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cozumel cabana seaEvery 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: Not ready to stow those summer flip-flops for another year? Grab your sandals and book a fall or winter trip to someplace sunny and warm — and save up to $550 in the process. Funjet Vacations is currently offering a special 72-hour sale on air/hotel or hotel-only trips to Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii.

The more you spend on your vacation, the more you save. For example, if your total trip cost is between $1,500 and $2,000, you’ll get a discount of $115. Raise the total to between $2,001 and $3,000, and you’ll save $200. You get the picture. For the maximum discount of $550, you’ll have to spend at least $6,001.

The Catch: This isn’t the type of sale you can mull over for a week or two before booking. Come this Thursday at 6 p.m. CT, it’ll be gone — so make your decision and act quickly.

The Competition: Hyatt is offering up to $500 in resort credit at participating properties in Aruba, Cancun, Maui, Key West and other sunny destinations. Unlike the Funjet discount, which reduces the total cost of your trip, this credit is like free extra cash that you can spend on spa treatments, meals and activities at your resort.

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

– written by Sarah Schlichter

orange hill beach innWe have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $175. Jacquelynn F. was the first person to submit the right answer. She has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The rooms pictured in Friday’s post are the private cottages at Orange Hill Beach Inn in Nassau. Rates for these cozy little beachfront cabanas range from $155 to $175 per night, depending on the season. The Inn is located just steps from the ocean and features a pool, a bar and a restaurant. Orange Hill Beach Inn is a popular choice for divers, as it offers an assortment of diving and snorkeling packages. Read more about the Orange Hill Beach Inn in Nassau Essentials.

Check back on Friday for another chance to win.

– written by Caroline Costello

st kitts Every 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: Sail to the Southern Caribbean for just $389 per person, and spend seven nights trying your luck in the onboard casino or indulging in 24-hour pizza as you cruise to tropical ports on Carnival Victory. We crunched a few numbers on our fancy calculator and deduced that the going nightly rate for this cruise is about $56 — an affordable fare that will keep your budget in good health. Want to stare at the sea while you get dressed for your big karaoke debut? Oceanview cabins start at $479 per person, and balcony cabins are priced from $639.

This cruise offers a port-intensive itinerary, sailing roundtrip from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and St. Maarten. There’s just one day at sea, which means you’ll have plenty of chances to hone your sand castle-building skills at a variety of Caribbean beaches.

The Catch: This deal is for a sailing in October — which just so happens to be hurricane season. While it’s statistically unlikely that your particular sailing will be affected by a hurricane, we recommend purchasing travel insurance just in case. The truth is: Getting used to the idea of a hurricane-season sailing is one of the best ways to snag bargain-basement cruise deals.

The Competition: We’ve spotted several fall (hurricane season ahoy!) Caribbean cruise deals floating around, none of them quite as cheap as the Carnival Victory deal. But some of the offers are still noteworthy. We found a seven-night November sailing on MSC Poesia that starts at $549, and a four-night Royal Caribbean Bahamas cruise in September or October from just $229.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

Wyndham Rio Mar Beach ResortEvery 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: Book a stay of five or more nights at a participating Wyndham Resort and get your fifth night’s stay for free. Plus, receive a complimentary $100 American Express Reward Card, which can be used wherever American Express is accepted.

This offer is valid at select resorts in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico for travel through the end of the year. You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by booking this deal at one of Wyndham’s all-inclusive properties, where nightly rates range from about $250 to $500 and cover meals, drinks (even alcoholic ones) and activities. We checked rates for a five-night summer stay at the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach in the Bahamas and spotted savings of as much as $524 (the cost of one night’s stay in a deluxe room) in addition to the on-the-house $100 American Express card.

The Catch: Don’t bank on using your American Express card on a glass bottom boat tour or scuba diving lessons while on vacation. Your card will be shipped to your home address six to eight weeks after your completed stay. And keep in mind that when you book, you won’t see immediate savings, as your free night’s stay will be deducted when you check out.

The Competition: We’ve unearthed juicy discounts at several other brand-name hotel chains. Hilton Worldwide Resorts is offering a 30 percent mark-down at select international and domestic properties for stays booked three months in advance. Additionally, Starwood Hotels is running a “Better Tomorrows” promotion that features 40 percent off every second night’s stay at select resorts in North and South America. (Stay two nights and receive 40 percent off one night’s stay, stay four nights and get 40 percent off two nights, etc.)

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

–written by Caroline Costello

cancun mexico Every 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: The clock is ticking! This JetBlue spring fare sale includes dirt-cheap tickets to destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico, but seats must be booked by 5 p.m. E.T. today. Flights to popular places like Las Vegas, New York, Nassau, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Montego Bay, Cancun and Washington D.C. start at $29 each way plus taxes and fees.

This sale features a wide spring travel window: fly from March through May. And don’t forget that each JetBlue passenger may check up to one bag for free.

The Catch: This sale’s limited run is its most glaring restriction. If you don’t have any travel planned for the next few months, booking a ticket on a whim today can be a bit of a Hail Mary pass. JetBlue’s deal includes some deliciously low-priced spring flights. But prices aren’t so low that you should snap up tickets before you’ve thought your travel plans through carefully. Put down the paper bag — you’ve still got a few hours left to sort things out (as of this posting).

There’s a second catch, unfortunately. Travel is only valid, at these prices, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fares for travel on other days of the week won’t be as economical.

The Competition: AirTrain Airways, which scored top travel deal last week, has just announced a systemwide fare sale with tickets starting at $49 each way. Prices don’t beat JetBlue’s cut-rate fares, but AirTran offers a wider range of spring travel dates (fliers aren’t restricted to Tuesdays and Wednesdays), plus a larger selection of destination and departure cities.

