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).