Here's a tip of the hat to the values that make this country great. We're not talking about motherhood and fair play. We talking value values: low-cost, deep discount, satisfaction-guaranteed values. The fact is, there are more ways to save money while traveling in this country than ever before—and more ways to do it in style. Finding the deal, however, can make your head spin. The travel industry has become increasingly complicated, with a baffling labyrinth of seasonal discounts, corporate rates, walk-in tariffs, and fine-print special offers. The best rule of thumb: keep it simple, and follow Travel & Leisure's 1998 guide to some of the most affordable vacations in America.
A few easy steps that can help you save— and avoid unpleasant surprises
FIRST STOP: THE BOOKSTORE The handy, pocket-size reference books listed below offer highly condensed information at a minimal price and slip easily into a carry-on bag.
Consumer Reports Best Travel Deals by Ed Perkins with Walter B. Leonard and the editors of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter (Consumer Reports Books)— Listings of ticket brokers and inexpensive shuttles, plus ratings of airline seat comfort.
The Toll-free Traveler compiled by Don W. Martin and Betty Woo Martin (Pine Cone Press)— Sensible tips and an exhaustive directory of toll-free numbers for airlines, cruise lines, hotels, car-rental companies, and tourism offices.
Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures that You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're over 50 by Joan Rattner Heilman (Contemporary Books)— Those who fill the bill will find this trove of packages, discounts, and special tours invaluable.
SECOND STOP: HOTEL BROKERS A good travel agent can uncover fabulous deals on flights, hotels, and car rentals. Another option is a hotel broker. With access to dozens of locations in each market, brokers can help find the lowest possible rates or the perfect match— they can even locate a room when a place is supposedly booked solid. Some charge membership or reservation fees or require prepayment. Here are two that don't:
Quikbook (800/789-9887) can save you as much as 60 percent off published rates for hotels in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
Hotel Reservations Network (800/964-6835) is affiliated with more than 400 hotels in 14 cities.
THIRD STOP: THE INTERNET If you're willing to travel on short notice, a number of airlines, hotel groups, and car-rental agencies post sales on their Web sites. And sign up for Travel & Leisure's Hot Deals newsletter, sent out by E-mail every week. See the Hot Deals page for information.
FOURTH STOP: A TOURISM OFFICE State or city tourism offices can provide the lowdown on hotels and restaurants. Many also offer discount programs, packages, and hotel reservation services. Among the more interesting is CityPass, available in Seattle and San Francisco and soon to be introduced in Boston and New York. The pass (about $28) saves you 50 percent on a number of attractions; in San Francisco, for example, it's accepted at places like the Museum of Modern Art and the zoo.
Stay at a business-oriented city hotel. These often wind up with empty rooms on weekends, making for rich bargain-hunter pickings. While such properties tend to be light on perks such as spas, they're usually close to urban attractions (museums, theaters). Another tip: Never accept a hotel rate at face value. Pricing has become nearly as complicated as it is for airlines, with hotels trying to match projected demand and available capacity. Always ask for the lowest possible rate offered. And even if there is a national reservations line, book directly through the hotel. Operators responsible for the whole country may not be familiar with the full range of discounts at every location.
CHICAGO You might write off the Swissôtel Chicago as a business destination where rooms go for $229 and up. But the all-glass triangular hotel, wedged into the confluence of the river and Lake Michigan, has fabulous wraparound views— from the Navy pier to Grant Park— and weekend packages starting at $139 per night (800/654-7263 or 312/565-0565).
DENVER Since 1892, the Brown Palace Hotel has been part of Denver history— so much so that free 45-minute guided tours of this property on the National Register of Historic Places are offered twice a week. Friday through Sunday nights, rooms begin at $140, versus $205 during the week (800/ 321-2599 or 303/297-3111).
LOS ANGELES The Kimpton Group's reputation for offering stylish, small hotels that won't bust your budget is going strong at the Beverly Prescott Hotel in Beverly Hills. And on weekends, rooms at the hilltop property drop to $165, a $60 savings from midweek (800/421-3212 or 310/277-2800).
NEW YORK During the week, Wall Street business helps keep rates high at the Millenium Hilton, a sleek high-rise on the edge of the Financial District. When the ties loosen, rates are cut by about half, to $169 a night. The bonus here: you're within walking distance of buzzing downtown restaurants and galleries (800/835-2220 or 212/693-2001).
PHILADELPHIA There's a million dollars' worth of art on display, the bar is hung with silk wallpaper, and the mantelpieces are all imported from Italy. But on weekends the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia becomes positively democratic, with rooms reduced to $189 from the midweek rate of $295 (800/241-3333 or 215/563-1600).
SAN FRANCISCO Union Square's Grand Hyatt San Francisco, within walking distance of cable cars, Chinatown, and the theater district, is just $189 on Friday and Saturday nights, $125 on Sundays (800/233-1234 or 415/398-1234).