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

–Written by Caroline Costello

boston public garden spring flowers tulips swan boatsEvery 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: AirTran has just rolled out an excellent three-day sale, offering low fares across its network of U.S. and Caribbean destinations. You’ll pay as little as $49 each way plus tax to fly to places like Boston, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Aruba and Bermuda. Travel is valid through May 24.

When searching for fares, keep in mind which days of the week you’re likely to find the lowest prices. If you’re flying within the U.S., you’ll save by traveling Monday through Thursday. But if you’re headed to the Caribbean, Bermuda or Mexico, off-peak fares are available Sunday through Wednesday. The travel days with the lowest prices are noted on the AirTran site.

The Catch: Be sure to check the blackout dates — they vary by itinerary and in some cases are extensive. (Restricted dates for Florida flights, for example, include March 10 – April 4, April 21 – 25 and April 30 – May 1, 2011.)

The Competition: JetBlue is currently offering flights to a number of U.S. and Caribbean destinations, including New York, Florida, California and the Dominican Republic, starting at a comparable $52 each way.

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

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Flowers, chocolates, Champagne and … Mickey Mouse?

If Disney characters don’t exactly top your list of prerequisites for romance, you might be surprised by the findings of a recent Orbitz survey on Valentine’s Day travel. Based on bookings for the coming weekend, the site named its three most popular destinations for Valentine’s Day getaways: Las Vegas, Orlando and Cancun.

I’m not too shocked that Sin City made the list, considering that some 100,000 couples tie the knot there each year. But fighting the kiddie hordes at Disney World or getting trashed with a bunch of coeds in Cancun doesn’t really strike me as the epitome of romance.

If you’re dreaming of a getaway just for two, uncluttered by casinos and crowds, we have a few less-traveled alternatives to recommend:

1. For a truly serene desert getaway, forget about Las Vegas and head for Sedona, Arizona. Winter is one of the quietest times of year here, and the area’s trademark red rocks are often lightly dusted with snow. This is the perfect season for you and your partner to cozy up together in a romantic bed and breakfast, or indulge in a couples’ massage at one of the area’s many spas.

sedona red rocks snow winter arizona


2. Just a few hours southwest of Orlando, the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island feel a world away. By day, you can go kayaking, explore the secluded shores of Lovers Key and collect seashells as mementos of your trip (this part of Florida is one of the country’s best spots for shelling). By night, you can sit on the sand with your sweetheart and watch the sun sink down into the Gulf of Mexico. Learn more in Florida’s Many Faces and Places.

fort myers beach florida


3. Skip the mega-resorts and hard-partying atmosphere of Cancun and head instead to St. John, the least developed of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two-thirds of the island is protected within Virgin Islands National Park, including the soft sands of Trunk Bay; its calm, clear waters and wide, white beach make this a perfect spot for snorkeling, swimming and relaxing in the sand. Couples can go hiking in the national park or take a scenic horseback ride through the mountains. Learn more in St. John Essentials.

trunk bay st john usvi


Don’t miss our Seven Secrets for a More Romantic Trip.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Bahamas ocean Every 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: The Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board is running its ever-popular free companion airfare offer, which expires in a mere week. Here’s how it works: Book a package of four nights or longer with a participating travel provider (Liberty Travel, American Express Vacations and Sandals are a few examples) and stay at a participating hotel, and you’ll receive a free companion flight to the Bahamas. Travel is valid through June 30.

The Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board has fashioned an impressive list of participating properties. Your options include some of the most sought-after hotels and resorts in the Bahamas, including Atlantis, Paradise Island; the Reef Atlantis; and Paradise Island Harbour Resort. Choose from a total of 17 hotels and resorts.

The Catch: Your flights must depart from the continental U.S. In addition, only one free companion ticket may be booked per hotel room, which means families will have to pay for more than one room if they’re looking to save on multiple tickets.

The Competition: Through Sunday, February 6, CheapCaribbean.com is offering up to $300 off select air-inclusive packages to the Bahamas. Prices are competitive, with per-person rates starting at $279 for four-night packages with roundtrip airfare.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

aruba Every Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Ever since snow dusted (or, in some regions, buried) 49 out of 50 U.S. states last week, the Caribbean, with its balmy temperatures, pink sunsets and skin-warming sunbeams, has been looking downright mouth-watering. But with spring break just around the corner, you can safely expect prices for tropical hotel stays and flights to the Caribbean islands to rise in February, March and April.

If you must travel to the Caribbean during the busy spring break season — and really, we don’t blame you — one of the best ways to save money is by picking the right island. In Top 25 Ways to Save on Caribbean Travel, IndependentTraveler.com Editor Sarah Schlichter writes, “Airfare is one of the key expenses of any Caribbean trip, and some islands are much easier — and cheaper — to get to than others. For the lowest fares from the U.S., look for destinations served by low-cost carriers such as JetBlue (Nassau, Montego Bay, Barbados) and AirTran (Aruba, San Juan). Keep in mind that more competition usually leads to lower fares; you’ll pay less to fly to Jamaica, which is served by dozens of airlines, than you will to fly to an island like Dominica, where the only major carrier from the U.S. is American Airlines.”

We’re not denying that each Caribbean island has its own unique, worthwhile array of attractions. If you want to see rolling sugar cane fields and drink home-grown rum, head to Martinique. Seeking Vegas-style casinos and duty-free shopping? Nassau‘s a good pick. But if you really just want to sit on a beach with a sugary pina colada and you’re on a tight budget, price flights to various islands, and then pick your destination based on whichever’s cheapest. We promise you won’t be disappointed. There are no second-banana islands in the Caribbean.

– written by Caroline Costello