10 TO WATCH
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2012
Your annual guide to the year's biggest savings—from deeply discounted tours to favorable exchange rates to the cheapest five-star hotel rooms around (as low as $112!)—in some of the world's most appealing vacation spots.
Many sites put together their "best" travel lists for the coming year, but few do so with such a keen eye toward savings as we do. Here at Budget Travel, it's about more than just buzz (although that helps, too). Our editors comb through piles of data, news, currency charts, and industry trends to find our nominees for the world's new best-value destinations—then passionately debate which of the candidates will make the final list. As always, this year's winners have far more going for them than mere markdowns: Some are perennial, family-friendly favorites (San Diego, San Antonio); some are bucket-list standbys made suddenly affordable (Egypt, Athens); and some are overlooked underdogs ready for their turn in the global spotlight. What do they all have in common? The best time to see them is right now.
Why in 2012: This chain of nine volcanic islands lies 930 miles off the coast of Lisbon, but the distance hasn't spared Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, from the mainland's economic troubles—which means big bargains for American travelers. Hotel rates across Portugal have slid since 2010, with five-star hotel rooms averaging a mere $112 per night, and the Azores, which are dotted with baroque churches, black-sand beaches, and crater lakes, are no exception. To lure visitors, Boston-based charter airline Azores Express is offering deeply discounted hotel-and-air packages through fall 2012 (508/677-0555, from $719). And while island-hopping had traditionally required a long ferry ride or a chartered fishing boat, last November, state-owned SATA Airlines shortened the trip when it increased inter-island flights (sata.pt).
Best Time to Visit: Azores weather is mild year-round, but outdoor enthusiasts will dig October, when temperatures typically hit 70 degrees and daylight lasts 11 hours. Since the month also marks the start of Azores's low season, which runs through May, hotels deals are easy to find then.
Where to Stay: The coastal Bahia Palace Hotel on the island of São Miguel is steps from Baia de Água d'Alto beach and has a freshwater swimming pool and 101 rooms, all with ocean-view balconies (hotelbahiapalace.com, from $104).
Price Check: In September, Azores-based SATA Airlines has nonstop tickets from Boston starting at $688 round-trip.
Why in 2012: Although (as of press time) the travel warning put in place by the United States after the Arab Spring has been downgraded to an alert for sporadic unrest, Egypt—where tourism accounts for 11 percent of the economy—is hurting for visitors, even at the nation's most famous destinations. Traveler numbers have plummeted by more than a third since 2010, and travel operators and hoteliers are cutting serious deals to encourage a turnaround. TUI, Europe's largest tour company, slashed $600 off the price of a recent Egyptian excursion, and average daily hotel rates have fallen 25 percent countrywide, dipping to about $107. There are deals at both the Great Pyramids of Giza, where room rates have slid 45 percent since 2010, and in the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El Sheikh, where prices slumped 26 percent to $104.
Best Time to Visit: Summer delivers 90-plus-degree temperatures and winter brings tourist throngs, but the shoulder seasons (March to May; September to November) promise fewer, and less-sweaty, crowds.
Where to Stay: The five-star Savoy Sharm El Sheikh, at the foothills of the Sinai Mountains and steps away from Sharm El Sheikh's powdery, pristine White Knight Beach, is an accessible oasis. savoy-sharm.com, from $143.
Price Check: Stopovers are a must when traveling to Egypt, as direct flights are pricey year-round (we're talking $1,000 plus). Dutch carrier KLM offers decent one-stop fares in March: Trips from New York to Cairo start at $815; tickets from Chicago go for $786; and prices from Los Angeles hover around $996 with two stops.