If you're in the market for holiday travel, there are bargains to be had. We're seeing some great deals on packages that bundle air and hotel together. If you're flying to your destination, look at packages.
The best deals are for travel the week of Christmas and returning shortly after Christmas. If you wait to depart until the following week, you will pay a premium, especially if you return on Jan. 2, 3 or 4.
We recently found, for example, a package from Dallas to Orlando for travel Dec. 21-26, with prices starting at $299 per person, for a family of four staying in the same room at a four-star hotel. If you traveled Dec. 28 and returned Jan. 2, you'd pay over $200 more per person for the same package.
In major cities, we're seeing big discounts for Thanksgiving and Christmas travel at four-star hotels. Most of these hotels were designed for the business traveler, who is not traveling for work during the holidays. You can get the best deals in cities such as Chicago, Houston and Dallas that aren't popular with holiday vacationers.
Business travel stops Nov. 23, so you should see deals starting on that date for Thanksgiving travel. Business travelers also take a break from Dec. 18 through Jan. 4. As long as there are no major events, you should find deals at business hotels. Avoid New Year's Eve when hotels are booked for big parties, especially in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
Hotels are offering discounts and other perks, such as kids eat free, free parking or half off a second room. I've been to hotels that were so empty during the holidays that there may have been more employees than guests, so hotels are willing to deal. If you can get free breakfast when staying at a four-star hotel, consider it a good deal. These hotels charge a premium on food, so free meals can save you quite a bit. Every time you get a perk, you're saving money on things you would have been paying for.
Starwood is offering 50 percent off each second night for stays at select properties through Dec. 31. If you stay two nights, you'll get half off the second night; if you stay four nights, you'll get half off the second and fourth nights, etc. We checked rates at the four-star Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago from Dec. 24 to 28, and the discounted rate was $506, vs. $676 without the promotion. Use promotional code ZBT when booking. Contact: 1-866-924-8703; www.starwoodpromos.com/bettertomorrows50.
The four-star Hotel Sorella in Houston is offering a third night free during the holidays, plus free valet parking and two free drinks per night at the hotel bar. We checked rates for a stay Dec. 23-26, and the price was $345, vs. the $523 regular rate. This offer is available for stays Nov. 20-30 and Dec. 18-30. Use promo ID PROHOL. Contact: 1-866-842-0100; www.hotelsorella-citycentre.com.
Even with these deals, if you don't have to travel during the holidays, you can save even more on packages. The slow time is now through Dec. 18, and you could get a great bargain. We recently found a fall package from Dallas to Cancun with five nights at a four-star property for $389 per person, including airfare, hotel and $100 in mandatory government fees. When you subtract the mandatory fee, you are looking at $289 for air and five nights' hotel, which is outstanding. The hotels want to get you in there, then they figure you'll spend money at the hotel or spa services.
Tom Parsons is publisher of BestFares.com: www.bestfares.com