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dollarweb.jpgGetaways – Travel Costs Dropping as Economy Squeezes SpendingBy Vicki Lee Parker

RISMEDIA, January 16, 2009-(MCT)-If you are planning on taking your family on a vacation this year, think big. In fact, think about finally going on that dream vacation that you have long wished for. Chances are you will be able to afford it.
I talked with several travel agents who say they are seeing travel discounts and perks in record amounts. The deals include the high-end packages such as luxury Mexican resorts, European vacations and Alaskan cruises.

“For people who feel secure in their jobs and can afford it, there are some great deals throughout the summer time,” says Stuart Carroll, owner of Carroll Travel in Washington, D.C.

Tom Crosby, a spokesman for AAA Carolinas, says the economy has hurt some popular tourist spots. A number of the bigger resorts are no longer getting the same volume of convention business, so they have extra beds to fill, he says.

Crosby says he is seeing discounts across the board. “You can save 25 percent to 40 percent on cruises, 10 percent to 15 percent on hotels and 10 to 25 percent on package tours,” he says.

Darcy Grimes, manager for travel marketing for AAA Carolinas, says that in 2007 she was booking seven-night Alaska cruises on Holland America Line from $799 per person. Now she’s booking the same cruise for as low as $499.

Similarly, in 2007 a five-night Western Caribbean cruise rate was $599 per person. Grimes found the same cruise last week starting at $249 per person.

In addition to the lower rates, Grimes says that cruise lines are offering additional bonuses to help stimulate sales.

“Most have cut out the fuel supplement charge, and others are offering reduced deposits or onboard credits if consumers book by a certain date.

Grimes is finding similar deals for European trips. Because the dollar has strengthened against the euro, she is seeing up to a 100% savings on hotel stays.

“If the room cost you $200 a night last year, it will probably cost $100 this year,” she says.

Carroll of Carroll Travel says he has booked people at The Royal in Cancun for as little as $800 a week. That’s about a 50% savings, he says.

“Hotel rooms are a perishable thing,” Carroll notes. “Once the night goes, they can never sell it again.”

To fill those rooms, hotels are also offering other specials. Some are waiving the minimum night requirement. Others are offering an extra free night if you stay a certain number of nights.

Some resorts are lowering the down payment and offering air credits and meal credits.

There is one caveat though: Finding a flight to your dream vacation site may be challenging. A number of airlines, in an effort to reduce expenses, have decreased the number of flights they are offering to certain areas. So book early.

Here are some other tips to help secure great vacation deals:

– Use a travel agent. Agents can check several deals at once and it doesn’t cost you anything.
– Check cruise lines two weeks before departure date. Some cruises will offer last-minute deals.
– Ask about travel insurance. This will protect you in case there are changes in your travel plans or your financial circumstances.

Vicki Lee Parker is a freelance personal finance columnist.

© 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.