Low fares create traveling bargains

Big discounts available with so many Americans staying home

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2001

While many Americans are choosing not to travel, Susan Wieske will take her two young sons to visit their grandparents. Her plans are being spurred by the cheap air fare that she found from Portland, Ore., to Indianapolis.

''Because of the recent events, I really wanted and needed to see my mom and dad and I needed for them to see their grandkids,'' she said. ''But, admittedly, if it wasn't a good air fare I wouldn't be able to go.''

Whether by plane, train, ship or automobile, Americans who want to travel can choose from a variety of discounts being offered by an industry suffering in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

As of Wednesday, for instance, some coast-to-coast air fares were as low as $100 round-trip, with many of the advance purchase and Saturday night-stay restrictions waived. The cheaper air fares were started by National and Southwest airlines, and were matched by many direct competitors.

In addition, some travel agents have negotiated discounts with airlines for other routes, said Carol Kaminski, a spokesperson for Best-fares.com.

For those afraid of flying, Amtrak had decided before the attacks to extend a summertime 30 percent off promotion through mid-December; Dollar Rent A Car, which started offering cars for as little as $20 a day to help travelers stranded when the airlines were grounded, is continuing those rates through Dec. 21.

Cruise lines, such as Carnival, are offering some seven-day Caribbean trips for $400 instead of the usual $900.

''It's just a beginning,'' said Doc Klotz, a spokesperson for the Cruises Only travel agency. ''There are going to be all kind of specials.''

The Sonesta Beach Resort on Florida's Key Biscayne is offering two nights for the price of one ($195) through Dec. 21. At the Historic Braun Hotel in Hot Springs, S.D., proprietor Olga Turnquist has dropped the price of her rooms by 30 percent to as low as $30 per night. The hotel near Mt. Rushmore relies heavily on foreign tourists, who just aren't coming right now.

What is bad news for the industry may be good news for travelers.

Samantha Thomas, a hair stylist in Portland, Ore., spent the weekend of Sept. 22 in Las Vegas with friends. She was thrilled to find out that her room at the Paris Hotel had dropped from $190 per night to just $70.

''We were talking about whether to cancel, but we said, 'We really need to go fill those slot machines with our quarters''' to help out the ailing economy, she said.

Thomas will have even more extra money to spend on her next trip; her travel agent just informed her that the air fare for her February trip to Hawaii will cost just $320, instead of $600.

''I feel like I'm taking advantage of a bad situation,'' Thomas said.

Wieske, the mother of a 3 1/2-year-old and a 5-month-old, said without the lower fares that she found for flights in November, she wouldn't be able to see her parents until next summer. The Travelocity.com Web site suggested a $180 per ticket fare to Indianapolis, 90 minutes by car from her hometown of Cincinnati.

''I think I was so scared about what happened (on Sept. 11), that I find it really, really important for me to go home to see my family,'' said Wieske, who now lives thousands of miles away in Portland.

''If it were the usual $400 per ticket, I wouldn't be going.''

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