FREE PRESS TRAVEL WRITER
Ahoy, bargain hunters. Cruise deals are better than ever! Some are half the price of last year, say Detroit area travel agents.
"They're as good and even better," said Steven Kalt, vice president of Bee Kalt Travel in Royal Oak. "For example, Ruby Princess for Alaska in May is starting at $499. Rates for Europe keep going down.
Lower hotel occupancies mean slightly cheaper hotel rooms nationwide (the average hotel room in the United States went for $103 a night in mid-January, a 2.7% drop from a year before, according to Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research, which tracks lodging data). And many hotels have a deal of a third night free when customers stay two nights.
Because of lagging demand, airfares are down 6% from last year, according to fare data from Travelocity. And the deals abound.
For example, you can fly from Detroit to Baltimore March 1-5 on Northwest Airlines for $149 round-trip or from Detroit to Cancun for as low as $139 each way on USA 3000.
Because cruise ships have to sail whether they are full or not, lines have hacked prices drastically on certain routes, especially longer cruises to more exotic destinations, and especially at the last minute.
Cruise prices are down 50% for South America, down 18% to Europe and down 10%-15% for the Caribbean, according to Mike Driscoll, editor of the industry journal Cruise Week.
Lines also have dropped fuel surcharges of up to $12 a day that were implemented last year during the height of the gasoline price surge.
Caribbean cruises out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, are especially good deals, with fares starting at about $538 for seven-day cruises, said Debbie Reilly, an agent at Cruise Holidays in Shelby Township.
Any cruise that costs less than $100 a day is generally considered a bargain by cruise watchers.
For cruisers who want a balcony, an eight-day cruise for $896 is a deal on Carnival Miracle this spring, said Cathy Daldin, owner of Shamrock Travel in Rochester.
Cruise deals should continue throughout 2009, because nine new cruise ships are set to debut this year, adding 20,706 more cabins to an already sodden market.
Meanwhile, airlines and hotels will have to adjust prices depending on demand.
Hotel occupancy in Detroit in mid-January was just 43%, the lowest in the nation, according to Smith Travel Research.
With U.S. jobless rates catching up to Michigan's 10.6% rate, the pool of Americans who can afford to travel is shrinking. But for consumers who can still afford it, bargains are just waiting to be plucked.
For instance, the Web site Cruise.com advertises an 11-night transatlantic repositioning cruise on the Norwegian Jewel sailing April 17 from Miami to London -- for $599.
"If you are available to travel without much notice and have an agent who searches, last-minute deals can be found," Reilly said. "We are told we will see more and more specials as this year goes on. Let's hope so."
Deals close to home
CHICAGO: Get a room March 6 at the Palmer House Hilton for $85 or at the Wyndham Chicago for $105 through Expedia.com.
Or if you are in Chicago this month, take advantage of February free admission to the Art Institute of Chicago (www.artic.edu, 312-443-3600).
TORONTO: With an exchange rate again advantageous to Americans, get a room March 6-7 at the Fairmont Royal York for $142 a night or at the Sheraton Centre for $139 through Expedia.com.
You also can take an underground safari tour of the Toronto Underground with an architecture expert March 7, 13 and 21 for $16 (416-503-8086).
MICHIGAN: Hide out at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center for a romance package any weekend night, including deluxe room, sparkling wine and breakfast for two. $169 (www.marriott.com, 313-568-8000).
Or do a Splashtastic trip for four to Zehnder's Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark in Frankenmuth for $329 midweek; includes two nights' lodging, one dinner for four, daily breakfast and four waterpark passes (www.zehnders.com, 800-863-7999. Offer ends March 27).