Travel bargains a silver lining to recession

Philip Meredith, right, a doctor from Jackson, Miss., talks with Jane Brackman and Rod Holcomb, a married couple from Altadena, Calif., who were fellow guests of the Halcyon House Bed and Breakfast, 1000 Ohio, on a recent morning. With reduced travel demands due to the recession, bargains in airfares and lodging abound both in the U.S. and abroad.

The recession and worldwide economic downturn is proving to be a benefit to people still planning vacations or wanting to travel.

Gasoline prices are stable, airfares are down and bargains can be found in all aspects of travel, according to people who monitor the industry.

“The economy helped airfares go down and, as a result of people not going to destinations, the hotels have had to reduce their prices,” said John Novotny, manager of Travellers Inc., 831 Mass. “It has just trickled down.”

Gas prices in recent weeks have been creeping up, but they are far below price levels last year at this time. The national average a year ago for a gallon of regular unleaded was $3.28, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Now the national average is barely above $2.

Gas prices normally start increasing this time of year as the weather warms and people travel more leading up to Memorial Day weekend, said Jim Hanni, spokesman for AAA Kansas. Oil companies also start switching to summer blends, leading to increases, he said.

“This year, with the economic activity the way it is, prices could be a little more stable,” Hanni said. “We’re not into predicting prices but we just don’t see anything in the tea leaves taking prices back up above $2.50.”

That’s because oil inventories continue to build even though OPEC and domestic oil producers are slowing production, Hanni said.

Lower fuel prices also were a factor in airfares suddenly declining. A year ago a good price for a round-trip ticket to Cancun, Mexico, was $400, Novotny said. Now prices have been as low as $300, he said. A round-trip flight to Hawaii normally costs about $565. Recently there have been some below $500, Novotny said.

Even airfares to Europe have come down. Flights to and from popular European destinations are usually $1,000 to $1,500, but recently they have been as low as $800. Hotels in Europe are better bargains than they were a year ago because the dollar has “shored up” against the euro, Novotny said. American hotels also are offering bargains, he said.

The best flight prices are usually found on weekdays, especially Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Novotny said.

People who prefer bed and breakfast establishments over hotels and motels can find prices usually under $100 for a night’s stay, plus breakfast. Most accommodate children and even pets, said Lynda Fort, executive director of Kansas Bed and Breakfast Association. B&B’s can be found in both rural and metropolitan areas.

“The innkeeper is usually the best source of information of what to see and do in a community. They are sort of an in-house travel guide,” Fort said.