smart spending

Want a vacation? Deals are everywhere

Orza jumped on the deal and ended up booking a 14-day cruise for himself, his wife and his daughter for about the same price as his original cruise for two.

"You kind of get the feeling looking around that this is the great year of travel in general," says Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet, a best-selling publisher of travel guides. "There are so many deals that I probably don't know about. It's hard to keep up with them all. I've seen luxury safaris to Africa, 2 for 1; $600 flights to Australia; and all the deals that Mexico is doing right now."

Keep an eye on currency. Currency conversion rates have always had a big effect on how much bang U.S. travelers can get for their U.S. bucks. And the relative strength of the U.S. dollar abroad is sweetening the deal for international travelers, says Reid.

"If you go across Europe, the dollar's a lot stronger -- sometimes up to 30 percent stronger than it was a year ago -- and so if you look at it from one point of view, you can stay a third or a fourth longer for the same amount of money," says Reid.

Greenberg agrees: "The euro's down against the dollar, the pound is down against the dollar, and then you have outright bargains like Argentina, Mexico, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand. Even the Canadian dollar is down against the U.S. dollar, something that was not the case just a year ago."

Consider a country's currency when you're planning your vacation, and you could ride the stronger dollar all the way to a significant savings.

Go where the deals are. The dismal tourism environment is hitting some areas of the world particularly hard, forcing hotels and airlines to slash prices more deeply. Consequently, those who focus too much on their own set of travel dates and destination may lose out on getting the deal of a lifetime. 

"There are destinations that overall are seeing deeper price cuts than others," says Gaines. "This is the year to let the deal lead the way. Go where you can find the best deal possible if you're really focused on saving money."

Reid says the way to take advantage of this phenomenon is to go into your travel plans with a list of acceptable places and dates and see who can offer you the best deal.

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"If you're going to pay the normal prices to one place and another place is 40 percent off based on airfare or the hotel you get, maybe you juggle a little bit before you make a decision where you go," says Reid. "I would be open to a few options and kind of gauge what's the best deal right now."

Leverage the Web. Travel sites like Travelocity and Orbitz allow you to search flights and hotels from a long list of providers, but they aren't the only way to save on the Web. Social networking sites are getting into the act, too, says Reid.

Every week, Twitter hosts "Travel Tuesdays," where professionals and amateur enthusiasts from the travel industry get together online to talk about the best deals going. "Listening" in on these discussions is a great way not only to save money but also to get an idea of the state of the industry and whether even better deals will be coming down the pike, says Reid.

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