NEW YORK — If you were thinking of hitting the hottest beach spots or the national parks' best hotels this summer, booking at this late date could require a serious investment.
But there are still ways to take a great vacation without sacrificing your wallet. Consider traveling where everyone else doesn't at this time of year, like a ski resort or an island just outside the hurricane belt.
Here are seven tips for booking off-season vacations in high-style locations.
Head to the hills
Ski resorts are still popular destinations off season; vacationers can ride ski lifts into the mountains for hiking, mountain biking and many other summer activities. But you will spend much less for lodging than during the winter.
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"You can get a really great discount, I would say somewhere between 20 to 40 percent," by booking off season, says Anne Banas, executive editor of smartertravel.com.
A vacation to much of the Caribbean during hurricane season — which runs from June through November — can be unpredictable or worse. But some Caribbean islands lie outside the hurricane belt, and prices there drop for the summer too.
Though not bargain-basement cheap, a trip to the so-called ABC islands — Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao — is more affordable in summer than winter, and you'll be outside the danger zone.Story: Overstock.com starts selling vacation packages
Book a package
Even if you have no intention of traveling with a group or staying in a mainstream hotel, a good way to beat skyrocketing airfares may be with a package deal, says Budget Travel's Nina Willdorf. You might be able to get a hotel room or car rental included in the same total price as a ticket would cost alone.
That's because travel companies locked in airfares long ago, so they can afford to offer them for less.
"One of the big secrets finding deals this summer is going to be about booking a package," Willdorf says. "I've heard of some people booking a package and not even using all of the nights of the hotel just because the value of the trip is so good."
Try the Gulf
Yes, that Gulf. A year after the oil spill, Gulf Coasters want people to come back, and they're ready to deal.
"It's beautiful, and hotel rates are still lower than they have been," says Jason Clampet, senior online editor of Frommers.com. He estimates that staying in many Gulf of Mexico resorts now costs roughly what it did in 2004.
Clampet also suggests considering local trips.
"Thinking regionally is often a solution for savings," he says.
For example, rail trips across the Northeast, along the Pacific Coast or up the Hudson Valley look increasingly affordable as gas prices surge. Clampet recommends trawling the web for Amtrak discount codes that can save you 15 to 60 percent.
Go to town
Banas says a trip to a major metropolis like New York, Boston or Chicago can be had at a discount in the summer.
"You want to think of alternatives to what everyone else wants to do," says Banas.
Particularly in August, city dwellers flee in droves, and top hotels — especially those that cater to business travelers — are often in need of customers, Banas said. Also consider renting a place from one of those vacationing residents through a website like airbnb.com, which connects travelers with people renting out their apartments for a few days or weeks at a time.
Above all, if you stay flexible about every aspect of your trip, you will save the most.
For deals, Clampet recommends "flash" travel sites — which take the approach of members-only clothing and accessories sellers like Rue La La or Gilt and offer travel at steep discounts for brief periods. Options include Trip Advisor's sniqueaway.com, VoyagePrive.com and jetsetter.com.
Because these sites are new, they're very competitive, Clampet says.
"It's a good time to take advantage of their need to deliver good deals," he says.
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