Face it, the staycation is not for you. You want to explore the world, not your backyard. Dine on foie gras and sleep on feather beds overlooking the Rhine rather than slurping cold cereal on your couch overlooking the TV. But with the economy as it is, that spare-no-expense holiday seems pretty out-of-bounds, right? Not so. There are ways to make your Champagne dreams come off even on a beer budget. We've got the secret strategies for making it happen, allowing you to live it up in locales as near at hand as Montana or Mexico or as exotic as Thailand or South Africa. Use this as a month-to-month guide: French Polynesia in March, the Greek islands in May, St. Barths in August. Besides, with all the bad economic news, who doesn't need an escape plan?
For a complete slideshow of Luxury Trips for Less, click here.
Note: All airfares quoted are approximate and subject to change.
JANUARY: South Africa
Lesson to travel by: If you don't mind a little heat, summer can mean good deals.
The deal: Who isn't ready for a shot of sun after the post-holiday doldrums? Since summertime positively sizzles in South Africa, safari rates and airfares are slashed by up to 40 percent.
The luxury essentials: Head to CC Africa's Phinda Private Game Reserve, in the KwaZulu–Natal region, where you can glimpse the Big Five (yes, they're all visible this time of year) by foot, canoe, and vehicle. During January, games drives start earlier so that guests can sit out the midday heat. Though it can be a bit more difficult to see wildlife in the lush summer vegetation, this is your best chance of seeing the cute babies. Round out your trip with a few days in Cape Town, where the Atlantic coast is refreshingly cool, thanks to currents from Antarctica.
Artful advice: Avoid Cape Town in the first half of the month, when schoolkids are still on break and families crowd the beaches. It's high season in the city this month, so choose your accommodation wisely: Rates at the famous Mount Nelson Hotel start at $745, but you can find a room just around the corner at the Georgian-era Cape Cadogan for about a third of that.
A fair fare: You can fly Delta Airlines from Chicago to Johannesburg for $1,500; the same flight would cost you $2,100 in July.
Phinda Private Game Reserve
Tel: 888 882 3742 (toll-free)
Tel: 27 11 809 4314
From $325 per person, including meals, alcohol, and excursions
Cape Cadogan Boutique Hotel
Tel: 27 21 480 8080
Doubles from $225
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Lesson to travel by: Our favorite summer playgrounds are open year-round.
The deal: When Grand Teton National Park is covered in snow, you'll have an easier time spotting wildlife and a far harder time running into other visitors.
The luxury essentials: Think winter is far too expensive around Jackson? Think again. While the ski resorts are running at full capacity—and full price—the hotels that cater to summer visitors are running specials. At the Spring Creek Ranch, for instance, where the rooms have a breathtaking view of the saw-toothed Tetons, a two-bedroom suite with a balcony costs $260 with breakfast; in summer, when the resort is packed with Grand Teton–trippers, that same setup goes for $360 without meals. The ranch arranges sleigh rides, snowshoe trips, cross-country skiing, and even dog sledding, and it's just 30 minutes to the Teton Village ski area. Hungry? Order a wood-fired prosciutto pizza or succulent half chicken at Trio in Jackson.
Artful advice: Though the park is open year-round, only some roads are plowed in the winter. Elsewhere, you'll need to travel by snowmobile or the far more eco-friendly snow coaches—vans or buses with large skis and treads. The white landscape makes it easy to see bison, moose, and even wolves, and there are typically 10,000 elk wintering at the National Elk Refuge, which borders Jackson.
A fair fare: From Washington, D.C., to Jackson, look for fares under $300 in February; in summer, you could pay almost $400.
Spring Creek Ranch
Tel: 800 443 6139 (toll-free)
Tel: 307 733 8833
Doubles from $179
Tel: 307 734 8038
MARCH: French Polynesia
Lesson to travel by: The rainy season isn't necessarily a soaker.
The deal:French Polynesia's rainy season is a bit of a misnomer—from November to March it rarely rains for more than half an hour each afternoon, so it's highly unlikely your vacation will be a washout. And, of course, you'll find deals this month.