SEATTLE Quirky Hotel Monaco in downtown Seattle has a lot of personality— among the amenities are pet goldfish. The hotel's $99-per-night "Thank God It's Monday at the Monaco" package actually applies to Sunday and Monday nights. Catch it until April 30, and from November 1 to December 31 (800/945-2240 or 206/621-1770).
WASHINGTON, D.C. The classically styled Hay-Adams Hotel is a grand sight, with ornate columns, walnut wainscoting, and European and Asian antiques. But location, as they say, is everything: the Hay-Adams's spot across the street from the White House sets it apart from the pack. On weekends, the $265 room rate plunges to $139 (800/424-5054 or 202/638-6600).
Hilton Hotels' BounceBack Weekend rates start at $95 a night and apply Thursday through Sundays at more than 240 hotels. Guests receive continental breakfast each morning (800/445-8667).
The Inter-Continental "Leisure Options" program, available weekends in city hotels and all week at resorts, lets guests choose one of the following: an upgrade to junior suite or Club Inter-Continental, an additional guest room for half-price, breakfast for two, or up to 1,000 bonus miles with participating airline partners (800/327-0200).
Marriott's "Can't Beat Friday" rate gives guests an extra 10 to 20 percent off already discounted weekend rates when a Friday night is included in the stay (800/872-9563).
ILLINOIS The Eagle Ridge Inn & Resort in Galena is a place for people who like golf, and lots of it— the 6,800-acre resort has 63 holes. A two-night summer package including three rounds of golf and two clinics a person is $379 weekdays, $429 weekends (800/892-2269 or 815/777-2444).
LAS VEGAS Booking rooms in America's casino capital can be something of a gamble— rates vary wildly depending on season, occupancy, and whether or not a convention's in town. At Caesars Palace, a glitzy classic on the Strip, weekday prices begin at $69, compared to a $129 ante on weekends (800/634-6001 or 702/731-7110).
MAINE Antiques and fine linen help create an air of gentility at the eight-room Pomegranate Inn, in a historic Portland neighborhood. Monday-to-Thursday rates begin at $95, including full breakfast (800/356-0408 or 207/772-1006).
MICHIGAN You won't find any televisions at Stafford's Bay View Inn, a 31-room hideaway on Little Traverse Bay. You will find porch rockers, croquet, and bargains— $79, versus $128 weekends— until May 23 (800/456-1917 or 616/347-2771).
NEW JERSEY Two blocks from the shore in Cape May, the Victorian Mainstay Inn is known for its genteel afternoon tea. From mid-October to mid-May, rooms start at $95 for guests who stay at least two nights midweek— nearly half off the weekend rate (609/884-8690).
SAN FRANCISCO The cinema-themed Hotel Bijou throws in big-screen perks, such as a lobby theater and casting calls for extras in movies being shot around the city. Best: it's cheap year-round and a steal midweek until March. Rooms are $79, versus weekend rates of $89 to $109 (800/771-1022 or 415/771-1200).
SOUTH CAROLINA The Westin Resort Hilton Head Island sprawls across 24 acres of Atlantic waterfront. Through March 8, its Beach & Breakfast package includes a room priced at $130 on weekends, for $89 Sunday through Wednesday (800/228-3000 or 803/681-4000).
VIRGINIA Indulgent service combined with a respect for privacy have given the Inn at Little Washington its fame. The tough part is getting a room. Try midweek, when rates start at $290, as opposed to $390 on Friday, $435 on Saturday (540/675-3800).
WASHINGTON Remember the cliff-top resort above a waterfall in Twin Peaks?That's the Salish Lodge & Spa— but in real life there are no weird goings-on. Salish's $249-a-night Midweek Retreat includes a $75 credit toward the spa and a $75 dining room credit. It's available until June 30 and after October 1 (800/826-6124 or 425/888-2556).
YOSEMITE California's Tenaya Lodge offers Warm Up to Winter rates until April 4: $69 a night Sunday through Thursday. Don't miss spa treatments and hikes through Yosemite. Rates drop again in fall (800/635-5807 or 209/683-6555).
Boston Harvard University Art Museums, including the Arthur M. Sackler, Busch-Reisinger, and Fogg— All free on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon (617/ 495-9400). Museum of Fine Arts— Pay what you wish Wednesday 4 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. (617/267-9300).
Chicago Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum -- Free on Tuesday (312/922-7827). Art Institute of Chicago— Free on Tuesday (312/443-3600). Field Museum— Free on Wednesday (312/922-9410). Museum of Contemporary Art -- Free the first Tuesday of each month (312/280-2660).
Fort Worth Kimbell Art Museum— Permanent collection always free; special exhibitions half price on Tuesday (817/332-8451).
Los Angeles Getty Center— Always free (310/440-7300). Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena— Free the first Thursday of every month (818/405-2141). Los Angeles County Museum of Art— Free the second Tuesday of each month (213/857-6000). Museum of Contemporary Art— Free on Thursday 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. (213/621-2766). Natural History Museum— Free the first Tuesday of each month (213/763-3466).
