When snowflakes start flying, nearly everyone dreams about jetting off to the Bahamas or the Caribbean. Thankfully, one of the most affordable and pleasant times to visit is late autumn just before Thanksgiving tables have been set. So if you’re thinking of planning a long weekend getaway this fall but have a limited budget, don’t count out the Caribbean. Here are nine tips to help you hit the beach while saving a bundle.
Time it right
High season in the Caribbean runs from mid-December to mid-April. That’s when resorts and flights are fullest and prices are highest. While an escape to a white sandy beach may be especially tempting in February, you’ll definitely score better deals if you plan on late fall (Columbus or Veterans Day long weekends are ideal). The good news about fall travel? Hurricane season is usually on the wane and off-season rates—as much as half what you’d normally pay—abound at resorts. Even airfare is frequently cheaper. And it’s a good bet you can find a vacation package that marries the two.
Stay close to the coast
Maximize your time and money by choosing destinations that are relatively close to the United States. For instance, always popular and picturesque Nassau, capital of the Bahamas, is just 35 minutes by air from Miami. Freeport, the second largest city in the Bahamas, is only 55 miles from the Florida coast. Every fall, Vacations To Go offers fantastic deals for accommodations like Comfort Suites Paradise Island and Atlantis Paradise Island. This season, rates have been as low as $155 per night for the British Colonial Hilton Nassau. You can also find good values at all-inclusive resorts like Melia Nassau Beach for less than $270 per room per night (double occupancy) during Columbus Day weekend. Deals offered by Vacations To Go change frequently so sign up for their email newsletter for up-to-date alerts.
Follow the crowd
Pick a Caribbean destination that boasts a larger airport to increase your savings—for example, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Aruba—since package plans tend to center on airports that service a greater number of American cities and are accustomed to handling heavy traffic.
As of this writing, JetBlue Getaways sells a variety of packages to all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica. During Columbus Day weekend you can net a 4-day, 3-night deal that includes airfare and hotel, plus all meals, drinks and activities, for less than $500 per person. Resort options include Melia Braco Village, Sunscape Splash Resort, Sunscape Cove and Grand Palladium. Or, spend a little more—between $515 and $550 per person—and upgrade to Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall or Hilton Rose Hall, with their prime beach locations and close proximity to Sangster International Airport at Montego Bay.
Track airfare prices
Use an online service to track fares if you prefer to book your airfare separately from your hotel. That way, when a fantastic deal to the island of your choice pops up, you’ll be notified immediately. Use Google Flights, FareCompare or Airfarewatchdog to set up automated fare alerts.
Consider all-inclusive packages
If you shy away from the idea of a big resort, some of the packages assembled by American Airlines Vacations might cause you to change your mind. Hotel savings up to 65%, air credits and more were recently touted on their site for Beaches Resorts family vacations in Turks & Caicos and Jamaica. The all-inclusive packages feature family-friendly accommodations, every land and water sport under the sun, kids’ camps, dining and lots more.
Work your memberships
Many organizations, including the NEA, offer travel discounts. As an NEA member, you can book a variety of motels, hotels, resorts and guided tours through NEA Travel and get special member-only pricing. Your bank and/or credit card provider may also have a rewards program that awards points that can be redeemed toward travel purchases. A healthy travel discount coupled with redeemable points could have you Bahamas-bound before you know it.
Check for travel deals online
A company like CheapCaribbean.com, which focuses all of its energy on the tropical destination, makes it their business to know where the best deals are. But don’t stop there. Sign up for your preferred hotel and resort email newsletters, which could lead to alerts about online-only specials. Follow your favorite resorts on Twitter and Facebook. And some hotel chains advise that their very best rates are found right on their own websites, so don’t overlook going right to the source. If you’re willing to do a bit of online legwork, you might very well stumble across an outstanding deal.
Go as a group
Big resorts and hotels frequently offer attractive accommodation packages, but if you’re inclined to plan a less-traditional trip and seek more inventive lodging, consider vacationing with family or friends to cut costs. Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway are all reliable sources to find a condo, private home or apartment. A 3-bedroom seafront villa that sleeps 6 on Treasure Cay Beach on Abaco Island in the Bahamas was recently spotted renting for $250 a night. Divide that among 6 people and it’s quite an affordable rate for an island that bills itself as a luxury resort. Factor in a few self-prepared meals, not to mention extra pocket change since you’ll have no housekeepers or bellhops to tip, and you could really maximize your budget.
Plan ahead for winter trips
Still, deals do exist for those who simply must get away midwinter. You just have to plan ahead. For example, United Vacations recently ran a Caribbean promotion that included up to $250 off, extra nights, resort credits, complimentary breakfast and activities and, of course, bonus frequent flyer miles to redeem on free flights in the future. The catch: You had to book before August 4 and stay a minimum of 7 nights. But your reward was a place in the sun during the prime time winter season. American Airlines Vacations, JetBlue Getaways and Southwest Vacations also sell cost-effective travel packages. Sign up for their email newsletters for advance notice of special sales and promotions.