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By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/19/2009 10:02:34 AM ET 2009-03-19T14:02:34

With the economy (still) in shambles, booking that weekend getaway or week-long resort vacation is falling lower and lower on many people’s to-do lists.

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As a result, hotels, airlines, cruise lines, travel operators and restaurants need to be mighty creative in their efforts to get our attention — and our money.

The latest trend? “We-feel-your-pain” offers for the unemployed and for those worried about losing their job.

Some travel companies now promise to refund your money if you buy a ticket or make a reservation and then get sacked.

A nightclub in San Diego (The swanky SWAY lounge) is offering a couple of free drinks to guests at the adjacent Keating Hotel who volunteer to wash dishes. And there are offers for $1 hotel nights and essay contests where the prize is a weekend stay at a resort.

Here is a round-up of some of the unique offers:

Pink slip travel insurance
Grounded? In mid-February, JetBlue Airways kicked off its Promise Program, vowing to give full airfare refunds to travelers who book flights through June 1, 2009, but later lose their jobs. Last Tuesday, the airline expanded the program to include Getaways Vacation Packages, as well.

Unfortunately, while few employers are giving workers two-week layoff notices, JetBlue is requiring travelers to request refunds at least two weeks before their originally scheduled trips and to give 60 days cancellation notice during peak holidays. Still, says the airline’s Alison Croyle, “I can tell you that this program did come at just the right time for some of our customers to take advantage of it.”

Cruise lines and cruise-oriented travel companies are also jumping on board with pink-slip reassurance plans. The Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) added job loss to the list of situations passengers are insured against when they purchase “BookSafe Travel Protection.” (Prices start at $29 and are based on your cruise package.) Under the program, travelers laid off from a job they’ve held for a least a year — before cruise dates May 1 and later — will be eligible for full refunds. “People are uncertain about the future,” says NCL’s Courtney Recht, “We wanted to give them an opportunity to book with us even if they’re not sure what will happen to them in the future.”

The folks at CruiseOne and Cruises, Inc., a major cruise retail network, are offering a pink-slip insurance plan that covers all packages they sell. Their “CruiseAssurance” program covers packages purchased by May 2. If a traveler with basic insurance is laid off, he or she can now cancel the trip and get a full refund. Company spokesperson Steve Hattem says that includes folks who get pink slipped on their way to the ship and even those already on a ship. With so many people getting laid off, how can they afford to do this? “We only make money if people take cruises,” says Hattem, “and we almost can’t afford not to do something like this in this tough economic time.”

Reassurances on land
Ski season isn’t over, but what if your job is? If you book a stay through April 12th at Washington School Inn in Park City, Utah, your deposit if fully refundable if there’s an “involuntary job loss” between the time you booked your trip and the time you arrive.

What if you’ve already lost your job? The folks at the Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford, Vt., feel your pain and are offering a “Pink Slip Getaway Giveaway.” If you or a spouse has been unemployed for more than six months, the Inn wants to hear the story — in writing, not on the phone. In return, each month from April through July and from November through December, the inn will be giving away a two-night getaway, including accommodations for two, a candlelight dinner, breakfast each morning — even a rabbit’s foot for luck. To qualify, send a letter or e-mail by June 1, 2009 explaining your story in one page or less.

The folks at the Alexander Inn, a boutique hotel in downtown Philadelphia, don’t care if you have a job or not. They just want you to come to town and spend some money. So they’ve come up with their own economic stimulus plan: Sunday through Thursday nights through June 11th, five of the hotel’s 48 rooms are available for just $1 each. When I called for details, front desk staffer Daniel Detrano explained that “with taxes, the room cost actually comes out to $1.15.”

Still, a great deal.

Tax-relief for travelers
As the deadline for filing income taxes draws near, we all have to actually open and read those depressing year-end tax statements we’ve been trying to ignore the past six months. Now some restaurants and hotels are rolling out specials they hope will help ease the pain.

On April 15, the Tulio Ristorante in Seattle will be paying diners’ sales tax on all meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner. On that same day, the New York Helmsley Hotel, once owned by the late Leona Helmsley of “only the little people pay taxes” fame, will be waiving hotel taxes for all guests, big or small.

From now through April 15, more than 30 of the Joie de Vivre Hotels in California will deduct occupancy tax on all rooms. And from April 1st through April 30th, participating Kimpton Hotels around the country will be offering a Sweet Tax Relief Package, which not only covers guests’ room taxes, but also the taxes on meals at the hotels’ restaurants. To sweeten things just a bit more, the hotel is giving guests grab bags of candy.

Great deals — if you pay attention
Whether or not you have a job — or pay taxes — deals like these offer a fun and creative way to save a few bucks. But if you take advantage of them, be sure to pay attention to the rules, restrictions and fine print. For example, while the $1 a night offer at the Alexander Inn can be booked 30 days in advance, if you change your mind and forget to cancel you reservation at least 24 hours ahead, you’ll be charged a regular night’s rate.

I recently learned first hand that a great deal isn’t a great deal unless you’re actually there to enjoy it. In my budget-minded frenzy, I forgot to cancel my first hotel reservation for a weekend getaway in Portland, Ore., when I found a better deal at another hotel. So I lay awake all night in my $79 room at a 5-star hotel, irritated that I was also paying $99 for an empty room at a 4-star hotel across town.

Harriet Baskas writes msnbc.com's popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the “Stuck at the Airport” blog, a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for USATODAY.com.

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