Why: Made up of 15 islands and less than 100 square miles, the Cook Islands are everything you’d hope to find in the South Pacific — lush tropical beauty, vibrant reefs and a Polynesian vibe that is both traditional and modern. Its rich Maori culture is still very much intact and hospitality exudes through the friendly locals. Think: Hawaii half a century ago, but with 21st century conveniences like WiFi. Take your pick on where to stay — you’ll find reasonably-priced luxury alongside Airbnbs, beach shacks alongside boutiques, all with a rustic, island-chic appeal. The largest island, Rarotonga or “Raro,” is made up of rugged mountains, unspoiled beaches and the national capital of Avarua, where you’ll find boutique hotels, quaint shopping, rare pearls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, coffee shops, a distillery that makes banana vodka by coffee pot and even a Friday night party bus. The island is easily accessible by bus and being only 20 miles in circumference, you can easily conquer the entire island in a day. Note to Type A travelers: Bus timetables are on, well, island time. Aitutaki Island to the north, is home to what many refer to as the world’s most beautiful lagoon, thanks to its crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reefs and sandy islets that allow for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. When visiting the Cook Islands, it's not to be missed.
While hotel prices might be cheaper in underrated locales, you do need to be aware that flight prices might be more expensive – and possibly at less convenient times with more stops – if it’s not a common route. For example, an August flight from Minneapolis to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil might cost around $857, but a flight at the same time from Minneapolis to La Paz, Bolivia costs $1,177. The distance is nearly identical, though most flights to La Paz require at least two (and, in many cases, three) stops, whereas there are flights available from Minneapolis to Rio de Janeiro with only one stop.
Enjoy an all-inclusive vacation from the HotelInn Hotel in sunny Jamaica for 5 nights and book a 40% discounted getaway to Montego Bay, home of idyllic beaches, deep seas, good vibes, and lush jungles. What's Included? Based on two people sharing, this vacation deal includes round-trip flights, an all-inclusive 5-night stay at the 3.5-star Holiday…
Chosen By: Amie O’Shaughnessy, founder and CEO of Ciao Bambino. After having her son, Amie searched extensively for credible resources to provide family-focused advice, direction and useful accommodation information. She quickly realized that there were no relevant resources available, particularly for a discerning traveler, so she decided to help solve this problem and started Ciao Bambino.
Two of the higher-quality San Francisco options in which you can enjoy some of the best hotel features in town, are the Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square, at 900 N Point Street, and The St. Regis San Francisco, at 125 3rd St. Alternatively, The Wharf Inn, at 2601 Mason St, and the Layne Hotel, at 545 Jones St, are a couple of accommodations worth checking out if you are a bit more budget conscious.
Why: Okay, you may be thinking, “Isn’t Saint Martin/Sint Maarten destroyed?” Yes, this unique Caribbean island, which is half French (Saint Martin) and half Dutch (Sint Maarten), was devastated by Hurricane Irma. But now it’s on the mend. Saint Martin’s famed Princess Juliana International Airport has been open since late October 2017. The majority of the island’s electricity has been restored, and many beaches, bars, restaurants and businesses have reopened their doors. Because tourists are still wary, many hotels have discounted rates (like Hotel Mercure for $169 night) as well as gorgeous Airbnb properties starting at $50 a night. It’s a win-win. Not only will you save money, but your money will be spent on businesses and people who really need our help.
Hotwire’s “Hot Deals.” Much like Priceline, Hotwire is able to offer discounts if you’re willing to book a hotel, flight, or car without knowing the brand name. Unlike Priceline, Hotwire publishes the prices up front instead of allowing you to name your own price. So, for example, you’ll know that you’re booking a three-star hotel in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles that costs $120 per night, but you won’t know the name of the hotel until after you book.
How cheap is it? The UK saying “laters” to the EU may be bad news for Brits, but it’s proving to be great news for travelers. Brexit tied a brick to the already-sinking pound; overall it’s down 30 percent against the dollar since summer of 2014. Airfares, too, have dropped. And the UK is, for the next couple of years at least, formally in Europe -- so super cheap air and train fares that currently operate between the UK and the continent still run post-Brexit, pre-exit. You can be in Paris in 2.5 hours by train. Boom! Take that European trip you’ve been dreaming about since your student days, as it may never be cheaper.
Chosen By: Patricia Stone, founder of Global Adventuress. She's traveled to 157 countries and seeks out unique, off-the-beaten-path destinations for solo travelers, girlfriends, couples and families. Her site has been featured in the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star and was nominated by USA Today as a Top 20 Travel Destination site.
Prices based on searches conducted by fellow shoppers within the past 24 hours. There is no guarantee that these prices will be in effect at the time of your search. Vacation package savings are based on comparison to prices on Cheaptickets.com of the same components booked separately. Savings vary based on origin/destination, length of trip, stay dates and travel partners, and aren't available on all packages.
JetBlue TrueBlue. U.S. News & World Report ranked JetBlue TrueBlue as number one on its list of Best Airline Rewards Programs. JetBlue primarily flies out of the East Coast and Florida, but if you live in either region and tend to travel domestically, this is one program to consider. Points can also be earned by traveling on its partner airlines, Emirates and Hawaiian Airlines. You can also earn points with hotel stays, car rentals, and “purchases with retail partners” – so you can rack up a whole bunch of points on a single trip.