New York Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum— Free on Tuesday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (212/860-6868). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum— Pay what you wish Friday 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. (212/423-3500). Museum of American Folk Art— Always free (212/977-7170). Museum of Modern Art— Pay what you wish Thursday and Friday 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (212/708-9480). Whitney Museum of American Art— Free on Thursday 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. (212/570-3676).
Philadelphia Arthur Ross Gallery of the University of Pennsylvania— Always free (215/898-2083). Philadelphia Museum of Art — Free on Sunday until 1 p.m. (215/763-8100). University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology— Free on Sunday (215/898-4001).
San Francisco California Academy of Sciences, including the Natural History Museum, the Morrison Planetarium and the Steinhart Aquarium— Free the first Wednesday of each month (415/750-7016). Cartoon Art Museum— Pay what you wish the first Wednesday of each month (415/227-8666). Exploratorium— Free the first Wednesday of each month (415/561-0360). San Francisco Cable Car Museum— Always free (415/474-1887). San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park— Always free (415/556-3002). San Francisco Zoo— Free the first Wednesday of each month (415/753-7083). Wells Fargo History Museum— Always free (415/396-2619).
Seattle Frye Art Museum— Always free (206/622-9250). Seattle Art Museum— Free the first Thursday of each month (206/654-3100).
Washington, D.C. All divisions of the Smithsonian are free, including the National Air & Space Museum and the National Portrait Gallery (202/357-2700).
When to go where: a month-by-month guide to bargains across the country
January RAILWAY Post-holidays, a train trip is just the ticket. Amtrak's 30-day, $450 North America Rail Pass (800/872-7245) allows unlimited stops at more than 900 U.S. and Canadian destinations.
February SALT LAKE CITY Feel the need for speed?Take a ride on the ice rocket, a small bobsled, or try out ski jumping with the Utah Winter Sports Park Pass, $25 if you buy Southwest Airlines' Utah Ski Vacation package (800/423-5683). The price, from $215 per person, includes hotel, lift tickets at a choice of five ski resort areas near Salt Lake City, and airfare from Boise (prices are higher from other cities).
March COLORADO Can't decide whether to hit the slopes or the spa?You might find the answer during Colorado's shoulder season. In Telluride, many of the hotels drop their rates, including the Peaks Resort & Spa (800/789-2220 or 970/728-6800). It costs just $225 a night, double, March 29 through April 12— and the resort kicks in two lift tickets a day.
April HAWAII When winter traffic subsides, there are good deals to be had on the islands. One of the best, United Vacations' $778 Maui Plus package (800/ 328-6877), is available April 1 through December 8 and gives you a hotel room for five nights and a rental car.
May NANTUCKET To celebrate the calm before the summer rush, four inns— Roberts House, Manor House, Meeting House, Periwinkle Guest House— are offering a getaway package starting at $245, double. You get two nights' midweek accommodations and some meals (800/837-2914 or 508/228-0600).
June ALASKA When the weather in America's northernmost state isn't pleasant, it's forbidding, so it's hard to escape peak rates. An economical way to cover a lot of ground is with the $499 AlaskaPass (800/248-7598), which allows eight days of unlimited travel on the Alaska Railroad, the Alaska Marine Highway ferry line, and BC Ferries. (Longer passes are also available.)
July NATIONAL PARKS How to beat midsummer's high prices?Take Trek America's 17-day National Parks of the West van tour (800/221-0596), which wends through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, and Arches national parks. On the agenda: hiking, white-water rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking. The July 11 departure costs $950 a person, with hotels and activities (food is extra).
August ARIZONA Remember: it's a dry heat. The Lodge at Ventana Canyon (800/828-5701), a 49-suite resort in Tucson, offers three nights for just $800, double. Guests also receive points to trade toward trail rides, Sonoran Desert Jeep tours, and helicopter excursions.
September CRUISES Each fall and spring, cruise lines reposition their fleets from one seasonal destination to another. Passengers who go along for the ride can get exceptional deals. In September, when Princess (800/421-1700) moves ships from Alaska to the Caribbean, a three-day Vancouver-- to-- Los Angeles jaunt can be had for as little as $329 a person. (This May, the reverse trip is $325.)
October PUERTO RICO For those willing to chance it, hurricane season in the Caribbean means empty beaches, low rates, and— between storms— splendid, sunny weather. The $150-per-night Four-for-Free package at El Conquistador Resort & Country Club (800/468-5228) includes a room upgrade, a fifth night free, a daily program of activities for children, and meals for kids under 12.
November NORTHERN CALIFORNIA Fall is a cool time of year in redwood country, perfect for tennis. The three-day, $777 Tennis Getaway package at the Carmel Valley Ranch (800/422-7635) buys you a one-bedroom suite, an hour-long tennis clinic, and unlimited court time.
December FLORIDA While parts of the state (Orlando, the Keys) enjoy high season year-round, early December brings the shade of low season to the Gulf Coast. South Seas Plantation Resort & Yacht Harbour on Captiva Island (800/227-8482) offers a three-night package for $570 through December 17. It includes two daily activities (tennis, kayaking, canoeing, fishing) per person.