2009 the year of the bargain

We’ve all seen the flurries of deals, either here on Gadling or in our inboxes. There’s no avoiding the fact that airlines and hotels are desperate to get you into seats and rooms this year, and they are ready to make it worth your while. Mid-town Manhattan hotels were offering deals for New Year’s Eve! That shows just how hard up the travel industry is. When you plan your trips this year, be prepared to benefit from the competition for access to your wallet. Understand, however, that deals come in different forms.

The first opportunity is obvious. Look for deep price cuts in an attempt to fill seats or rooms. Last week, for example, several domestic airlines offered fare sales within a few hours of each other, and the others rushed to get in line. JetBlue and AirTrain have one-way tickets to major cities selling at well under $100. Virgin America promoted a $139 transcontinental flight … which can actually be found for $109 on some days. Not to be outdone, the internationals are following. British Airways is now offering business class seats for as little as $2,000, and Open Skies can get you from New York to Amsterdam in premium economy for half that (round trip).

With the hotels, it gets a bit more complicated. Some of the best promotions won’t have big price drops, but they’ll deliver a hell of a lot more value.One of my sources tells me that the super-premium, absurdly luxurious hotels seem to be doing fine. If you don’t have a liquid net worth of above $50 million, this simply does not matter to you. So, don’t even think of living like last year’s hedge fund managers for pennies a night. It isn’t going to happen. Be realistic.

At the other end of the spectrum, bargain hotels are slashing rates and taking advantage of a larger audience, since people who would have spent more in the past are looking down market these days.

In the middle, keep an eye on the merely upscale. They are in a tough spot on room rates. These hotels are generally unwilling to cut their prices significantly, as it would impair their reputations and make it hard to push pricing back up later. But, they realize the conditions in which they have to operate. You can use this to stretch the value of your budget. Look for free nights, perks at the on-site spa (or slopes) or packages that include meals. There are deals to be found, and they can be substantial. You just have to accept that they won’t begin with a huge price cut.

Sometimes, the best deals aren’t the lowest-priced. If you can be flexible with the size of your budget, you may find yourself able to get a lot more for your money than if you spend less. When you think about the total cost of your trip (instead of looking at the room, flight, meals and activities separately), the inclusion of meals and spa treatments, for example, can actually lead to a total savings. Keep an open mind, and you’ll see that some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities could open up for you in this market.

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