BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Vacation destinations compete for your dollar every summer, but some years there's only room for one. Choose wisely.
Finding vacation value will be a challenge even in the luxury market in 2010, with a survey by travel search engine Kayak reporting that 95% of its respondents planned to travel this year. Another 41% said the recession didn't affect their plans a bit. Another query by Travelocity, meanwhile, found that 49% of those surveyed planned to increase their travel this summer, compared to just 10% in 2009.
Though hotel rates may have dropped across the board in 2010, with Travelocity finding average U.S. room prices down 14% since 2008 and international rooms down more than 9.5% in the past two years, airfare prices have soared. A domestic ticket will set a passenger back 9% more than it did last year, while the cost of a flight abroad jumps by 10%.
So how do you decide which destination to jet off to? Don't. Let them plead their case.
has paired off 20 sought-after vacation sites around the globe and asked experts from
, Travelocity and SmarterTravel to help officiate the proceedings. We've rendered our verdicts and, in each case, the savvy consumer comes out on top:
Cape Cod/Martha's Vineyard/Nantucket vs. The Hamptons
Verdict: Massachusetts, by boat shoe.
Though Priceline spokesman Brian Eck gave the Hamptons the edge on airfare, with a July 14-18 Hamptons run costing $339 round-trip compared to $375 to Nantucket, SmarterTravel Executive Editor Anne Banas says better deals await at the Cape and the Islands.
Banas says vacation rentals at the New England hot spots are down from previous years, but prices haven't risen. In Nantucket's case, for example, vacation rental prices have fallen since 2009.
The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Web site links to deals and packages, including rates as low as $15 a night at motor lodges. The Nantucket Island Resorts, meanwhile, offer late-spring and early-summer discounts as well as "hot dates" throughout the year -- with a room at the quaint Jared Coffin House starting at $125 a night in June, which includes a $25 dinner credit.
California vs. Arizona
Verdict: Out west, it's a draw.
When it comes to flights, Arizona has a huge advantage over its more glamorous neighbor by the sea. According to Priceline, a roundtrip flight to Phoenix from July 17-24 costs only $297 compared with $433 for Los Angeles.
When it comes to accommodations and amenities, however, there's a reason why three of the American Society of Travel Agents' top 10 U.S. destinations are in California. Jeanenne Tornatore, a spokeswoman for Orbitz, places the average price of a hotel room in Arizona this summer at $88, compared to $121 for California. However, SmarterTravel says the Joie de Vivre boutique hotel chain is offering up to 50% off its California hotel rooms, with rates starting at $99 and perks including $50 food-and-drink credits or free museum passes.
Meanwhile, Beverly Hills hotels including the Hilton and the Four Seasons' Beverly Wiltshire are offering a season-long Breakfast in Beverly Hills package with rates starting at $150 a night, an extra night with every two to three nights booked and free breakfast.
The same holds true on the low end in sleepy San Diego and Scottsdale, where an air-and-hotel package to the Crowne Plaza San Diego costs $397, compared to $432 for a similar deal at Scottsdale's Millennium Resort.
Napa/Sonoma vs. Washington state
Verdict: Washington state, thanks to much better hotel deals.
California's wine country may have the big names, bigger estates and cheaper airfaire (Travelocity spokeswoman Kate Sutherland says average round-trip summer airfare to Seattle is $365 compared to San Francisco's $352), but eastern Washington not only has a budding wine country of its own, but a significant cost advantage over its southern rival.
According to Orbitz's Tornatore, average nightly hotel prices in eastern Washington are $100 less ($114) than comparable rooms in Napa and Sonoma ($215). In Washington's budding wine country, SmarterTravel's Banas cites deals at local bed-and-breakfasts ($120 a night at B&Bs like the Wine Country Inn or Touch of Europe) and national parks (Olympic National Park packages through June 15 start at $399, with $99 for each extra night and a $40 resort credit) as reasons to consider a more northern climate.
For the less rustic, Priceline finds that Washington offers a better deal, with the $228-a-night, four-star Hotel Vintage Park in Seattle besting the three-star, $285-a-night Avia Napa Hotel.
Las Vegas vs. Miami
Verdict: Hola, Miami.
Las Vegas was dealt a bad hand during the recession, but continues to get cleaned out by rising airfares. According to Travelocity, round-trip flights to Vegas rose 12.6% from 2009 to $339, while flights to Miami rose by a more modest 8% to $310. Midsummer fares only double down on that disparity, as Priceline says a July 15-18 round-trip flight to Miami costs $281 compared to $434 for Vegas.
On average, Orbitz found Miami hotel rooms ($131 a night) significantly more expensive than their Las Vegas counterparts ($83). For a town that's trying to lure tourists back, however, Vegas is getting schooled by Miami, which offers a three-night air-and-hotel package to its Circa 39 Hotel for $288 per person, while Vegas' only comparable deal at the MGM Grand costs $457.