The luxury essentials: Here's a quick geography lesson that will explain this month's advice: Since there are no mountain ranges in the South Pacific to stall a storm, the precipitation that falls during the rainy season is usually brief. Nor does French Polynesia get as many hurricanes as Papua New Guinea and Fiji do. In fact, February 2008 saw far more beautiful weather over Tahiti than did the August high season. We can't guarantee a repeat performance, but here's hoping. And since the islands are less crowded, you'll find the locals even easier-going and excursions open to last-minute bookings. Best of all, many resorts run specials: a fifth night free at the new Four Seasons Bora Bora or four nights for the price of three—including breakfast—at the InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora.
Artful advice: The low-key restaurant Bloody Mary's is a Bora Bora institution—and sees guests like Meg Ryan and Harrison Ford, who come for the barbecued fish and barefoot dining. Choose your entree from the day's catch, arrayed on ice by the entrance.
A fair fare: Book a flight on Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Papeete for under $1,100, instead of $1,400 or so in June.
Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
Tel: 689 603 170
Doubles from $950
InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora
Tel: 689 604 900
Doubles from $575
Tel: 689 677 286
APRIL: British Columbia, Canada
Lesson to travel by: Look for deals at the beginning or tail end of a season.
The Deal: This one's for the high-flying, adventuresome types. Let a helicopter deliver you to the top of back-country ski runs in the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains, then return you to your luxury lodge for a soak in the hot tub before dinner.
The luxury essentials: Thought heli-skiing was out of reach? Not in April, when a week at Canadian Mountain Holidays' Adamant Lodge, some 200 miles west of Banff, costs $5,820 per person, not the $9,790 it would have cost five weeks earlier. Plus, conditions are still good and CMH guarantees that you'll ski at least 100,000 vertical feet (not counting helicopter rides)—and will refund part of your trip cost if you don't. You'll average about eight runs a day, with plenty of time back at the lodge to recall the agony and the ecstasy over hot toddies.
Artful advice: Skiers can borrow specially designed heli-skis, but snowboarders should bring their own equipment. This trip isn't for amateurs: You should be comfortable on black diamond runs and fit enough to ski for several consecutive days.
A fair fare: In the last two years, fares from Salt Lake City to Calgary have been around $350–$400 in April—and as much as $700 in July.
Canadian Mountain Holidays
Tel: 800 661 0252 (toll-free)
Tel: 403 762 7100
Seven-day trips from $5,820 per person, including meals
MAY: The Greek Islands
Lesson to travel by: Renting a villa can save you lots of cash.
The deal: Escape to your own private hideaway on the Mediterranean before high season kicks into gear.
The luxury essentials: Think it'll cost a fortune to rent a villa in a place like Greece's Santorini? Think again. Some villa rental agencies put together deals where airfare, maid service, and even airport transfers are included in the price. And when you compare the per-night price against local hotels, it becomes a very good deal. For instance, the Greek Islands Club, based in the U.K., books the Villa Ivi—which has its own heated plunge pool in a private courtyard near Santorini's Megalochori village square—for $3,340 per week. (The price is for a couple, but it can sleep as many as four.) That includes all those other perks like the maid service mentioned above, and breaks down to $477 per night. Nice hotels in the area charge around $600 per night in May. Be aware that often the charter flights included in the price depart from the U.K.—so you'll have to fly into Gatwick or Manchester rather than directly into Athens. If you'd prefer to go it alone, rent directly from a villa owner at www.vrbo.com.
Artful advice: Many homes (though not the centrally located Villa Ivi) include car rentals so you can explore the island.
A fair fare: All villa rates quoted by the Greek Islands Club include charter flights from Gatwick and Manchester, so you'll end up paying a lot extra in airport transfers if you fly from the U.S. into Heathrow or Stansted.
Greek Islands Club
Tel: 44 20 8232 9780
Villas from $1,730 per week, including flights from England
Lesson to travel by: Go during the shoulder season to save big bucks.
The deal: Southeast Asia's monsoon season doesn't start until July, but hotel rates are already unbeatable in June.
The luxury essentials: Take advantage of Thailand's shoulder season (the period between low and high seasons) to combine Bangkok's energy with the Andaman Sea's natural beauty. Fly into Bangkok and spend a few nights at the Chakrabongse House, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River and within walking distance of the Grand Palace and National Museum. Then fly down to Phuket and board a motorboat to the 24-acre Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi, where a pool villa costs $706 per night versus $1,706 at the height of the season. If those rates are still too steep, stay in Phuket and book a room for $144 at the Marina Phuket Resort, which is more secluded and subdued than its Karon Beach neighbors.
