Hawaii this year has hardly been a paradise for travelers.
This spring, thousands were stranded when Aloha Airlines and ATA halted flights. As seats vanished, round-trip airfares from the mainland zoomed, hitting $800 or more.
Cruise customers didn't fare much better: NCL America pulled two of its three ships from weekly island service.
But for fall, the trade winds bear better news for vacationers. Faced with its first drop in visitors in seven years, Hawaii is rolling out the welcome mat.
"The hotels have been putting out fantastic deals," said Jack E. Richards, president and chief executive of giant Pleasant Holidays, which pioneered package tours in Hawaii.
Airfares also are drifting down. Although still higher than last year, they were hovering in the $500-to-$600 range for LAX-Honolulu round trips in September through November when I checked Aug. 24 on Orbitz.com.
Fares are being offset partly by lower hotel costs, according to Farecast.com, which tracks price patterns.
A mainland couple visiting Hawaii in September, for example, may spend, on average, $460 more for air tickets than they did a year ago but $344 less for their hotel for an eight-day stay, according to a recent Farecast projection.
Here's what you can expect this fall, plus some money-saving ideas:
Hotels: Island innkeepers have more vacant rooms, so you'll see more deals.
Hawaii saw 10% fewer visitors from April 1 to June 30, compared with the same time last year. And the state expects to finish 2008 down nearly 7%. That's the first drop since the falloff after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said Dave Young, spokesman for Hawaii's Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.
Although you may find lower room rates, the real savings are often in freebies.
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa recently offered a fifth night free, a room upgrade and free breakfast for two. On Maui, the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa had a fourth night free for stays through mid-December (excluding Thanksgiving), with potential savings of about $100 a night. (Packages and prices mentioned in this story may no longer be available.)
Flights: After peaking in late June and early July, fares are falling. But few experts see a return to last winter's pricing, when sharp-eyed shoppers could find LAX-Honolulu round trips for less than $300.
"The fares you're seeing today are the new norm," said Marsha Wienert, tourism liaison for Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle.
If you can, avoid the holidays. Round-trip LAX-Honolulu fares for Dec. 26 to Jan. 3, were running more than $1,000 when I checked last week on Kayak.com.
Packages: Combining air, hotel and rental car can save a bundle.
Jay Talwar, senior vice president of marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, said most wholesale packagers he contacted planned to charge less this fall than last. The Hawaii visitor website, www.gohawaii.com, links to some of these deals. (The bureau expects to post fall packages next month.)
Pleasant Holidays has extended its summer deals, with savings up to $450 a person, into winter.
Not all packages are bargains, so price the parts separately.
A $2,232 Waikiki air-hotel-car package for two, for five nights, from AmericanAirlines Vacations, appeared to save less than $100 over separate bookings, when I checked recently. But it also came with 11,000 bonus frequent-flier miles.
When I checked a $1,947 Maui air-hotel package for two, for five nights, offered by Pleasant Holidays, it appeared to be about $500 cheaper than booking the same flights and room on my own.
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