Why: A genuine bucket list trip for many, a visit to Australia and New Zealand can be super-pricey. Cities are spread out, way out, which means a lot of hopping on planes to get from one place to another. And for top level accommodations, not to mention simple daily necessities like a flat white, you’ll shell out big bucks. What’s good about a cruise itinerary that includes visits to both countries is that the big expenses are included in fares – onboard meals, accommodations, entertainment and transportation from place to place. On Oceania Cruises, which offers a New Zealand/Australia itinerary, for instance, the per diem is $350 a night, but you pretty much don’t have to whip out a credit card beyond that (do note that it’s priced at per-person, based on two sharing a cabin). Consider that in super-expensive cities like Auckland and Sydney, a hotel stay at a four-star place like the Hilton and Westin respectively will run you $350 or so. And that’s for the room only — you’ll pay out of pocket for food, entertainment and bars. One tip: Look for a cruise line that arranges its itineraries to spend maximum time in port, whether it’s long days or plenty of overnights, so you can have as much time to explore as possible. As well, you’re better off, in most cases, avoiding cruise-line shore excursions, which can be overpriced and epitomize group cattle travel, and engage a travel agency specialist in the region to plan private tours for your days in port. Bottom line, though, is when experiencing Australia and New Zealand by cruise ship, especially on your first visit to the region, the biggest plus is not just the convenience of unpacking once and keeping short-hop plane trips to a minimum. It’s also that, depending on the itinerary you choose, you can visit some pretty special somewhat off-the-grid places in between marquee stops at Auckland and Sydney. New Zealand’s Akaroa, Dunedin and Wellington, and Australia’s Eden, Burnie and Melbourne, might otherwise be missed — and shouldn’t be.
Playa de los Muertos is one of the most popular beaches in Puerto Vallarta for good reason. Kick back on the clean sands before taking a dip in the crystal waters. Local vendors stroll the sands with grilled shrimp on skewers, perfect for a post-dip snack. If you think this place is phenomenal by day, just wait until sunset, when it comes to life with music and dancing.
Chosen By: Emily McNutt, associate editor at The Points Guy, where she is responsible for reporting on travel news across a range of topics — from aviation to loyalty programs, general travel news and credit cards. At TPG, McNutt is not only an expert in the travel and points and miles space in the newsroom, but also puts that expertise to work by reviewing aircraft products for the site. With a lifelong passion for travel, McNutt has visited more than 40 countries.
Why: Traveling through Central Asia is, in many ways, the ultimate adventure. The infrastructure, though slowly modernizing, isn’t quite there yet, but the scenery and culture are unmatched. I loved every minute of Uzbekistan—the blend of Persian and Soviet influence, the culture, the food, the magnificently preserved religious sites in Samarkand and Bukhara, sleeping in a yurt camp under the stars — it all made for an experience I’ll never forget. Uzbekistan is also fantastically affordable, after you’ve paid the visa fee ($160 for United States citizens). Most hotel stays are under $100, save for the brand-new Hyatt Regency Tashkent (roughly $240 a night), which is worth the splurge. I highly recommend using a company like Kalpak Travel to help you book your trip, as independent travel can be a bit tricky in Uzbekistan and they’re experts in this region.
Why: Colombia isn’t usually thought of as a value destination, but due to the strong U.S. dollar, it has become one of the most compelling destinations in the world for those willing to venture off the beaten track. Travelers in the know are loving Barichara, one of the most beautiful small colonial villages in the Andes. Stay at Casa Barichara for under $200 a night and dine at El Carambolo, a quaint B&B rich with personality and the perfect fit for those searching for authentic, Colombian hospitality. Though not a typical tourist destination, Barichara is perfect for adventure travelers who enjoy activities like paragliding. A trip to Barichara can be paired with the town of Salamina, where travelers will find quirky architecture and a renowned coffee production, and/or the vibrant city of Medellin, which boasts music, museums, nightlife and friendly people.
Up in Tennessee, “Music City” is calling your name, and you can’t help but listen! This country music city feels like a small town—and its siren call resonates with those looking for simpler times and Johnny Cash cover bands. You can spend your Nashville vacation taking in performance after performance at the Grand Ole Opry, but leave time for the art collection at the Parthenon at Centennial Park.
Why: While the devastating hurricanes of 2017 impacted just a portion of the Caribbean region, it damaged some of its more cruise-popular spots, like Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, St. Bart's, and the U.S.V.I.’s St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. While all are under significant rehab and rebuilding — and most are actually now open to cruise ships and tourists, this could be a perfect year to explore more exotic islands. That’s because lines like Windstar, which had, pre-hurricanes, planned to offer BVI-centric trips, relocated ships to other parts of the Caribbean. The winning trip? We love Wind Surf, one of the line’s sailing vessels, with its trip out of Barbados; ports include Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Montserrat — all islands that heretofore have often been bypassed by established cruise lines. And get this: There’s plenty of cruise capacity in this region, particularly when it comes to small ship sailings. In part, excess cabins are available because many skittish travelers canceled their bookings. As well, they can typically be more expensive (look for $300 per person, per day) than big ship vessels. But do the math: Windstar, and other small ship lines like Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Azamara, Oceania and Viking Oceans, can actually be quite a good value when compared to land-based properties because they’re more price inclusive. Look for deals that include cocktails, gratuities and shore excursions not to mention pre- and post-cruise hotel stays and, in some cases, airfare to the ships’ port of embarkation.
In 2014, CheapAir.com also analyzed nearly 2 million international trips covering 3,184 markets. International flights usually open for booking slightly less than a year in advance. CheapAir.com found that prices “stay fairly flat for a few months” after flights open for booking – but, of course, not all of us are ready to lock down travel plans nine months in advance. After the initial flat period, prices “start to creep up slowly, until about 90 days before departure when the pace of increase starts to accelerate.”
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