Book early for vacation deals

Associated Press
The Carnival Fantasy, an 855-foot-long, 2,056-passenger vessel, offers year-round voyages from Charleston, S.C.

Vacation lets you unwind and leave behind the stresses of everyday life. It's important to find summer travel deals so you can get away from it all without draining your budget:


Book now and you can get great deals to several destinations, including Mexico, Jamaica and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, according to Margaret Centers, a senior travel agent at Morris Travel on Wheeler Road.

Travelers usually can find good cruise deals, too. Morris Travel has a deal for a cruise leaving from Charleston, S.C., headed to the Bahamas or Key West, Fla.

Americans are getting more for their dollar these days in Europe, Centers said.

"Our dollar is buying a lot more. Airfare is higher, but that's offset by the fact that you can spend more money once you get there," Centers said.

Finding a good travel deal depends on getting good airfare rates, said Colleen Cook, the owner of Going Places Travel on Furys Ferry Road.

"What people don't understand is the airlines have cut back their flights, so the flights are full. If you can't get a good air deal, then you're not going to get a good deal," Cook said.

It's important not to wait until the last minute for booking flights if your travel plans aren't flexible, Cook said.

"You can get some deals, but you've got to be flexible. If you're not, then you shouldn't wait. You should book early," she said.

It's much easier to find hotel deals, though flexibility is still key. The Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island, Bahamas, for example, is offering free nights and companion fares. There are also deals on cruises as they fill last-minute bookings, but the best cabins might not be available, Cook said.

Travelers should do their homework when searching for deals on the Internet. It's OK to check these sites, but they must be cautious when booking.

It's important to speak to a travel agent if you need help, said Krispin McGee, the travel/motorclub manager at AAA Travel on Walton Way Extension.

"We've had so many people book on the Internet who had no idea what they were booking, who they were booking with or anything about the resort," Cook said.

It's crucial to read the fine print to understand the terms of agreement, McGee said.

Looking for more travel deals?

INTERNET SITES: Find deals on,, and

RENT A COTTAGE: Most state parks in Georgia and South Carolina have cottages for rent.

In Georgia, cottages with one, two or three bedrooms are available at nearly 30 state parks. In most cases, they are located on lakes or hillsides.

They are equipped with everything you need except the groceries, and have heat and air conditioning. Many have televisions, screened porches or decks and wood-burning fireplaces or stoves. Rates range from $85 to $160 per night, depending on location, season and cottage size.

At Mistletoe State Park in Appling, you can rent a cottage for $145 a night. At Black Rock Mountain State Park in Mountain City, Ga., a cottage is $135 per night for a two-bedroom and $145 a night for a three-bedroom.

Dogs are allowed only in certain cottages with advance reservations. Additional fees apply. Most parks require a two-night minimum with advance reservations, though some might accept walk-ins for one night. Many parks require a five-or seven-night minimum from June 1 through Labor Day.

Shorter stays are allowed for reservations made less than 30 days in advance. A three-night minimum is required for Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekends.

See or call (800) 864-7275. To rent a cabin or villa in a South Carolina park, see www.south or call (866) 345-PARK (7275).

AAA DISCOUNTS: AAA members can receive up to 20 percent off hotel rates and Hertz car rentals. They can often get deals on cruises and special dining options for tours. Members also can use their card to save at stores, restaurants and tourist attractions in Atlanta, Savannah and Charleston, S.C.

HOTELS: Atlanta-based consumer advocate Clark Howard said he finds the best hotel deals on and With Priceline, he recommends checking to see the rate listed on Hotwire and then submitting an offer on Priceline that is 20 percent below that price.

Howard said that hotel ratings on these sites can be misleading. For example, a hotel listed on Hotwire is usually a full star level below what it claims to be. On Priceline, it might be a half-star below. It's best to check comments for the hotel on before purchasing, he said.

CRUISE DEALS: Howard said travelers can find cruise deals at certain times of the year. If you want to cruise to Alaska, you'll typically find deals at the beginning or end of summer. In general, when you're leaving from the Southeast and Southwest, you should look for deals after Labor Day, he said. These cruise deals get better through the fall. Howard said he finds bargains in early December before Christmas travel begins.

For experienced cruisers, it's fine to book a cruise directly online. For first-timers, he recommends using a cruise-only agency or a cruise-only agent at a regular agency.