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Wallet-friendly luxury beach vacations

In winter, escaping to warm beaches can prove pricey. But deals can be found — even for luxury properties.
Image: The Reef
Opening this December, the Reef Atlantis is a 22-story, 497-room tower with 207 studios, 188 one-bedrooms and two penthouses, all with private balconies overlooking the ocean. Vince Cook
/ Source: Forbes

In winter, escaping to warm beaches can prove pricey. But deals can be found — even for luxury properties.

"Our clients expect that we'll drive the best bargain," says Ron Luczak, director of platinum services (read: luxury) for the Travel Team, a Buffalo, N.Y., agency affiliated with American Express. He and other experts give the following advice to bargain-seekers.

First off, consider destinations where the U.S. dollar still holds value, such as South Africa. South African Airways and Visit Southern Africa Vacations have teamed up to offer packages to lure Americans to their sunny — and affordable — cities. A nine-day trip takes you from a bush lodge in Johannesburg to the beaches of Cape Town, where you'll stay at a luxury hotel, and runs just $1999, including airfare.

Another option is Mexico, which can be as luxurious as the Caribbean but is almost always cheaper.

"Within the last year, we've really seen the luxury aspect of places like Cozumel and Cancun expand, with new restaurants and more high-end properties," says Susan Shevlin of New York's Linden Travel.

Want something more low-key? Consider Puerto Peñasco on the northern Sea of Cortez, where the Sonoran desert meets the coast. A longtime drive-to destination for Arizona residents, Puerto Peñasco was inaccessible by plane until just this month. Go now and beat the inevitable rush.

You can book at the Las Palomas Beach & Golf Resort or the Sonoran Spa Resort, both in Rocky Point. The former attracts avid golfers who spend time on the only link-style championship golf course in the southwest; the latter draws spa-lovers looking for a bit of adventure, including kayaking and deep sea fishing.

Newly opened properties typically have special promotions. For example, the Reef Atlantis on Paradise Island, which opens next month, welcomes you with discounted rates starting at $340 per night.

And of course, look for sales — many resorts offer "buy one, get one free" deals, even during high season. One of Luczack's favorite winter beach spots is the Ocean Club Resort in Turks and Caicos, which holds sales in December and January, and will often offer discounts to travel agents negotiating for their clients.

There's a wide array of accommodations here — everything from studio suites to spacious condo apartments, all with central air conditioning. And you enjoy access to Grace Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

In-suite amenities include a fully equipped kitchen, a washer/dryer, a safe for valuables and central air.

Another spot that offers winter specials is the Colony Club Hotel on the Platinum Coast of Barbados. Along with a private balcony or patio, spacious marble bathrooms and private access to the lagoon pool through the room, guests can also enjoy a beach and pool concierge service. Other amenities include complimentary water sports, including snorkeling, sailing, boogie boards, kayaking, windsurfing and water skiing, as well as preferred tee times at the Royal Westmoreland Golf & Country Club.

Access to a pristine golf course, concierge service and ocean views: What more could the luxury traveler want?

Cheap airfare, says Henry H. Harteveldt, vice president and principal airline/travel industry analyst at Forrester, a market research company. In the past few weeks, he has started to see some attractive winter airfares offered for international business class. "They seem to be starting earlier than last year — probably because of the slowing economy and weak U.S. dollar," he says.

So book that cheap ticket. White sands await.