North Carolina (Outer Banks/Wilmington) vs. South Carolina (Hilton Head/Myrtle Beach)
Verdict: Myrtle Beach/Hilton Head gets you more for the money.
It's as if someone knew to put the Carolinas in descending order. North Carolina's Outer Banks and intercoastal waterways near Wilmington may be scenic, but so much to justify the premium over the placid shores and PGA-quality greens at Hilton Head. Travelocity notes that average round-trip airfare to Wilmington rose 14% since 2009 to $337, while a trip to Myrtle Beach received only a 5% bump to $302.
Priceline took it a step further, finding a $270 midsummer fare to Myrtle Beach, as opposed to $291 to the Outer Banks. Vacation rentals are really the way to go in either area, and recession-style deals are still available to those willing to wait it out, but don't count out the hotels. Priceline found a 3.5-star hotel in Myrtle Beach for $70 a night, while a three-star hotel in Wilmington goes for $50.
Puerto Rico/Viequez vs. Dominican Republic
Verdict: The packages give it to Puerto Rico.
If all you have to do is get there, the DR has you covered. From July 20-25, Priceline says, a round-trip flight from Miami to the Dominican Republic is $434, compared to $505 to Viequez. However, though usually all-inclusive, the average hotel room in the Dominican Republic ($188 per night) can be far more costly than its counterpart in Puerto Rico ($135), according to Orbitz.
Priceline actually dug up a three-star hotel in San Juan for $75 a night, but the $561-per-person, five-night air-and-hotel package at
El Conquistador is on an island all its own compared to a similar $621-per-person stay at
Intercontinental Hotels Group's
V Centenario in Santo Domingo.
Mexico vs. Costa Rica
Verdict: Mexico, in a borderline call.
Remember, we're not talking about which destination offers wildlife at your window, but which provides the better travel value. When it comes to average hotel price, Orbitz rates Mexico ($190) and Costa Rica ($189) dead even. Getting to each place is a bit trickier, with Travelocity's average round-trip airfare from Houston to Mexico this summer at $441, compared to $498 for Costa Rica.
Though that can fluctuate, as Priceline found a $371 fare to Costa Rica for July 10-18 that bested a $391 trip to Cancun during the same period, Mexico on the whole tends to be far lest costly. A 4.5-star hotel in Cancun goes for $70 a night on Priceline, while a five-night air-and-hotel package in mid-June goes for $729 per person at Cancun's Barcelo Tucanun as opposed to $828 at Costa Rica's Barcelo Playa Tambor Resort and Casino.
Croatia vs. Greece
Verdict: Greece, so long as it holds.
Croatia's beaches on the Adriatic are nothing shy of stunning, but its prices are still a bit prohibitive for the casual luxury crowd. Give it time, however, as the big-holiday haven to the south is going through some pains of its own right now. Greece and its islands currently have the edge, with an average round-trip ticket costing $1,490 this summer compared to $1,517 to Croatia.
However -- and this is a sizeable however -- Greece's economic troubles are already starting to manifest themselves on the travel front. The cost of getting to Greece rose 19% over the past year, while Croatia's round-trip ticket prices rose at roughly half that pace. In the meantime, Orbitz notes that the cost of an average hotel stay in Greece ($168 per night) is still less than Croatia's ($188).
With Priceline finding midsummer flights like a July 15-24 roundtrip from New York to Athens for $1,174 that are still cheaper than those to Plesa, Croatia ($1,201), enjoy the holiday while it lasts.
Italian Riviera vs. French Riviera
Verdict: Viva Italia!
If you're going to argue over something, it may as well be the view of the Mediterranean. Sure, the French have Cannes, Saint-Tropez, Renoir and Picasso, but there's something that Genoa and San Remo have that trumps 15-minute standing ovations, Ban de Soleil and dead painters: value. Priceline puts a July 11-21 round-trip ticket to Cristoforo Colombo Airport at $1,242, which edges a $1,366 trip to Nice. Take in the Cote d'Azur and San Remo all in one stroke, but your euro goes a bit farther on the Italian side.
Australia vs. New Zealand
Verdict: A draw Down Under.
From a hemispheric standpoint, it's hard to recommend either destination. The average Australia/New Zealand-bound leisure traveler stands to take perhaps the worst soaking of the summer, with the average cost of round-trip tickets to Australia alone jumping 22%, according to Travelocity. The price climbs when you head to New Zealand, as the best deals Priceline found to either destination were from Los Angeles to Sydney for $882, then to Auckland for $957.
That's a lot of cash for a summer vacation to a place where it's, you know, not summer. We'll say this much for New Zealand, though: The kiwis are a lot easier on the wallet once you step off the plane. A room that averages $134 a night in Australia goes for $95 just a few islands away.
-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.
Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.