Turn that frown upside down: 10 sizzling summer airfare bargains

David Landsel, June 09, 2008
Fares from Washington DC:

                If you're ready to never fly again, well, you're not alone. There's fuel prices -- through the roof. There's the economic slowdown -- can we really afford to go anywhere this year? And also, just for fun -- another round of demoralizing cutbacks and new, crazy fees! OMG, will we ever fly again? 



                Please.
                Okay, true -- many routes are punishingly expensive this summer, suffering from a triple-whammy of higher costs, service cutbacks and higher traffic. But that doesn't mean that you have to resort to one of those "staycations" (shiver) that our respective hometowns are busily marketing. (Oh look, honey! I commute past this every day! Take a picture!)
                In the interest of public service, we hit the mute button on the seemingly never-ending string of experts preaching doom and gloom, just long enough to be able to focus on the task at hand: searching for bargains.
                Here, 10 awesome summer airfares. Get 'em while they exist. And speaking of existing, they were accurate as of Friday, June 6, but could be history by the time you read this. But in general, either because they’re served by more than one low cost airline (Airtran, Southwest, Allegiant--you know the ones), or because it’s off season for some of them, these destinations are, in general, bargains compared to others you might be considering.

                1) COSTA RICA

                Why pay $700 for another weekend flight to Las Vegas when you could be relaxing in this affordable paradise that's got plenty of summertime appeal (mountains! exotic flora/fauna! yoga! surfing! eco-lodges!).
                The deal: American is selling fares to San Jose (CR, that is) for as little as $69 OW from Fort Lauderdale, good for travel through Oct. 30. Book by 6/9. After that, the fare goes up, though we're seeing lots in the $300 RT range for later this summer; not bad a'tall (aa.com).


                2) MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST
                Best known as where New Orleans residents went to breathe free during the hot, disease-ridden, pre-air-conditioning summers, this quirky region was famously ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, but is in overdrive rebuilding. An easy drive out of the French Quarter itself, you'll find charming villages such as artsy-craftsy Ocean Springs, a sring of sandy beaches and one of the country's best casino resorts, the Beau Rivage (an early-Steve Wynn special).
                The deal: $109 OW sale on US Airways from New York (LGA), Las Vegas, Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC -- midweek and Saturday travel, through Nov. 12 (usairways.com).


                3) PHOENIX
                The Valley of the Sun in summertime should change its name to the Valley of Too Much Sun. (It might also consider changing its name permanently to Valley of Too Much Traffic, but that's not for here.) Whatever -- savvy travelers know that this is the time of year for killer deals at the region's top luxury hotels and spas. To illustrate: $149 midweek at the Four Seasons Resort in Scottsdale, through Sept. 6. (Yes, please!) 
                The deal: The cost a non-stop to Phoenix tends to plummet during the summer months, and while it's not looking quite so wide open this year thanks to high fuel costs, August fares on United from Los Angeles are running about $149 RT right now (united.com). Also in August, American is showing up at $237 RT from Chicago-O'Hare (aa.com).   Plus, once you get here, even luxury hotels are dirt cheap.

                4) BUFFALO/NIAGARA
                What's the new definition of a must-see? When you can fly there for less than it would cost to drive. Luckily, Buffalo's no bore -- particularly not in the busy summer months. A few of our favorite things: the annual garden tours, the region's striking architectural heritage (see: Frank Lloyd Wright; a rich Arts & Crafts legacy in East Aurora), not to mention the twin summer cultural extravaganzas on either side of the Niagara River -- Lewiston's Artpark and Niagara-on-the-Lake's Shaw Festival. Did we mention the amazing summer wines?  ?            The deal: Fares of $79 each way from New York-JFK on JetBlue, based on advance purchase (jetblue.com). Similar fares from Boston and connecting fares from other cities.


                5) DENVER
                It's mid-July. Time to swap the sweaty lowlands for the crisp air and blue skies of the Rocky Mountains, and happily, it's not too difficult to find a deal to the region's primary gateway, even if when you land, you feel like you have been diverted to Kansas (that's because the Denver Airport is so far east, some would say it is almost Kansas.)   ?Hop in a car, however, and you can be in Boulder or Estes Park in short order. Estes Park is certainly not going to be confused with the Midwest any time soon.
                The deal: Fly RT from Chicago-O'Hare on United for as little as $215 for July, mid-week travel (united.com). In August, American can do a lot better than that -- $151 RT, also mid-week, based on availability. Of course, at that price, don't count on a whole lot of availability (aa.com).  Thanks to Southwest Airlines’ expansion at Denver International, we expect this destination to remain a bargain. Also, several airlines have had rather amazing deals.


                6) ORLANDO
                Don't let rising prices take the Mickey out of your summer -- it's relatively easy to find a good fare to this massively popular destination. It's summer, so make sure to slot in plenty of time under the trees -- say, at Disney's leafy Animal Kingdom -- or in one of the many water parks, the newest of which is Sea World's showy Aquatica.
                The deal: $64 OW on Southwest from Philadelphia, restrictions apply but the fare hangs around, based on availability, through Oct. 30 (southwest.com) 


                7) AUSTIN

                The most progressive little city in Texas is a must-stop for music and beer, but if you're lucky enough to get down here, don't limit yourself to the city alone, which is at the heart of a region filled with fascinating -- and tasty diversions. Top spas, great barbecue and award-winning wines from one of the many Hill Country vineyards make this the perfect weekend for any connoisseur of the finer things.
                The deal: Southwest starts at $79 OW from Los Angeles, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Oakland and Philadelphia, restrictions apply, based on availability, through Oct. 30 (southwest.com).


                8) SEATTLE

                t's a secret, but it's a fact: Seattle does have sun. Sometimes. Visitors might almost feel gypped — it's possible to come here on a short visit and not experience any rain at all. That's all the better for getting out there and exploring the city's dynamic neighborhoods or renting a kayak and paddling around Lake Union to pick out the houseboat in which you'd like to live some day.
                The deal: New service on Virgin America means introductory fares -- just $99 OW from San Francisco and $154 OW from Los Angeles, based on availability (virginamerica.com).  

        
                9) PORTLAND, ME
                Ever been to this charming city by the bay? (Casco, that is.) Explore the historic downtown with its impossibly charming side streets, browse the shops, try its excellent restaurants, but for heaven's sake, leave plenty of time for exploring the natural surroundings -- it's summer, it's Maine, why not? Hop on board a Casco Bay ferry for the daily mail run -- the round-trip cost for the three hour tour, which visits various bay islands, is just $13.
               The deal: JetBlue has OW fares of $79 from Richmond, Virginia -- a savings of over $20 off their Richmond-Boston fare. There's a 7-day advance purchase clause and travel must be completed by July 30 (jetblue.com).


    ?            10) WISCONSIN
                Ah, the Northwoods -- we can smell the pines from down here. Or maybe you don't like the woods -- what about nearby Lake Superior, with its rugged/awesome coastline? No? Okay, takes all types. Luckily, you've got all sorts of options if you fly into Central Wisconsin Airport in Wausau, which is handily placed for just about anything America's Dairyland-related -- including the killer water park rides in the famous Wisconsin Dells region, just an hour or so drive from the airport.  
                The deal: New service on American to Wausau's Central Wisconsin Airport features a host of introductory fares -- the folks in Tampa can fly up north for as little as $186 RT. Purchase by June 24, travel by Aug. 1 (aa.com). And for whatever reason, Midwest Airlines seems to be in pretty good shape so far, and has launched a number of sales (which others have matched) into and out of Wisconsin lately.

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