Artful advice: You can expect an increasing chance of rain showers through the month, but they're generally only short, heavy bursts in the afternoon, which bring a refreshing coolness to the air—the perfect time for a post-beach nap.
A fair fare: Look for the best deals from a travel agency based in an Asian neighborhood, or an online consolidator like Airfare.com.
Tel: 66 2 622 1900
Villas from $233
Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi
Tel: 66 76 418 500
Doubles from $706
Marina Phuket Resort
Tel: 66 76 330 625
Doubles from $144
JULY: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Lesson to travel by: Sports seasons don't always overlap with resort high seasons.
The deal: If you're a surfer looking for good waves but don't want to drop big bucks, look to Baja California in the heat of the summer, when storms in the Eastern Pacific bring in large swells but keep away high-paying tourists.
The luxury essentials: If you don't mind temperatures that peak around 90, July is the best time of year to go surfing around Cabo San Lucas. Tourists can easily double the population of this former fishing village in the winter, when the warm weather and sandy beaches beckon to Hollywood starlets and deep-sea fishermen, but the crowds have gone home by July. Rooms at the sumptuous Esperanza Resort cost half what they do in high season. Novice surfers should sign up for a lesson at the Mike Doyle Surf School; experts can head straight to the break at Zippers, just off Kilometer 29 on Highway 1. And even if you don't surf, you can fish for marlin and tuna, play at one of six nearby golf courses, or strap on a snorkel mask for a look at the underwater life.
Artful advice: On July 25, the Festival of St. James closes down the streets of Cabo for parades and parties. Look for riders on white horses, meant to resemble the saint who is believed to have brought Catholicism to Mexico.
A fair fare: Fares to Los Cabos Airport are steady year-round, but you can occasionally find deals on Mexicana Airlines and Aeromexico—about $425 from Las Vegas, for instance.
Tel: 866 311 2226 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 624 145 6400
Doubles from $475
Mike Doyle Surf School
Tel: 858 964 5117
Lessons from $70 per person per day
AUGUST: St. Barths
Lesson to travel by: The Caribbean isn't off-limits during hurricane season.
The deal: This playground of the rich and famous empties out in August—which makes it a great value for the chic-but-cheap set.
The luxury essentials: Technically, a hurricane could strike St. Barths anytime from July to November—but that's extremely unlikely outside of September and October, when many hotels and restaurants are closed anyway. In August, you'll find rooms for half what you'd pay at New Year's, without the crowds vying to see and be seen. Plus, the water is warmer, as are the nighttime temperatures. If the $700-per-night low-season rates at the Eden Rock are still too rich for your blood (the same room would cost more than $1,000 in December), try the Emeraude Plage, on the same beach, where bungalows start at $275.
Artful advice: Leave some room in your luggage; many of the boutiques on the island run big sales during the summer.
A fair fare: You'll find far cheaper fares by flying into St. Martin and taking the 45-minute catamaran ride over to St. Barths. There's also a better chance your luggage will actually make the crossing with you.
Eden Rock Hotel
Tel: 877 563 7105 (toll free)
Tel: 590 590 29 79 99
Doubles from $700
Tel: 590 590 27 64 78
Doubles from $275
Lesson to travel by: Avoid school holidays to score deals and avoid overcrowding.
The deal: Sydney is gorgeous in September—and it's not yet high season.
The luxury essentials: Australia's spring break falls at the very end of September—so the beaches are pretty empty before then. And by midmonth, it's warm enough to swim in the ocean. There's much more to the country than you can see in a single trip, but a good primer starts in Sydney, where rooms at the Four Seasons start at just $237. Then it's off to Uluru, the great red rock in the center of the country. At the Ayers Rock Resort, accommodations range from a campground to a five-star hotel; the latter starts at $250 per person. Then spend your last days at the Cape Tribulation Resort & Spa, conveniently set between the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef, where rooms go for $290, $60 less than in the winter high season.
Artful Advice: The country is in bloom in the spring: September 1 is Wattle Day, named after the national flower, and there are flower festivals in Canberra, Perth, and elsewhere.
A fair fare: For $1,800, buy a Qantas Aussie AirPass, which includes roundtrip travel from Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Honolulu, plus three flights within Australia—those will allow you to get to all those other places, like Uluru and Cairns. At the height of the season, that ticket would cost $2,600.
