4 Sweet Deals for Last-Minute Summer Travel

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By slashing their schedules over the past couple of years, airlines have managed to swing the supply-and-demand curve in their favor during the peak summer season and raise prices far above last year's dirt-cheap fares. But that doesn't mean you can't swing a last-minute getaway on the cheap � you just have to know where to look (and where to travel). Here are four sweet travel spots at even sweeter prices:

Ireland

We recommended Ireland as the most affordable Western European destination a couple of years ago, when airfares were nearly twice as expensive. Now, the Emerald Isle's economic woes have made it an even more attractive choice for the frugal traveler. And because Ireland is a member of the troubled euro zone, the U.S. dollar will buy you more -- the euro costs $1.29 as of July 30, down from $1.42 a year ago.

Airfares are also inching downward for mid- to late-August travel dates as summer slips into fall. Anne Banas, of SmarterTravel.com , says fares from the U.S. across the pond consistently hit four digits throughout the peak season. But using Kayak.com (one of our 28 favorite travel sites ), we found many flights departing in mid August for less than $1,000; the lowest fare was from Washington, D.C., to Dublin for $645 round trip, including taxes and fees, on Delta Air Lines.

Ireland offers plenty of deals on the ground as well. At Hotels.com, for example, we found a discounted deluxe guest room for two at the five-star Radisson Blu St. Helen's Hotel, located about four miles from Dublin's city center and a 30- to 50-minute drive from the airport. The site' summer sale knocks the regular rate of $137 to $96 a night (book by the end of July for travel by the end of August).

You can also take advantage of the low fares to Dublin to explore the rest of Europe. Tim Leffel , author of The World's Cheapest Destinations , highly recommends this strategy: "Be flexible on where you initially land in Europe, and you can take advantage of all the competitive budget airlines to move between countries quite reasonably," he says.

Ireland's capital is home to deep-discounter Ryanair, which makes Dublin an excellent starting point for cheap flights to other European destinations. For example, flights from DC to Prague top $1,000 aboard a single airline; but you can score a round-trip ticket in August on Ryanair from Dublin to Prague for $212 a person � saving you about $150. Or you can fly round trip to Madrid for $175 a person, to Paris 's Beauvais airport for $115 a person and to London 's Gatwick airport for as little as $31 a person. For more ideas to build your own affordable itinerary, go to WhichBudget.com to see a comprehensive list of the airlines servicing 153 countries.

(But be wary of nuisance fees that can quickly inflate your low fare � they're often more prevalent on discount air carriers. For example, the prices above include Ryanair's online booking fee, but the airline also charges extra for online check-in, checked bags and other "amenities." For details, see Ryanair's table of fees . And for information on avoiding such fees, see Kip Tip: Watch Out for this New Airline Fee .)

Greece

Bad economic news plagues many European destinations, and perhaps nowhere as much as Greece. The cash-strapped country is in desperate need of travel dollars � the tourism industry accounts for about 16% of the economy. Using Kayak.com, we found flights to Athens in late August for about $770 round trip from New York City.

Recent protests might encourage you to steer quickly away from the capital city and board the ferry system to the Greek Islands. Round-trip economy tickets from the port of Piraeus to Mykonos or Santorini , for example, cost less than $90 a person in late August through www.Greekferries.gr .

If you'd prefer to skip Athens altogether, try a cruise to the Greek Isles starting in Italy. Round-trip flights from New York to Rome's Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino airport start at about $1,500. But from Dublin, round-trip flights aboard Aer Lingus start around $400. Departing from nearby Civitavecchia, Italy , you could save up to 76% off seven nights aboard Costa Cruise's Allegra . The roundtrip voyage includes one stop in Messina, Sicily , and three throughout Greece -- in Rhodes , Mykonos , and Katakolon/Olympia . An inside cabin for two passengers in late July costs $1,327, including taxes, fees, meals and round-trip transportation from the airport. The same cruise in late August costs $560 more.

Mexico

You don't need to head overseas to find economically troubled travel destinations on sale. For years, the travel industry in our neighbor to the south has had to defend itself against the latest reports of dangerous drug wars. "But those issues are so isolated," says Leffel. "There's nothing going on in Cancun , Puerto Vallarta , San Miguel de Allende or anywhere that tourists are going to go in Mexico." (In fact, putting his money where his mouth is, Leffel and his family recently began a yearlong stay in Mexico.)

On Expedia.com, we found a five-day package deal for two to San Miguel de Allende in mid August. The bundle includes round-trip tickets from San Francisco, four nights at the three-star Villa Mirasol Hotel (including continental breakfast) and an economy rental car. Total: $1,368.

U.S. Gulf Coast

Here in the States, the Gulf Coast area is suffering from a flood of negative publicity due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster though much of it remains untouched by oil. To tempt tentative travelers, local businesses are cutting deals left and right and promising a tar-free beach stay.

In Florida, for example, the three-star Sanibel Sunset Beach Resort offers a "Clean Beach Guarantee" -- guests are entitled to a full refund if their vacation is disrupted because of the BP oil spill. Through Travelocity, we found a package that bundles a pair of round-trip tickets from Boston with four nights at the resort in mid August for $835 � a saving of $131. For spill updates, plus live webcam footage of beaches and Twitter feeds from the locals, tune in to Visit Florida .

Be prepared

Keep on top of the news in your destination, especially any disturbances that could endanger you or your travels. If you're traveling abroad, Leffel suggests, go online to find local English-language newspapers. And check out message boards on major travel sites, such as Frommers.com , Fodors.com and LonelyPlanet.com , where recent visitors, local residents and expatriates comment on your destination of choice.

And to protect your vacation investment, consider purchasing a travel-insurance policy; visit InsureMyTrip.com or TravelGuard.com for comprehensive coverage options. And read our Traveler's Survival Guide and What To Do If You're Stranded When Traveling for more tips on safeguarding your trips.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.



This article appears in: Personal Finance , Insurance

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