Normally, trying to negotiate a great hotel deal in the summer is like trying to scale Mt. Everest. A lot of folks try, but few make it.
Historically, most resort hotels--here and abroad--make most of their profits during the summer months when tourism is high.
Of course, that was until the summers of 1985 and '86, when terrorism and Chernobyl combined to keep thousands of Americans away from European countries. Even in the United States, many cities had--and still have--too many available hotel rooms.
The result: a buyer's market for tourists this summer. Already a number of overseas hotels have slashed their summer rates, hoping to entice Americans to come back.
Inter-Continental hotels have launched their "summer sale," a special European travel program with savings up to 60% at 30 hotels in 23 cities.
In Paris, the normal rate at the Inter-Continental is $261 a night. It's now $130.
In Vienna, one of Europe's most expensive cities, the regular room rate at the Inter-Continental runs $240. This summer, it drops to $90 (a 62% savings). This is even less than a discount offered in the summer of 1985, when Vienna rates were lowered to $112.
The program, July 1 through Aug. 31, is based on double occupancy. But there are no restrictions for weekends. Perhaps the best part of the deal is that the rates are guaranteed in dollars, and also include tax and service charges, which in some cities can be as high as 25%. In addition, the plan allows one child up to 18 years of age to stay free.
Hilton International is also putting Europe on sale with its "Premium Plus Summer Bonus." Until Aug. 31, per-person rates are $45 at Hilton International hotels in Athens, Paris, Jerusalem, Milan, Basel, Malta, Paris and Zurich. Rates of $60 per person can be found at Hilton International hotels in Amsterdam, Brussels, Budapest and Vienna. And $80 per-person rates are charged at the Rome, Istanbul, Munich, Geneva and Tel Aviv Hiltons.
In Asia, there are a number of great hotel deals. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group is offering 10 summer holiday packages through Sept. 15.
The Oriental in Bangkok offers a three-night package at $195 per person, which includes tours of the city and a special dinner.
In Hong Kong, the Mandarin has a three-night $200 package. The Mandarin in Manila has a very attractive $140 three-night deal.
"Summer at the Regent" is a three-day/two-night package for $149 per night. And the Hyatt Regency offers a three-night package for $192 per person, which includes sightseeing and shopping tours.
Seeing the U.S.A.
A number of American hotels are offering similar deals, as well as attractive summer weekend packages.
The Doral Park Avenue Hotel in New York offers an "Enchanted Evenings" package from Thursday through Sunday at $109.50 per person, double occupancy. The package comes complete with continental breakfast served in bed each morning.
Some hotels have tried to match airline "maxsaver" fares, as well as the restrictions. Hilton Hotels has just launched the "Summer of $59," a program that offers a special summer rate of $59 for travelers whose stay includes a Saturday night. And, like many restricted discount airline fares, reservations at participating hotels may be booked any time up to two days in advance of arrival for a stay of as many as 10 nights.
The special $59 per-night rate applies to the room (not per person), and children stay free. "With so many people taking advantage of cheap airline fares," Hilton spokesman Glenn Bozarth says, "we thought this would be a great idea to do in tandem with leisure travel."
Even though the program has just started, it's already surpassing initial hotel occupancy projections. "We've tracked the number of nights people are staying," Bozarth says, "and the average stay is three nights. This surprised us, because it means a lot of people are turning this deal into mini-vacations."
In some cities, it also means that a number of business travelers are extending their stays.
A note of caution: Slightly more than half of Hilton's 271 properties are members of the program. And, as usual, there are different rates in different cities. In New York, for example, you won't find the $59 rate at the Waldorf. Their summer rate is $139 per night. You also can't find the $59 special at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles--it's $89.
Inter-Continental Hotels has expanded its European sale to include properties in the United States, with a special emphasis on family vacations.
A total of 10 Inter-Continental hotels (as of this writing) are participating in the program (good through Sept. 7), which involves only double rooms and luxury suites.
For example, a suite at the Inter-Continental New Orleans now rents for $99 a night, which is a great deal for a family. In Maui, a suite that normally runs $425 a night goes for $189. And in Miami, a $300-a-night suite at the Inter-Continental goes for just $99.
What is perhaps the best summer deal around isn't offered by a hotel. The "Weekender Club" is a test program being offered in certain cities by Eastern Airlines.
It's truly a first-of-a-kind program. Members in the club are offered sharply discounted air fares (lower than even the lowest "super-saver" fares) and accommodations at deluxe hotels in return for booking trips about a week before departure.
Here's how the program works: Members pay a nominal annual membership fee, from $100 to $175. Each week, the airline uses its computers to identify markets where it has an abundance of seats. The seating is then matched with availability of hotel rooms.
Members then receive weekly travelgrams listing at least five weekend trips for travel commencing the following week. The two- and three-night trips include air fare and other features, including hotels and rental cars. Trips depart Friday and return Sunday. On some longer excursions, Thursday departures are allowed. Some examples of the great deals (all from the East Coast):
--St. Thomas, with hotel, three nights: $269.
--San Francisco, with hotel, three nights: $279.
--Montego Bay, with hotel, three nights: $229.
Membership for a single adult is $100. The family membership fee is $200, while child membership runs $50 for kids ages 12 through 17. A bonus for single travelers: For $250 you can buy a one-year membership in the club for you and an "unspecified" companion.
Eastern currently operates Weekender Clubs in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta and South Florida. The airline is now considering expanding the program to the West Coast, possibly later this year. For information and a brochure outlining program details, call Eastern at (800) 237-5200.