Mexico ofeering end-of-the-year bargains; Strategies

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Fall is typically bargain time in Mexico, but many 1999 values are being extended into 2000 because millennium madness hasn't sparked heavy year-end bookings. Thus pennywise travelers in search of sun and salsa should do well south of the border.

Tour operator Travel Impressions has air-inclusive seven-night fall packages to Cancun starting at $568 and three-night packages at the deluxe Acapulco Princess for $565.

Club Med for the first time has planned winter value packages rather than offering spotty last-minute bargains to areas that prove slow as winter wears on. Among deals it's touting are three-night Special Weekend Getaways on select dates (land-only rates start at $249 for Cancun). Seven-night all-inclusive Cancun vacations (airfare, lodging, meals, unlimited beer and wine with lunch and dinner, gratuities, holiday insurance and most activities) start at $799 Nov. 27 to Dec. 11.

Over Thanksgiving (Nov. 20 departure), seven all-inclusive nights with airfare start at $899. Other all-inclusive one-week Club Med Mexico holiday deals (departures Dec. 18) include Cancun, $1,749; Huatulco and Ixtapa, $2,149; and newly renovated Playa Blanca, $2,849. Prices are per person, double, for a standard room. Adult prices apply to all guests 12 and over (at some villages, such as Cancun and Playa Blanca, guests must be age 18 or older). Additional costs include government taxes/fees; annual Club Med membership fee of $50 per adult, $20 child, and one-time initiation fee of $30 per family.

Liberty Travel is advertising three-night and six-night packages to Cancun (from $399/$485) and Acapulco (from $439/$499) with midweek airfare and hotel; most are available through Dec. 14 but effective dates vary.

Continental Airlines Vacations is promoting "Fall Free Nights" -- air-inclusive vacation packages to select hotels and destinations throughout the country. Packages offering a fourth night free are available to Acapulco, Cancun, Cozumel and Los Cabos; most also have free-night offers that apply to longer stays. Four-night stays -- including round-trip airfare, airport transfers, lodging and hotel taxes and service charges -- start at $599 per person, double occupancy. Packages subject to availability, restrictions and blackout dates.

Among hotel deals: In Cancun, fourth night free at the Hyatt Regency Cancun, Omni Cancun Hotel & Villas and the Caesar Park Cancun Beach & Golf Resort. In Cozumel, fourth night free at the Coral Princess Hotel & Resort; sixth night free at the Fiesta Inn Cozumel. In Los Cabos, fourth night free at the Melia Los Cabos, Presidente Inter-Continental Los Cabos, Fiesta Inn San Jose del Cabo, Casa del Mar and Hotel Solmar; sixth and seventh nights free at the Hotel Finisterra. In Acapulco, the Acapulco Princess offers the fourth or the sixth and seventh nights free; Westin Las Brisas a fourth night free. The eight other properties in the Westins of Mexico group are offering various specials, as well, with room rates starting at $152 daily through Dec. 21. Travel agents can supply plenty more.

In brief

More bargains

Thailand: You can look a gift horse in the mouth, or you can see the Emerald Buddha in person. It seems incredible, but New York-based SmarTours will give you a two-week tour to Thailand in return for $1,299. The price covers round-trip air from Chicago, all flights within Thailand, four-star hotel stays in -- and tours of -- Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phuket. Daily breakfast and a welcome-night dinner also are included. Even more amazing is that the price is good on selected departures November-April, during peak travel season when the weather is cooler. "Millennium" departures Dec. 18 and 27 cost $1,699. What? You're not dialing yet? (800-337-7773)

Chunnel: Promotional fares on the Channel Tunnel Eurostar train afford savings of up to 40 percent off regular fares for travel until Nov. 30 on tickets booked through Rail Europe. Travel must take place from Monday to Thursday between London and Paris or Brussels (or points in between). A first-class one-way ticket costs $149, compared with the usual $219; a second-class ticket costs $89 instead of $149. The discount fares are nonrefundable, and tickets cannot be exchanged. The London-to-Paris trip takes three hours; London to Brussels, 2 hours 45 minutes. Reservations: 800-387-6782. On the Internet, it is www.raileurope.com.

Book: "Fly Cheap! How to Save 5 Percent to 50 Percent or More Every Time You Fly," by Kelly Monaghan (The Intrepid Traveler, $14.95, paper) -- In the realm of air travel, there are two consumer extremes: passengers who take whatever ticket an agent offers with a smile, and those who will fly a 15-segment trip from L.A. to Phoenix in order to pick up six extra frequent-flier miles and a first-class upgrade. The latter already know what's in this book, and the former don't care. Anyone in between will learn how to take advantage of ticket consolidators, about "back-to-back" ticketing ploys and why the Internet isn't a sure-fire best bet for bargains.

Business

American Express predicts a respite next year from recent major increases in business travel costs. The company projects these expenses will rise only 2 percent to 3 percent over all, with the greatest increases coming in hotel rates, up an estimated 5 percent to 7 percent, and telecommunications fees, up an estimated 7 percent to 8 percent.

Culture

Novel Expeditions brings the books of England's finest writers to life on a 10-day tour to the towns and countryside of Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson and others. Participants on this literary journey will visit such sites as the house in London where Johnson wrote one of the first English dictionaries; the quaint, thatch-roofed cottage where Hardy wrote many of his most famous works; a replica of Shakespeare's 16th-century Globe Theater in London; and Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey, where many literary giants are buried.

Travelers will also visit the towns, homes and landscapes that inspired the writers. Guests will see Stonehenge, Bath, Salisbury and King Arthur's Cadbury Castle. Dates for 2000: March 25 to April 3, April 29 to May 8, June 10 to 19, Sept. 23 to Oct. 2, and Oct. 7 to 16.

Cost: $2,395 per person, double occupancy, including accommodations, all breakfasts and five dinners, sightseeing and entrance fees, guides and ground transportation. Air fare to England is not included.

Contact: Novel Expeditions, 140 Tunstead Ave., San Anselmo, Calif. 94960; 800-820-8485.

Kids

There are new food options for kids aboard Princess Cruises' ships, which now have a Junior Cruisers menu in their 24-hour bistro restaurants.

The menu --available on Sun Princess, Dawn, Sea, Grand, Royal, Crown and Regal Princesses -- lets families opt to dine informally together, and includes child-pleasing favorites such as burgers, hot dogs, spaghetti snakes, fish sticks, chicken fingers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Adults should know that a version of sushi has been added to Princess' buffet options fleetwide. A sushi bar, available on sea days from 11 a.m to 3 p.m., offers an array of non-raw variations.

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