NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Failure to finalize your Memorial Day vacation at this late stage doesn't make you a bad person. Just a bad planner.
Fortunately, this is a great year to be a slacker.
According to AAA, 37.5 million Americans plan to travel 50 miles or more away from home this Labor Day weekend, up nearly 5% from 2014. Of those, 33 million will be driving to their destination thanks to average fuel prices that are $1 per gallon lower than they were last Memorial Day weekend. Meanwhile, the cost of domestic flights along the Top 40 routes have dropped 2%, spurring a 2.5% increase in air travel this year.
“Following a harsh winter, many Americans are trading in their snow boots for flip-flops and making plans to start the season with a vacation getaway,” AAA president Marshall L. Doney says. “AAA is expecting more Memorial Day travelers this year than any time in the past 10 years as confident consumers come out of hibernation ready to explore national parks, beach destinations and America’s great cities.”
That doesn't mean procrastinators will find deals everywhere. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, the average nightly stay in a AAA-rated Two Diamond hotel is 16% higher this year at $144, while Three Diamond hotels will cost 7% more at an average $182. If you know where to look and how to bundle last-minute travel and accommodations, however, there are still deals to be had.
"Memorial Day weekend is typically the first big chance hotels have of luring consumers out of their homes after a long winter," says Priceline.com travel editor Brian Ek. "Fueled by low gas prices and an increased trust in access to last-minute deals, we've seen a dramatic upwards trend in Priceline.com consumers making reservations on the road, app in hand.”
That's just one of the options available to consumers. With Travelocity, Expedia, Hotels.com and other sites all offering deals as well, procrastinators have a lot more help around this time of year than they did just a few years ago.
“My primary response at this time is to look on airline and online travel agency websites for deals on air/hotel packages,” says Ed Perkins, consumer advocate and insurance expert for online travel pricing and advice site SmarterTravel. “And check the flash sale websites, such as Jetsetter and Vacationist. Also, a late vacation idea is often a really good time to try a travel agent.”
Just to see what's still out there, we took a look at some of the sites above and came up with five destinations worth considering if you're still trying to come up with a plan for your long Memorial Day weekend. We've mixed some cross-border destinations with some domestic hot spots to give you some idea of who's still offering deals as the summer vacation season kicks off:
Unless you have some airline miles you're willing to part with, it's going to be tough to get a deal on airfare this late in the game. You can make up some of that difference on hotel pricing, though. If you're willing to leave on Sunday, Travelocity found rooms at the Hotel Lois Veracruz in Boca del Rio for as little as $41 per night. If you're of the mind that Memorial Day weekend should encompass the entire weekend, the Vista Vallarta in Bucerias offers suites on the beach for $78 a night, while Tesoro Los Cabos in Cabo San Lucas goes for $91 a night.
Why the discount, you ask?
“Memorial Day tends to be a time when people are looking for closer-to-home getaways, since a three-day weekend doesn’t usually lend itself to longer excursions, and with it also being shoulder season (that time after spring break but before Summer vacations), there are often a lot more promotions out there at those more remote resort destinations to fill rooms this time of year,” says Keith Nowak, spokesman for Travelocity. “Shoulder season is actually a good time to make those longer trips, as you have the benefit of warm weather — but lower prices and smaller crowds than you would experience in the peak summer season.”
The folks at TripAdvisor list Vegas as their top summer destination, with an average room rate of $134 a night and an average U.S. roundtrip airfare of $417, second-cheapest only to No. 3 destination Orlando, Fla. ($127 room, $365 airfare).
That's because even on Memorial Day weekend there are deals to be had. TripAdvisor saw rooms at Circus Circus Hotel & Casino going for $126 a night. Rooms at the Westgate, meanwhile, were going for less than half price at $157 a night.
But Priceline also put Las Vegas at the top of its summer list, with an average daily room rate of $131 for Memorial Day weekend, and noted that there's a good chance it'll be packed as a result. If you're not into crowds, Priceline recommends that West Coasters hit Lake Tahoe, which ranks No. 64 among destinations and still has an average room price of $131. It also offers hiking, boating jet-skiing and an incredible view. East Coasters, meanwhile, might want to make a weekend out of Niagara Falls. The Buffalo side of the falls ranks No. 25 among destinations, but a $119 average room rate comes with casinos right nearby.
As we mentioned, this is TripAdvisor's third-most-popular summer destination of 2015. It's also tough to argue with hotel and airfare that averages less than $500 combined.
That can go even cheaper if you know where to look. Travelocity found Memorial Day weekend stays at the Grand Villa Resort for $87 per night. Late arrivals, meanwhile, can stay Saturday through Monday at Bryan's Spanish Cove for $115 per night or at Ventura Resorts in Kissimmee for $126 per night.
If the airfare frightens you a bit, Priceline recommends West Coasters head to California's Orange County, with Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and Sea World available for an average hotel stay of $118 a night. Back East, Priceline asks folks to consider staying a little farther up Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia. Rooms are an average of $92 a night, with the Kings Dominion and Colonial Williamsburg theme parks well within reach.
Remember that “shoulder season” we mentioned earlier? Well, it applies in the Caribbean, too.
For most U.S. travelers, it's out of reach in both mileage and vacation time. For others, however, Travelocity notes that they can stay at the Almond Resort and Spa in Belize on Memorial Day weekend for $149 a night; Hotel Posada Canal Grande in Santa Ana, Costa Rica, for $43 per night; the MoonRaker Beach Hotel in Barbados for $81 a night; the Flamingo Beach Resort in Sint Maarten for $120 a night; or the Kura Hulanda Lodge and Beach Club in Curacao for $130 a night.
Yes, you still have to pick up airfare, but the crowds won't be following you down here at this time of year.
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Hey, enough of you were willing to drive to Yellowstone this year to make it No. 48 on Priceline's list of Memorial Day destinations.
If you haven't booked a campsite yet, and you won't if you waited this long, the average hotel room outside of Yellowstone will run you $147 a night. We have no idea why you would do this when Jackson Hole is right down the road, ranks only 92nd and has hotel rooms going for an average $124 a night. In fact, the Togowotee Mountain Lodge in Moran Junction gets you close to that at $129 a night, according to Expedia. But if you're willing to rough it hotel style, The Hostel in Teton Village quotes Expedia rates of $79 a night, while the Best Western Teton West in Driggs lets rooms go for $89.
— Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore., for MainStreet
To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.