Two Ways to Save on a Vacation This Winter

By Danielle Contray
January 11, 2013
Palm trees on the beach in St. Croix
Courtesy <a href="" target="_blank">Margate/myBudgetTravel</a>

There are two types of vacation strategies in the winter: get as far away from the cold as possible, or embrace it. And which of these travel deals appeals to you depends on your preference.

For beach weather
Winter is high season in the Caribbean, but that doesn't mean there aren't deals to be had. A new promotion through the USVI tourism board gets you a $300 credit on airfare per couple when you book a six-night package to St. Croix, and that sixth night is free. There are a dozen resorts participating in the program, including The Buccaneer and The Palms at Pelican Cove. Hurry, though, you need to book by January 31 and for travel between January 27 and March 24.

For an island that's a bit chillier
Even though winter in England is decidedly less sunny than the Caribbean, that's no reason to stay away. And if you book an airfare and hotel package through British Airways, you'll get two hotel nights free thanks to a deal through BA and Visit Britain. The deal is valid on trips to London, Manchester, and Newcastle, England and in Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland, with 13 hotels to choose from. Book now until March 31 for trips through the end of March.

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Travel Tips

Beware This Sentence When Booking Online

How often do you read the fine print before you make travel arrangements? You might think you've seen it all, but those diminutive stipulations aren't evergreen—hotels, airlines, even tour companies are continuously updating their list of exceptions. Miss something pertinent to your trip, and you could find yourself spending far more money than you ever intended. Here's one that recently tripped up a friend of mine—a single sentence, embedded deep in a sea of small letters, that read: "hotel may not be able to accommodate more than two people in a room." For couples traveling together this poses no problem whatsoever, but as soon as you start booking vacations for three or more people it can be a challenge. It's especially confusing when you're booking into a hotel that has two double beds to a room. My friend learned this the hard way when reserving a room in a classy hotel in the Dominican Republic.  Failing to read the fine print and assuming that the photos of rooms with two beds assured enough space for her and her two traveling companions, she jumped on the great rate the site presented and booked the room. Fortunately, she was smart enough to call the hotel to confirm their reservation before she set off on her vacation (something I always recommend when you book through a third party). At that time, she learned that it would cost them the full price of the five-star hotel room if they wanted to have a third person stay with them. Yikes. Thanks to the fact that she called in advance, she was able to speak to someone at the hotel who eventually agreed to eliminate the exorbitant fee and let her friends stay in her room for the flat rate she booked through the online travel agent. Crisis averted. She got off easy, but not everyone will be quite so lucky. The lesson? Read the fine print. And always call ahead to confirm your reservation details. Have you ever been misled by the fine print when traveling? Share your story below so that others can avoid the same fate.

Travel Tips

The TSA's Helpful Holiday Hints

The Transportation Security Administration expects more than 15 million people to travel over the holiday season. To take some of the pain out of the inevitable crowds, lines, and security hassles, the agency issued a set of Helpful Holiday Hints as well as some news about changes in its procedures that should help streamline your trip. While some of the TSA's hints may not rock the world of seasoned travelers (yeah, you already "give yourself enough time to arrive at the airport early," right?), some will be surprisingly helpful. Here, some of the top hints and some welcome changes: Visit or download the MyTSA app to make sure you understand what items are prohibited from carry-ons and checked luggage. You can also call 855/787-2227 for the TSA Cares Hotline. Pack all liquids, gels, and aerosols in a one-quart resealable bag, and pack it in the front pocket of your carry-on. Tape your name and contact info on any large electronic items, such as laptops and tablets, and pack them in the top layer of carry-ons for easy access. If you're traveling with kids, ask if there is a Family/Medical Liquids Lane that can offer you special assistance. Screening procedures for passengers 75 and older and for kids 12 and under have changed, reducing pat-downs and allowing some passengers to leave their shoes on through security. Snow globe lovers, rejoice! Snow globes that are smaller than a tennis ball are permitted as long as the entire globe and base will fit in the same one-quart resealable bag as your other liquids. Talk to us! We'd love to hear your best—and worst—holiday airport stories.

Travel Tips

How Clean is Your Hotel Bed?

We've all heard horror stories from hotel maids about the things that get cleaned and the things that are often skipped after guests check out. Namely that the bedspreads and duvet covers that look spick and span may not be washed on a regular basis, mostly due to the cost of washing such heavy material every time a guest checks-out. But some hotels are taking measures to assure guests that they're sleeping on clean sheets with fresh duvet covers, bedspreads, and blankets. Earlier this year, reported that Best Western hotels around the world would start "I Care Clean," a new aggressive process involving the use of ultraviolet sterilization wands to clean commonly touched areas like light switches, telephones, and bathroom sinks. Items like remotes, pillows, towels, and blankets would also be wrapped so hotel guests would know they were fresh. The housekeeping staff at the 1,900 Hampton Inn hotels are going one step further to ease your stress—post-it notes will be left on headboards saying, "Duvet covers and sheets are clean for your arrival," to ensure guests that their linens are all fresh. The cleaning process isn't new, though. Staff at the hotel chain has been washing duvet covers and linens after every stay since 2006, but since so many people assume bed covers are dirty, the extra step reassures even the biggest germaphobes. I've long questioned the cleanliness of hotel bedspreads. Every time we arrived in a hotel room on family vacations, my mother would insist we take off the bedspreads and toss them in the corner or stash them in the closet. She always talked about seeing blacklight hotel inspection specials on the news and reminded us that they were rarely washed. While it's become a habit for me now, it's still nice to know I can be a little less neurotic at Hampton Inns and Best Westerns. What do you think about this? Does this ease your mind about the cleanliness of your hotel room? 

Travel Tips

Southwest Adds a Surprising New Fee to the Mix

Starting in 2013, Southwest Airlines has plans to start charging a fee for travelers who don't show up for their flight without canceling ahead of time. According to a report by Skift, this new fee is expected to contribute to $100 million in new fee revenue for the airline (their other fee revenue will come from early boarding, which will cost $12.50 in 2013, and the price of overweight bags, which will rise from $50 to $100 in the new year). I heard that and my first reaction was—great, just what travelers need, another fee to worry about. Upon second thought, however, the fee makes sense. If you're not going to be able to make a flight, the airline should be able to re-sell that ticket—something they can't do if you don't notify them in advance. The CEO Gary Kelly said as much during a press conference when he introduced the fee. The only time I can see it being especially painful to travelers is if you miss your flight by accident—say—you get stuck in traffic or held up at airport security. In that case, I hope the company will be willing to accept a last-minute phone call explaining the situation—because I can't imagine anything worse than missing your flightandbeing hit by a fee. How Southwest handles that type of situation remains to be seen, as does the exact amount of the fee. The company has also not yet indicated when it plans to institute the fee. In the meantime, it's worth nothing that bags still fly free on Southwest and the company doesn't charge a fee if you need to change your ticket, two things that I can't say about most domestic airlines these days. Better yet, they've said that they will get rid of AirTran's bag fees once they have fully integrated the company into their structure (they acquired the airline last year and will start cross-selling flights with them next year). Right now AirTran charges $25 for the first checked bag and $50 for the second one. So, all in all, while a new fee is never a welcome development, this one is lot easier to swallow than some of the others we've seen airlines institute in recent years. What do you think about the new fee?