Four Seasons Sydney
Tel: 61 2 9238 0000
Doubles from $237
Ayers Rock Resort
Tel: 61 2 8296 8010
Doubles from $73
Cape Tribulation Resort & Spa
Tel: 61 7 4098 0033
Doubles from $290
OCTOBER: A transatlantic cruise
Lesson to travel by: Good deals abound when cruise ships move to another part of the world between seasons.
The deal:SeaDream Yacht Club's transatlantic cruise from Seville to San Juan may mean more time on the water and less in ports than regular high-season cruises, but it's the cheapest way to get aboard this luxury liner—and there is no shortage of onboard activities to keep you busy.
The luxury essentials: This small-ship cruise line is famous for over-the-top pampering: Deck attendants clean the saltwater spray from your sunglasses; waiters inquire about your favorite dishes so the chef can put them on the menu later that week. But all this decadence usually comes at a price—for instance, a seven-day cruise from Venice to Dubrovnik costs $8,900 per person. The best values can be found when SeaDream's two ships have to reposition between their summer home in the Mediterranean and their winter waters in the Caribbean. On SeaDream II's October cruise (which costs $4,000 less than usual), your only midcruise stop will be an afternoon on the Portuguese island of Madeira, so plan to spend most of your time in the spa, casino, fitness center, golf simulator, or simply on your balcony with a good book from the ship's library. Plan to arrive at least one day before the cruise departs Seville, since you'd hate to miss the boat because of a flight delay.
Artful advice: Landlubbers, beware—the seas can be rough in the middle of the Atlantic.
A fair fare: Flights between New York and Seville are at their lowest in October; use Kayak.com's multi-city search tool to find the best fares.
SeaDream Yacht Club
Tel: 800 707 4911 (toll-free)
From $4,900 per person, including meals, alcohol, and entertainment
Lesson to travel by: Look for value packages, not just lower rates.
The deal: Head to Hawaii when everybody else isn't, and the hotels are a bit desperate.
The luxury essentials: Since families make up most of Hawaii's tourists, the low season falls between November and Christmas, and from January to Easter. That's when the resorts start running promotions—typically adding amenities and extra nights rather than lowering the room rate. At the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua on Maui, for instance, you'll get a fourth night free and a $250 credit toward food and drinks at the resort. The Fairmont Kea Lani, also on Maui, offers the fifth night free and complimentary breakfast. And the Three for Free deal at the Grand Hyatt Kauai includes a fifth night free, a room upgrade, and breakfast for two daily. There are occasional rain showers this month, but they're brief and localized, so you can always find a sunny patch of beach nearby.
Artful advice: Hawaii is one of the few destinations where flight/car rental/hotel combo packages are often cheaper than buying each element separately; check out Expedia and Orbitz for deals.
A fair fare: Book a flight on United from Chicago to Honolulu for $595 in November, compared with almost $1,000 in July.
Tel: 800 669 6200 (toll-free)
Tel: 808 669 6200
Doubles from $600
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa
Tel: 800 492 8804 (toll-free)
Tel: 808 742 1234
Doubles from $293
Fairmont Kea Lani
Tel: 866 540 4456 (toll-free)
Tel: 808 875 4100
Doubles from $450
Lesson to travel by: Make the most of local festivals—but go home just before the major holidays to save big.
The deal: Head to Rome for some of the world's most moving Christmas celebrations.
The luxury essentials: It may seem counterintuitive, but there are deals to be found in Rome—yes, the home of the Pope—in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Take the Daphne Inn: As long as you vacate your room by December 25, you'll pay the low-season rate of $122, and it's only steps from the Piazza Barberini. On the day after Christmas, the same accommodations will cost you at least $80 more a night. Look also for deals at business hotels like the St. George, which see a drop-off in guests this month; rates start at $345. Meanwhile, the city is aglow with holiday decorations like the nativity scene in St. Peter's Square and a giant tree in front of the Colosseum. The weather is mild, with temperatures in the 50s, but even on the coldest days the sun usually makes an appearance.
Artful advice: Load up on presents sold directly by the artisans and watch street performers at the Christmas market in the Piazza Navona, but beware of the panettone, or Italian fruitcake—too sweet and dry, just like the stuff at home.
A fair fare: Airfares to Europe are at their lowest in the winter, and Rome is no exception, provided you return before the holidays; a flight from San Francisco costs $880 on United, for example.
Tel: 39 06 8745 0086
Doubles from $122
St. George Rome
Tel: 39 06 686 611
Doubles from $345