Outdoors enthusiasts wary of a weak dollar don't need to confine themselves to their backyards.
Instead, they might want to head on a 21-day cruise to Antarctica, South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and the South Atlantic. Here, penguins, birds of flight and marine mammals are just a few of the animals awaiting those aboard Abercrombie and Kent's Minerva MV. Travelers who book the $9,695 November trip this month receive $500 on top of the $1,500 they're already saving by avoiding December and January travel. Travelers will also enjoy the added luxury of on-board photo seminars to help them capture their adventure on film.
Too good to be true? Not at all. This is just one of a handful of exceptional luxury bargains that exist across the seven continents.
The well-traveled know that off-season trips — such as a May journey to Phuket, Thailand, at the height of monsoon season — offer the best rates. But a trip like this also means spending much of the time in your hotel room waiting for the rain to stop. For many, the desire for a valuable vacation outweighs the allure of huge off-season savings. But it doesn't have to. The smartest travelers are finding both.
"With our clientele, people want value, but they also want the best," says Louise Shumbris, vice president of operations for international luxury tour operator Travcoa. They say, "If I'm going to spend that kind of money, then I want what I want."
This is happening in some unlikely places. Take Europe. Jean Fawcett, a spokesperson for Abercrombie and Kent, an international travel outfitter, says that American travelers need not shy away from the continent, even with the current state of the dollar.
Several luxury travel companies priced European vacations as far back as June 2007, before the U.S. economy slowed and the exchange rate fell. These locked-in prices, still available to travelers, now translate into an estimated 16 percent savings when compared with the current exchange rate. They're called "guaranteed-dollar programs" and are one way travel companies are attacking cost shifts, says Marshall Calder, vice president of marketing for Leading Hotels of the World, a consortium of luxury destination hotels.
Abercrombie and Kent's Discovery Series allows travelers to take advantage of this 16 percent savings on trips across Europe, including France, Italy, Poland and Spain, among others. An additional 15 percent is offered on the Sept. 17 Highlights of Spain tour, where travelers explore Madrid and Barcelona, stay in a renovated convent in Granada and enjoy regional food, wine and performances.
Other travelers seek burgeoning hot spots; they, too, are finding deals.
South America is quickly becoming a popular destination for international travelers. Buenos Aires' reputation as the "Paris of South America" attracts travelers who have, in past years, been interested in a European experience, says Diane McDavitt, president and founder of LuxuryLink.com, an online marketplace for travel bookings.
Leading Hotels of the World offers a great value-driven promotion in the form of their One More Night programs. Stay at either the Alvear Palace Hotel, the Faena Hotel + Universe or the Sofitel Buenos Aires with the following options: three nights for two, four nights for three and seven nights for five.
Strength in numbers
Renting a villa is another way to cope with rising prices, especially when traveling in a large group.
"It's an incredible experience to stay in an Irish castle or Tuscan estate," says McDavitt. "People are traveling with extended families and couples, and it's hard to beat that nightly rate."
The newly renovated Castle Oliver in Kilmallock, Ireland, situated on 15 acres of land in the Ballyhoura Mountains, approximately mid-way between Limerick and Cork and home to Ireland's largest wine cellar, can accommodate up to 18 guests. Seven nights at LuxuryLink.com's current rate of 65 percent of the retail price offer amounts to a savings of $10,068. Aside from the nightly rates, it provides a unique experience with a wine & canapé welcome reception upon arrival, a full Irish breakfast each morning and the option of butler services.
While luxury seekers may be among the last to pinch pennies, they aren't above a good bargain.
"I think, traditionally, the affluent sector seems to be insulated," says McDavitt. "But now, everyone tends to look at value a little more carefully than they did before."