BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Summer travel is at its peak, but college students and their parents are stacking milk crates and whiteboards up to the vacation wagon's rear windows and heading back to school, leaving sweet travel deals in their wake.When summer began, 86% of Americans told Expedia ( EXPE - Get Report) travel site TripAdvisor that they planned on traveling this season. Of that number, 40% planned to spend summer by the ocean, another 16% went lakeside and 50% took out the pocket map, asked awkward questions and stared up at buildings to commuters' chagrin while touring major cities. The $3,200 that vacation rental site HomeAway ( AWAY) says the average summer traveler spent on vacation this year locked up vacation rentals in Provincetown, Mass.; Ocean City, Md.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Miami; and Gulf Shores, Ala. -- its Top 5 summer vacation destinations, which share space in the Top 10 with other literal hot spots including Bethany Beach, Del.; Destin, Fla.; New York City; and Las Vegas. When American Express ( AXP) Spending and Saving Tracker found that 59% of Americans plan on traveling this summer, however, it noted that the search for deals spanned the entire vacation season. About 60% of travelers are making tradeoffs to cut vacation spending, 15% will use hotel, airline and credit card rewards points and 68% will be cutting vacations down to a series of weekend getaways. Those who weren't among the 38% of consumers who saved up for their vacation are likely among the 25% who say they'll try saving on other portions of their trip to offset plane tickets or prices at the pump. Getting creative with airfare helps offset the $10- to $30-a-leg peak-travel premiums on flights, but a TripAdvisor air travel survey found that 43% of travelers booked a connecting flight to stay within budget. According to FareCompare.com, American ( AMR - Get Report), United ( UAL - Get Report), Continental, Delta ( DAL - Get Report), U.S. Airways ( LCC) and the discount carriers have tried roughly 12 broad fare hikes in this year, with the majority sticking. As a result, TripAdvisor says 33% of travelers are driving to one or more of their destinations when they would have flown. That summer of frugality continues even as colleges creep up on their fall semester. HomeAway has more than 2,600 listings offering special deals or discounts and 5,300 deals on its discount site VacationRentals.com. Of all vacation homeowners, 70% start getting concerned that their property isn't rented at least three weeks out from the travel dates. Of those, 58% are more flexible in negotiating rates and/or minimum stays. That's on top of the 18% of homeowners who lowered their rates this summer and 48% who planned to offer a deal or incentive this summer to attract renters. With help from the folks at vacation site SmarterTravel, we came up with five summer vacations still worth taking at this late stage:
One word: Orcas. If you're traveling any part of the Pacific Northwest next to sounds, straits or any other killer-whale-friendly bodies, your job -- nay, your obligation -- is to find a pod of orcas post-haste and fill a memory card with pictures. Sea Kayak Adventures wants to make this happen for you and is running a three-day Labor Day weekend outing Sept. 3-5 that includes a guided sea kayak tour with camping along the Johnstone Strait off northern Vancouver Island. The package is $995 per adult and $889 per child and includes kayaks, camping accommodations, meals, instruction and guides. It also takes visitors to one of the few places where they are guaranteed to see orcas without watching them do backflips into steel tanks with wetsuit-clad trainers on their backs. Johnstone strait is home to the world's only Orca preserve, Robson Bight, and the remote islands and pristine cold-water scuba spots in God's Pocket provincial park. "That's a pretty nice deal," Banas says. "A lot of times adventure stuff tends to be a little bit higher-priced, but you're getting food, lodging and camping for three days."
Occasionally, a hotel conveniently "forgets" that a deal coincides with a special event and a guest ends up with far more than he or she paid for. If a traveler is lucky enough to capitalize on the "Simply Sausalito" package at the Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa on Labor Day weekend, they'll basically be stealing a front-row seat to the Sausalito Arts Festival. The weekend festival features 275 artists, more than 20,000 original works and three days of music including a '70s and '80s jukebox of performances by The Smithereens, Kenny Loggins, Edgar Winter, Men Without Hats, The Romantics, The Human League and a multiheaded classic-rock monster called World Classic Rockers featuring members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Toto, Steppenwolf, Journey, Santana and Boston. Casa Madrona's "Simply Sausalito" package lets guests experience all of it, gives them a $30 gift certificate for breakfast at Cibo and a $100 gift certificate at Sushi Ran all for the $177 price of a one-night stay. "For Labor Day, you can often find great deals for airlines and hotels in major U.S. cities," Banas says. "If you can get a great deal into San Francisco, this can be a great place to stay."
Anyone who's ever visited New Orleans on Labor Day weekend knows you may as well be dropping in for Mardi Gras, but without all of the college students potentially ruining their chances for gainful employment by videotaping various low points of their drunken youth. Labor Day weekend typically coincides with one of the biggest parties on the city's calendar: Southern Decadence. Affectionately referred to as Gay Mardi Gras, Southern Decadence stretches Aug. 31-Sept. 5 and features contests, pageants, Bourbon Street parties and lots of other events. The New Orleans Marriott ( MAR - Get Report) is a big fan of the event and offers a $169-a-night Rainbow NOLA Getaway package for potential partygoers. Deluxe accommodations are sweetened a bit by two complimentary welcome drinks at the hotel, a gay guide map of New Orleans and coupon booklet featuring $500 off trips to restaurants and other attractions, restaurants and more. The New Orleans Marriott location in the middle of the the French Quarter and within walking distance to Bourbon Street and the Bourbon Pub, the longest continuously operating gay nightclub in the country, only sweeten the deal for revelers. For those who can't make it on Labor Day weekend or just like things a bit quieter when they're walking off a Hurricane hangover, the deal is offered year-round as well.
It's hot, there are fewer tourists coming through McCarran Airport anyway and hotels are just giving rooms away. Why wouldn't you just go play Rat Pack for the weekend? Maybe because some of the hotels offering the deals haven't done much upgrading since Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin darkened their doorways decades ago. The Tropicana used to be just one of those places: Parked on the far end of the strip across the intersection from the New York, New York and Excalibur casino/kiddie parks, just removed from the Palms, Mandalay Bay and any of the other places that the grownups have been playing at in recent decades and fading like the fortunes of a cigarette girl who first came to Sin City when Joe Camel was gracing billboards. After a $180 million renovation, the Tropicana's Nikki Beach pool with its cabanas, outdoor cafes and bar is among the best in the city, and its South Beach-style rooms are faithful replicas of their Floridian muses with 300-thread-count sheets and 42-inch plasma televisions. Travel deal site Yuupon is softening an already soft sell by offering two nights on Labor Day weekend for $225, including a complimentary bottle of P. Diddy-endorsed Ciroc vodka and two free tickets to the Las Vegas Mob Experience -- which doesn't involve two enforcers beating the teeth out of you near the service entrance for winning too big at the craps table or somebody "leaving a gift" for you under your car's seat for undertipping at the Biscayne Steak House.
If you're going to go Miami-style anyway, you may as well just head to Miami. If you can soldier through an average high temperature of 89 degrees and the humidity that comes with it in August and early September, there are deals to be had. The Fairmont Turnberry Isle, which is secluded on 300 acres and has a spa and two 18-hole Raymond Floyd-designed golf courses on its grounds, has packages designed to lure visitors out of the heat. Its Sand and Seas package includes free golf, free valet parking, 20% off private pool cabanas, 20% off wave runner rentals and free children's meals for rates starting at $169 a night. Florida residents get just a slightly better deal, as the Summer Escape packages gives them all of the above plus a $20 gas card starting at $135 per night. "It's a hotter time of year, but there have been deals pretty much all over the state, " Banas says. "The Gulf Coast is also having some great deals as well." -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.
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