Saturday, May 22, 2010

Airlines Fill Seats with Summer, Holiday Travelers

USA Today

Holiday travel is making a comeback, for both airline and cruise passengers, seeking discounted flights and cheap Mexico cruises.

The downside for Memorial Day weekend fliers, though: higher fares and packed flights.

"People seem to feel more confident about travel and the economy in general," says Genevieve Brown, senior editor of travel website Travelocity.

Airfares booked on Travelocity for travel from May 27 to May 31 average $332 round trip (including taxes and fees) this year, up 16% from Memorial Day weekend of 2009. International fares are 21% higher this year, averaging $742 round trip. Bing Travel, another airfare search engine, reported a similar rate of increase for domestic fares, at 18%.

Few expect travel volume to return to the pre-recession levels of mid-2008. But pent-up customer demand is driving fares up following a grim 2009, in which belt-tightening occurred across all travel segments, including corporate and vacation travel.

"Last year, they (bypassed) all trips. Demand was abysmal. This year, they're going to travel come hell or high water. There's no 'staycation' this year," says Rick Seaney, CEO of, which is also seeing a jump in Memorial Day fares.

A Travelocity poll of more than 2,000 travelers says about half of respondents plan to travel more this year, while only 7% plan to travel less.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, leisure travel is expected to rise 2%; business travel, 2.5%; and international travel into the U.S., 3% this year. "Projected growth in leisure travel is an indicator of rising consumer confidence and disposable income," says Suzanne Cook, senior vice president of research for the Travel Association.

Airlines deeply cut capacity in recent years, and will not restore seats quickly enough to match the anticipated rise in demand for the summer season that's ushered in by Memorial Day. The number of seats scheduled to fly domestically in late May is generally flat from the year-ago period, according to a USA TODAY analysis of OAG (Official Airline Guide) airline schedules data.

"Flights are going to be completely full this summer. I haven't seen airlines smile about any seasons recently. But they're smiling about summer," Seaney says. "Almost any cheap seats are sold out."

Travelers should also be mindful of peak holiday travel surcharges, Seaney says. Those boarding Memorial Day weekend flights are assessed a $30 fee each way, compared with $10 each way on most other summer days. "You're going to pay $40 more for a (round-trip) flight."

A silver lining? Hotels are still cheaper than last year. For domestic hotels, room rates are 4% lower for Memorial Day weekend than a year ago, Travelocity's Brown says.

And some beach destinations are still struggling and bucking the trend of higher airfares and cruise fares. They include Jamaica (fares down 5% from Memorial Day weekend 2009), the Dominican Republic (down 3%) Maui (down 5%), and discounted Alaska cruises.

Nine of the top 10 beach destinations are also showing declines in hotel room rates for the holiday weekend, Brown says.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cruise Lines Lure with Frills and Luxury

Taft Midway Driller

Planning a cruise? The days of $25-a-night cruises are long gone, but savvy shoppers can still find bargain prices, luxury travel or eye opening, on-the-water experiences.

What do seniors want in a cruise?

“That depends on the senior,” said Melissa Paloti, managing editor of, an online news and reviews website.

“Enrichment programs are especially sought-after by seniors,” Paloti said. “Seniors want to be stimulated — food for the mind as well as the body.”

That may include salsa lessons when visiting Argentina or local history lessons on a cruise down the Danube.

Additionally, seniors want to have fun. They want to be pampered a bit and may have accessibility or dietary considerations. They want a comfortable experience of visiting multiple locations without the hassle of having to unpack at different hotels, said Ken Budd, executive editor of AARP Magazine.

“They like the convenience of being taken care of, the idea of a floating hotel,” he said.

But safety is also a concern. A recent AARP study showed that 90 percent of baby boomers are concerned about travel safety.

“Cruises offer a secure, self-contained environment,” Budd said. “You can visit exotic locales and then come back to the safety of the ship.”

In terms of dining, cruising now offers the best of both worlds. Freestyle dining, the ability to dine whenever the mood strikes you, is common, with almost all cruise lines offering it.

