the destination you’re visiting next. (Other group deals sites, including BuyWithMe, dealfind and DealOn, offer lots of bargains across the U.S. but have a limited international reach.)

Have you used a local group deal site when traveling?

— written by Caroline Costello

DubrovnikEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Explore botanical gardens, medieval ramparts, Roman ruins and turquoise seas in the heart of the Mediterranean this fall — and pocket half the cost of your trip. We unearthed a romantic Europe cruise that’s selling for less than 50 percent of its original price on Cruise.com. This week-long Western Mediterranean sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas is currently on sale starting at $349 per person. The seven-night cruise departs Venice on October 17 and visits Dubrovnik, Valletta, Cartagena and Gibraltar, debarking on October 24 in Malaga.

This cruise was originally listed on the Royal Caribbean Web site with rates starting at $799 for a Superior Interior Stateroom. The same stateroom is now on offer from Cruise.com for $349, which is a savings of more than 50 percent. Discounts are available on other cabins as well. Book a Large Oceanview Stateroom for $379 or a Balcony Cabin for $669. (All rates mentioned are per person, before taxes and fees.) Cruise.com is also throwing in prepaid gratuities, which generally amount to $10.50 per person, per day.

The Catch: This cruise kicks off in one port and ends in another. As a result, you may have a tricky time finding affordable transportation, as multi-leg plane tickets tend to be expensive.

The Competition: American Discount Cruises & Travel is offering a seven-night Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, which sails roundtrip from Rome in late October, with rates starting at $549 per person. Find this offer and more discounted sailings in our Cruise Deals.

— written by Caroline Costello

Boats in Perkins Cove, MaineEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Labor Day has come and gone, and right now, shoulder-season deals to destinations like Hawaii, the Caribbean and Europe are easy pickin’s. But if you’d like to visit a place that shows its best colors this time of year, you don’t necessarily have to pay high-season prices. We spotted this excellent high-season deal for one of the United States’ great fall destinations: Maine.

For a limited time, Orbitz is offering $50 off Maine hotel stays in addition to up to 30 percent off accommodations and free-night stays at participating properties in the Pine Tree State. This offer is valid for three-night (or longer) stays through mid-October.

Essential Portland, Maine Travel Guide

The Catch: Since it’s currently high season for travel to Maine, rooms at the more popular properties are filling up fast — especially if they’re on sale; a quick search on Orbitz confirmed this. According to the Orbitz Web site, Acadia Inn, one of the hotels featured in this offer, only had three available rooms left for the dates I punched in (September 15 through 17). Likewise, Orbitz told me only two available rooms remained at the Majestic Regency in Wells, another cut-rate property, for the same dates. Act fast if you’re thinking about snapping up this offer.

The Competition: A smart way to visit Maine on the cheap is to grab a last-minute New England cruise deal. Right now, we list several discounted leaf-peeping sailings in our Cruise Deals, including a seven-night early-October New England and Canada cruise for $649 with prepaid gratuities, and a similar late-October sailing for just $549. Both cruises sail roundtrip from Boston, and both include stops in Maine.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Travel Deals.

— written by Caroline Costello

Grand CanyonAugust is over; to many, this means that summer has left town and fall is pulling its car into the driveway. But if you’ve got a case of the first-day-of-September blues, perk up. Falling leaves signal falling prices in the travel space. And we’ve got proof. Feast your eyes on the following four fabulous fall packages, which offer shoulder-season savings in top destinations: the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

$100 Savings, Rental Car Steals and More in Las Vegas
Southwest Vacations is running an enticing Las Vegas sale, piling deals on top of more deals. The savings include up to $100 off packages plus up to 30 percent off your hotel stay, 20 percent off car rentals and more. The longer your trip, the more you save. (You have to stay five nights or longer to get that $100 discount.) This deal is valid for travel through the end of December.

Deep Discounts at the Grand Canyon
Two- and three-night Grand Canyon Railway packages are on sale for travel through the beginning of November. Discounted packages start at $390 per couple — a savings of $88 — and include accommodations and train travel to the Grand Canyon. Some of the pricier packages (the $575 three-night Canyon Limited package and the $772 three-night Canyon Limited Plus package) include a stay inside Grand Canyon National Park at the Maswik Lodge North, which is a short walk from the canyon rim.

Half-Off All-Inclusive Adventures in Aruba
Travelers can save up to 55 percent on all-inclusive fall stays at the Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort Aruba when they travel by October 31. We found all-inclusive nightly rates as low as $315 (for two people) for a week-long stay in October. The beachfront Aruba resort’s all-inclusive rates cover unlimited meals, some alcoholic beverages and non-motorized water sports. Additionally, kids ages 12 and younger stay free.

Cut-Rate Costa Rica: Save 60% on Vacations
Fall marks the last few months of Costa Rica’s rainy season, and it’s an excellent time to find discounts on hotel stays and packages in the region. We found a great one: TravelByJen.com, a discount travel agency, is offering a seven-night Costa Rica package with roundtrip airfare, accommodations and a car rental for just $599 per person. Airfare prices are based on travel from Fort Lauderdale, but you can find quotes for travel out of your local hub on TravelByJen.com.

— written by Caroline Costello

hotel saleEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Hotels.com is running a short-lived promotion that will satisfy those travelers addicted to flash sales and private discount travel sites. For just 48 hours, the hotel booking site is slashing nightly rates at select properties by as much as 50 percent. But the clock is literally ticking on this limited-time offer (there’s a digital countdown clock spinning away on the Hotels.com home page).

