Image: Fishing trip in Alaska
Valued at $7,950, this fishing trip includes nearly everything but transportation to Alaska. For three days, travelers go on guided fishing trips in Ketchikan and stay at a premier lodge. Bidding is now at $5,300. Proceeds can go to the American Diabetes Association or the National Parks Conservation Association, among other charities.
updated 7/30/2008 3:28:52 PM ET 2008-07-30T19:28:52

Paula Kozey, her husband and their son Cameron Landy recently took a $35,000-plus trip to New York City that they'll never forget. The family stayed at the five-star Plaza Athenee, took an open-air bus tour of the city and ate in Little Italy.

But the sole purpose of their vacation was drinks and appetizers with cast members of "The Sopranos". The two-hour affair was an 18th birthday gift to Cameron, a devoted fan of the television series. The $35,000 Kozey spent on the event, which she purchased through an auction at the Web site, was also a gift to the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund.

"On top of giving to charity, we actually got something back out of it," says Kozey.

Getting and giving
Buying travel packages or event tickets through charity auctions is not a new trend, but it can be a useful tool for conscientious travelers who like the idea of combining a vacation with altruism. Once aware of the option, says Founder and CEO Kelly Fiore, "Why would you do it a different way?"

Packages are made available to the public through the Web site's partnership with charities, corporations and celebrities. For businesses it's a great way to "wrap the brand in a halo," says Fiore, and charities benefit in that they receive 80% of the winning bid amount. The remainder covers the cost of running the CharityFolks Web site.

Though bidders cannot choose a beneficiary, the organization works with many established, reputable causes, including the Women's Sports Foundation, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Make A Wish and Farmers Against Hunger.

The offerings vary from standalone experiences like the "Sopranos" event to a several-night stay at a resort to all-inclusive packages. Currently on auction at the site is an eight-night stay at the soon-to-open W Hotel in downtown New York and tickets to a Super Bowl party hosted by Playboy in Tampa, Fla. Both auctions benefit Love Heals, a foundation for AIDS education.

Generous Adventures, a Web site that auctions only travel-related packages, has sent bidders to ride elephants in Thailand, tour California wine country by bike and dive in the Caribbean. Bidders are also allowed to choose a beneficiary from one of four organizations that Generous Adventures supports quarterly. Currently on auction are an adventure travel trip to Patagonia and a fishing getaway to Alaska.

Devil in the details
While the incentive to spend wildly on a tax-deductible travel package may be strong, potential travelers should remember a few caveats. Pallavi Shah, president and CEO of the New York-based travel agency Our Personal Guest, which has donated its services to charity auctions in the past, knows that people often bid "in the enthusiasm of the moment," but she recommends they stop for a moment and ask, "Is it something I can use?"

Image: W Hotel in New York
The W Hotel in New York is offering a package for eight nights at the ultra-modern property due to open next fall. Located near the World Trade Center memorial site, the hotel has views of the city and Hudson Bay. The fair market value for the stay is $5,000, but the current bid is $2,000. The proceeds will go to Love Heals, a foundation for AIDS education.
First things first, Shah says bidders are best served by purchasing all-inclusive packages or airline tickets with no strings attached. The more limits on the package, such as black-out dates or rules against upgrading a hotel room or flight, the more of a hassle it will be for the traveler, says Shah.

Bidders should also be realistic about the commitment. A three-day stay at a glamorous hotel in India, for example, may seem like a great idea, but the winning bidder is then responsible for booking the flight and finding activities once there.

Even with these provisos, Kozey is undeterred. She regularly checks for unique travel packages, but knows few would compare to her first experience.

"We paid quite a bit," she says, "but it was worth every penny, and it's donating to a great cause."

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