Traditional dining — sitting with the same folks each seating — is also an option.

If you’re thinking about taking a cruise, Paloti and Budd offer some ideas for how to make your experience a memorable one.

Let's make a deal

Is it possible to save money on a cruise? The answer is yes. Here are some tips:

Choose fall or off-peak Cruise ships dot the Caribbean in the peak winter, spring break and summer seasons. Deals are better in fall, which is hurricane season, but that shouldn’t necessarily scare you off. Cruises are rarely canceled, though you may have to change ports of call.

Peak season in Alaska is May to September, so deals will be found at the beginning or end of those months. The Mediterranean is a year-round destination, with winter sailings on a handful of cruise lines -- though summer is prime time. Baltic season is generally May through September, and summer is prime time for the British Isles and Western Europe.

School’s out Avoid dates where families with children may be traveling. Better times are immediately after Labor Day or the week after Thanksgiving.

Plan ahead If you do aim to travel during peak season or have your heart set on a specific cabin, book your cruise nine months to a year in advance.

Be spontaneous Last-minute deals are always a possibility, especially if you are flexible about when or where you cruise.

Back-to-back weeks If you have the time stringing together two weeks on the same ship adds up to savings and will be cheaper than adding individual trips together.

Do your homework Research Internet sites. If you haven’t cruised before, consider using a travel agent who can match a traveler to an ideal ship, negotiate deals or offer group space at a lower price. Also be sure to check for special travel discounts.

A few deal examples

Here are a few cruise deals Paloti found, but take note that prices change, sometimes drastically, very quickly. This is only a guide to what was available at press time.

Holland America Cruises

Holland America in Europe

- The brand-new, soon-to-launch Nieuw Amsterdam offers a 10-night roundtrip from Venice to Eastern European sites such as Croatia departing July 4; it starts at $1,799 per person for an inside cabin.

- A 12-night east and west Mediterranean cruise trip departing Aug. 31 from Barcelona to Venice starts at $1,999.

- A 10-night Barcelona to Rome, western Mediterranean and North Africa trip departing Aug. 2 starts at $1,499 on the ship Noordam.

Holland America in Alaska

Seven-night July 2010 sailings range from $799 to $949; seven-night September sailings range from $599 to $749. May and September are cheaper and can be booked closer to the date of sail. For Alaska airfare savings, book a roundtrip Seattle cruise.

Holland America in the Mediterranean

Even fall is pricy for these cruises. Aim for less than $200 a night for an inside cabin. Remember, summer can be an extremely hot time of year for seniors.

Princess Cruises

- A seven-night Alaska cruise ranges from $799 to $899 in July; in September it can be as low as $599.

- In Europe, a 10-night cruise of the Baltic, departing Aug. 20, costs $1,790 on the Star Princess.

Carnival Cruises

- A seven-night trip on the Carnival Liberty through the western Mediterranean departing Aug. 28 costs $489.

Cruise lines seniors love

Discount Holland America Cruises

The award-winning Holland America attracts a senior crowd looking for luxury and wanting their money’s worth.

A traditional line, Holland America is known for pioneering new dining concepts, such as the reservations-only Pinnacle Grill and open walk-in seating.

Since Holland America skews toward a senior set, it offers such extras as fold-down seats in elevators and wheelchair accessible staterooms.

Crystal Cruises

Bigger is better with Crystal Cruises, a line that has become synonymous with larger vessels. Big-ship options paired with exemplarily service are what attract repeat customers to Crystal.

Celebrity Cruises

Once known as a cruise line with premium, smaller ships, Celebrity is branching out with larger ships and has undergone an aggressive rebuilding and remodeling in recent years. The move adds upgraded services and amenities, plus enhancements such as a glass-blowing show and a Lawn Club on the highest deck with real grass. Celebrity is famous for its personal service — from greeting customers by name to bringing travelers their favorite dessert without being asked.

On a budget?

If you’re looking for a deal, Carnival and Cheap Royal Caribbean Cruises can be good for seniors on a budget, and both lines offer senior discounts. If you’re not in the mood for families with children, cruise off-season.