The weather outside is frightful, and the economy is downright scary. Still, for those who have the desire and the means to travel, 2009 is beginning with a tremendous number of deals. Unlike mid-winter sales of past years, some discounts run deep into the Brave New Year.
Some of the best dollars-off deals are available in the sky, as traditional off-season softness in demand joins the economic downturn to drive down fares. The International Air Transport Association, the trade organization of the world's major airlines, predicts that global passenger travel will dip 3% this year. IATA's numbers-crunchers and soothsayers say passenger numbers won't return to normal until 2011. That has the airlines scrambling for revenue.
Many airfare sales have short cut-off dates, though, so consumers have got to move fast.
just hatched a sale, running only through Friday, that offers some major discounts. Economy-class tickets booked on American's
-- and tickets must be booked there -- include $74 one-way between Miami and New York, $114 one-way between Chicago O'Hare and Washington D.C., and $186 between Boston and London Heathrow airport. On domestic routes, flyers must begin travel between Jan. 26 to March 1 and finish by March 4. For international trips, travel dates vary.
As with all airfare sales, taxes and surcharges aren't included, so the fares aren't as good as they look, but they're good. Please note that most airline sales don't affect the fees for checked bags, extra legroom and so on that many airlines introduced in 2008. They are tacked on to the cost of flying.
As is its wont, low-fare pioneer
is discounting tickets for winter and early spring. Its start-of-year sale, running through Jan. 19, offers fares starting as low as $49 one-way on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and starting at $59 one-way on all other days.
It'll cost you $49 one-way between Houston's Hobby Airport and Salt Lake City, for example, $99 one-way between San Francisco International and Phoenix. That is before taxes and government fees, but Southwest is one of the few U.S. carriers that doesn't pile on fees of its own for checking bags or sitting in a seat with extra leg-room.
Tickets must be booked on the airline's
. Southwest requires 14-day advance purchase for travel from Jan. 15 through April 30.
get away? How about Tahiti? Micro-carrier Air Tahiti Nui is offering round-trip economy tickets between Los Angeles International and Papeete, the main town in Tahiti, for $860. That fare applies for departures from LAX on the eight-hour non-stop flight from Feb. 7 through March 11 and returns to LAX from Feb. 11 through March 16. Book
Want to enjoy a fine meal for less? San Francisco is rolling out Dine About Town discounts at participating restaurants from Jan. 15 to Jan. 31. About 100 San Francisco restaurants offer three-course prix fixe lunches for $21.95 and dinners for $34.95. Among the eateries are the lively French-themed bistro Jeanty at Jack's; the California Italian restaurant and after-work watering hole Kuleto's; the hearty brewpub Thirsty Bear; classy French brasserie Absinthe; and the Asian fusion palace Le Colonial. Reservations can be made
Not to be outdone -- or out-dined -- Vancouver, British Columbia, is running Dine Out Vancouver from Jan. 14 through Feb. 1. Participating restaurants offer C$18, C$28 or C$38 prix fixe menus. Among them: the Wedgewood Hotel's excellent fine-dining restaurant Bacchus; the fun brewpub Yaletown Brewing Co.; the Fish House in stunning Stanley Park; the standout seafood restaurant C; and the cutting-edge eatery West.
There are exceptionally good hotel-and-dinner deals on offer, too. The Wedgewood Hotel, a downtown bastion of old-school elegance, located just off bustling Robson Street, offers rooms from $150 and dinner for two in Bacchus at the Dine Out Vancouver prix fixe rate; other participating hotels include the Fairmont Waterfront, Hyatt Regency and the Westin Bayshore. Read
for tourism deals.
Speaking of hotels, there are some very good deals out there, due to an unholy combination of recession-driven falloff in business and leisure travel, the usual winter blues and the fact that the hotel industry insanely overbuilt in the boom times of recent years and is now having trouble filling rooms.
Mid-winter discounts include rooms from $120 through Jan. 31 at the beachside Caribbean resort Catalonia Royal Bavaro, in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic; and from $128 through Jan. 31 at the Catalonia Royal Tulem Beach & Spa Resort, on Mexico's Riviera Maya.
In Mexico's Baja California, there are more deals. Riu Hotels is offering spring escapes from $102 per night at its 902-room, family-friendly Riu Santa Fe Cabo. At the Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas, a 642-room resort, rooms start at the same price. Riu says this is a 30% discount. Rooms must be booked by Jan. 30 for stays between April 13 and April 30.
Fairmont Hotels and Resorts is offering 30% discounts on rooms at its Hawaii resorts all the way through Dec. 17, and lesser, but still significant, discounts at its other worldwide properties. Most deals run at least into April. There are some blackout dates. Find details
The Toronto-based chain is also busy opening new properties. The new Fairmont Battery Park Boston is debuting with a package of $299 for two nights with the third night free through April 15.
The terms of deeply discounted deals can change quickly, so travelers would do well to monitor popular sites such as Orbtiz.com, which offers hotel-and-air packages, and Travelocity.com. In order to stay on top of changing airfares, consider using the new Web site
, which tracks some U.S. carriers and tags flights requested by users, then sends email alerts of best prices and mileage awards.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer. He covers airlines and airports, hotels and resorts, food and wine, and writes travel destination features.