Image: Tortuga Island, Costa Rica
Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT)
One of this summer's top airfare bargains is on American Airlines to San Jose, Costa Rica. Seen here is Tortuga Island, in Costa Rica's Puntarenas region.
By
Aviation.com
updated 6/10/2008 2:06:55 PM ET 2008-06-10T18:06:55

If you're ready never to fly again, well, you're not alone. First, there are fuel prices — through the roof. There's the economic slowdown — can we really afford to go anywhere this year? And also, just for fun — another round of demoralizing cutbacks and new, crazy fees!

It's true, many routes are punishingly expensive this summer, suffering from a triple-whammy of higher costs, service cutbacks and higher traffic. But that doesn't mean that you have to resort to one of those "staycations" (shiver) that our respective hometowns are busily marketing. (Oh look, honey! I commute past this every day! Take a picture!)

In the interest of public service, we hit the mute button on the seemingly never-ending string of experts preaching doom and gloom, just long enough to be able to focus on the task at hand: searching for bargains.

Below are 10 awesome summer airfares culled by Airfarewatchdog.com's team of fare analysts. You also can scan a list of hand-picked low fares from your city on Airfarewatchdog.com.

So get 'em while they exist. (And speaking of existing, they were accurate as of Friday, June 6, so act fast). However, in general, either because these destinations are served by more than one low cost airline (AirTran, Southwest, Allegiant — you know the ones), or because it’s off-season for some of them, flights to these places are, in general, bargains compared to other destinations you might be considering.

1. Costa Rica
Why pay $700 for another weekend flight to Las Vegas when you could be relaxing in this affordable paradise that's got plenty of summertime appeal. Mountains, exotic flora and fauna, sunshine, rainforests, volcanoes, yoga, surfing, fabulous beaches, and eco-lodges are just some of Costa Rica's many attractions.

The deal: American is selling fares to Costa Rica's capital San Jose for as little as $69 one-way from Fort Lauderdale, good for travel through Oct. 30. After June 9, the fare goes up, though we're seeing lots in the $300 round-trip range for later this summer; not bad at all.

2. Mississippi Gulf Coast
Best known as the area where New Orleans residents went to breathe free during the hot, disease-ridden, pre-air-conditioning summers, this quirky region was famously ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, but is in overdrive rebuilding. An easy drive out of the French Quarter itself, you'll find charming villages such as artsy-craftsy Ocean Springs, a ring of sandy beaches and one of the country's best casino resorts, the Beau Rivage (an early-Steve Wynn special).

The deal: $109 one-way sale on US Airways from New York LaGuardia, Las Vegas, Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., for midweek and Saturday travel, through Nov. 12.

3. Phoenix
The Valley of the Sun in summertime should change its name to the Valley of Too Much Sun. (It might also consider changing its name permanently to Valley of Too Much Traffic, but that's not for here.) Whatever — savvy travelers know that this is the time of year for killer deals at the region's top luxury hotels and spas. To illustrate: $149 midweek at the Four Seasons Resort in Scottsdale, through Sept. 6. (Yes, please!)

The deal: The cost of a non-stop to Phoenix tends to plummet during the summer months, and while it's not looking quite so wide open this year thanks to high fuel costs, August fares on United from Los Angeles are running about $149 round-trip. Also in August, American is showing up at $237 round-trip from Chicago O'Hare. Plus, once you get there, even luxury hotels are dirt cheap.

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4. Buffalo/Niagara
What's the new definition of a must-see? When you can fly there for less than it would cost to drive. Luckily, Buffalo's no bore — particularly not in the busy summer months. A few of our favorite things: the annual garden tours, the region's striking architectural heritage (see: Frank Lloyd Wright; a rich arts and crafts legacy in East Aurora), not to mention the twin summer cultural extravaganzas on either side of the Niagara River — Lewiston's Artpark and Niagara-on-the-Lake's Shaw Festival. Did we mention the amazing summer wines?

The deal: fares of $79 each way from New York JFK on JetBlue, based on advance purchase, with similar fares from Boston and connecting fares from other cities.

5. Denver
In mid-July, it's time to swap the sweaty lowlands for the crisp air and blue skies of the Rocky Mountains. Happily, it's not too difficult to find a deal to the region's primary gateway, even if when you land you feel like you have been diverted to Kansas (that's because the Denver Airport is so far east, some would say it is almost Kansas.) Hop in a car, however, and you can be in Boulder or Estes Park in short order. Estes Park is certainly not going to be confused with the Midwest any time soon.

The deal: Fly round-trip from Chicago O'Hare on United for as little as $215 for July, mid-week travel. In August, American can do a lot better than that — $151 round-trip, also mid-week, based on availability. Of course, at that price, don't count on a whole lot of availability. Thanks to Southwest Airlines’ expansion at Denver International, we expect this destination to remain a bargain. Also, several airlines have had amazing deals recently.

6. Orlando
Don't let rising prices take the Mickey out of your summer: It's relatively easy to find a good fare to this massively popular destination. It's summer, so make sure to slot in plenty of time under the trees — say, at Disney's leafy Animal Kingdom — or in one of the many water parks, the newest of which is Sea World's showy Aquatica.

The deal: $64 one-way on Southwest from Philadelphia, restrictions apply but the fare hangs around, based on availability, through Oct. 30.

7. Austin
The most progressive little city in Texas is a must-stop for music and beer, but if you're lucky enough to get down here, don't limit yourself to the city alone, which is at the heart of a region filled with fascinating and tasty diversions. Top spas, great barbecue and award-winning wines from the many Hill Country vineyards make this the perfect weekend for any connoisseur of the finer things.

The deal: Southwest starts at $79 one-way from Los Angeles, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Oakland and Philadelphia (based on availability and restrictions apply) through Oct. 30.

8. Seattle
It's a secret, but it's a fact: Seattle does have sun, particularly in June. Visitors might almost feel gypped — it's possible to come here on a short visit and not experience any rain at all. That's all the better for getting out there and exploring the city's dynamic neighborhoods or renting a kayak and paddling around Lake Washington to pick out the houseboat in which you'd like to live some day.

The deal: New service on Virgin America means introductory fares — just $99 one-way from San Francisco and $154 one-way from Los Angeles, based on availability.

9. Portland, Maine
Ever been to this charming city by the bay? (Casco, that is.) Explore Portland's historic downtown with its impossibly charming side streets; browse for local produce in the city's public market; try its excellent restaurants; but for heaven's sake, leave plenty of time for exploring the natural surroundings — it's summer, it's Maine, why not? Hop on board a Casco Bay ferry for the daily mail run — the round-trip cost for the three-hour tour, which visits various bay islands, is just $13.

The deal: JetBlue has one-way fares of $79 from Richmond, Virginia — a savings of  more than $20 off the airline's Richmond-Boston fare. There's a seven-day advance purchase clause and travel must be completed by July 30.

10. Wisconsin
Ah, the Northwoods — we can smell the pines from down here. If you don't like the woods, what about nearby Lake Superior, with its rugged, awesome coastline? No? Luckily, you've got all sorts of options if you fly into Central Wisconsin Airport in Wausau, which is handily placed for just about anything America's Dairyland-related — including the killer water-park rides in the famous Wisconsin Dells region, just an hour or so drive from the airport.

The deal: New service on American to Wausau's Central Wisconsin Airport features a host of introductory fares — the folks in Tampa can fly up north for as little as $186 round-trip. Purchase by June 24, travel by Aug. 1. And for whatever reason, Midwest Airlines seems to be in pretty good shape so far, and has launched a number of sales (which others have matched) into and out of Wisconsin lately.

© 2013 Imaginova Corp.

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