Noteworthy discounts featured in this sale include half off stays at the Nouvel, Barcelona (reduced nightly rates start at $106); 40 percent off two-night stays at several properties in Las Vegas; and 40 percent off rates at The Alex, an upscale Manhattan property (with discounted nightly rates from $298). Travel dates range from the end of August through September 27.

The Catch: There’s not an enormous variety of hotels here (far less than the typical sweeping Hotels.com sale). Most of the hotels included in this sale are U.S. properties, with the exception of a few places in Barcelona. Additionally, you’ve got to meet some minimum-night-stay requirements before you can snag the discounts at certain hotels.

The Competition: Travelocity is having a one-day sale today, which is worth looking into. We did some digging and found 40 percent off rates in Miami (for stays in September), and even 33 percent off an ecolodge in Costa Rica. Check both sites to search for a decent hotel discount in your destination.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Hotel Deals.

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc., which also owns Hotels.com.

— written by Caroline Costello

 Glacier National Park If you’re traveling domestically within the next four months, take heed. Now might be the best time to book your flight.

A cluster of U.S. carriers have rolled out rival fare sales, offering fall plane tickets starting at $39 each way. Which airline wins the war? It depends where you’re flying. Travel dates vary by sale, as do prices for select routes. Run your itinerary through multiple airline sites and book what works best for you. Don’t forget to factor in those checked bag fees. (See Airline Baggage Fees for the scoop on your carrier.) Here’s what’s on sale:

JetBlue: Select domestic routes are on sale with fares starting at $39 each way plus taxes. Travel is valid in September through early November, and a two-week advance purchase is required.

Southwest: This three-day sale features fares from $39 each way before taxes for travel between September and mid-December. Southwest, we must add, has a pretty decent baggage policy. Passengers may check up to two bags for free.

American Airlines: American’s offering $39 fall fares on select routes (taxes are additional). Travel dates stretch from now through mid-December. A two-week advance purchase is required.

AirTran Airways: AirTran isn’t offering that golden $39 fare, but the airline’s systemwide sale features a wide range of discounted routes and some competitive prices. Travel is valid on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from late August through mid-December. Additionally, AirTran’s sale includes cut-rate fares to destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

— written by Caroline Costello

Westin ArubaEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Guests staying for two or three nights at select Starwood Hotels and Resorts are eligible to pay rates equal to their birth year for their second and third nights’ stays. For example, if you were born in 1960, the nightly rate for your second and third nights’ accommodations comes to just $60, but you’ll have to pay full price for your first night’s stay.

This promotion is valid at select Starwood properties in the U.S., the Caribbean and Canada. At some luxury resorts, rates for second and third nights’ stays amount to your birth year plus $100.

Is this deal worth your money? If you can remember the moon landing, yes. For younger travelers, it depends.

At the Four Points by Sheraton Caguas Real Hotel & Casino in Puerto Rico, nightly rates start at $169 before taxes. Say you were born in 1950. The price for your next two nights drops to $50 plus taxes. That’s a savings of roughly 70 percent on your second and third nights. A traveler born in 1980 will save about 53 percent. The older you are, the greater your savings.

The Catch: At some properties, the hotel’s standard nightly rate is actually cheaper than the first night’s rate with the age promotion; watch out for that. In a few cases, the special first-night age promotion rate is so expensive that your stay could actually cost more than it would without this promotion — especially if you’re a younger traveler.

Here’s an example: At the Westin Resort and Casino in Aruba, first-night rates start at $499 for guests booking with the age promotion. But standard nightly rates for the same room come to just $189. Only travelers born in 1934 or earlier will save money.

The Competition: You can find a number of similar age-related offers in our Senior Travel Deals, including 20 percent discounts at Days Inns for AARP members and 15 percent savings at Marriott properties for travelers ages 62 and older.

— written by Caroline Costello

DublinEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Save $400 ($200 per person) on Virgin Vacations’ low-priced Ireland escorted tour package, which bundles airfare, six nights’ accommodations, transportation and even meals into one convenient clump of an Irish adventure. The whole itinerary is preplanned. Travelers will start in Dublin (roundtrip airfare from select U.S. cities is included), and then travel by motorcoach to Waterford, Killarney, the Cliffs of Moher and Galway.

Prices start at $1,399 per person before the discount, bringing your package total to $1,199 plus taxes and fees after the $200 savings is subtracted. Taxes, which are additional, generally amount to about $96 per person. (Gratuities are extra as well.) We went through the booking process, used the promotion code and found that the final cost of the air-inclusive package came to $1,295.21 per traveler, departing from New York.

The Catch: This discount is only available for departures on November 19. You’ll need to pack something warm. Still, with the world economy in its current state, we’re growing fonder of the idea of cut-rate off-season travel. (Same experience. Lower price. Less sun.) Plus, the Irish make a mean hand-knit Aran sweater.

The Competition: Do package tours and motorcoach transfers make you want to burn your suitcase? (If you’re nodding, check out Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours.) Aer Lingus is offering a discounted seven-day fly and drive package that combines roundtrip airfare and a car rental, but leaves the rest of the planning to you. Prices start at $729 per person plus taxes and fees for travel in September and October.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Vacation Package Deals.

— written by Caroline Costello