Let’s make a deal

Planning a winter vacation somewhere sunny? Better book early… at least that’s what CARP Travel’s Sharon Doubt had to say after learning some 300,000 departures from Canada to the sunny south had been eliminated. But there is an upside — travel companies are wooing travellers by giving discounts for those booking early. “In recent years, many Canadians have got into the habit of waiting until the last minute to book charter flights for a holiday to the Caribbean, Mexico or Central America,” explains Doubt, CARP Travel’s general manager and a 20-year veteran of the travel industry. “They waited for the usual discount sell-offs as the airlines scrambled at the last minute to fill seats. Travel companies and charter airlines cut each other’s throats last winter,” says “There were simply too many aircraft seats chasing too few holidaymakers,” adds Martha Chapman of Signature Vacations. “This meant great bargains for our customers, who at times enjoyed holidays below cost. But it was bad news for the large tour operators, and for shareholders.

“This year we estimate there will be eight fewer charter aircraft flying to the Caribbean, Mexico and Costa Rica,” says Chapman. “That mayot sound like a lot, but take a Boeing 757 aircraft seating 228 passengers, on two flights a day, seven days a week for five months. We estimate 300,000 fewer holidays have been put on the market this winter compared to last year.” “Something had to be done,” states Sunquest’s Wykes. “We all lost our shirts last winter.” As for the eight aircraft going “offline,” it doesn’t mean the charter companies are selling their planes. The planes are still flying, but to other destinations.

One thing’s for sure: Doubt, Chapman and Wykes all agree on the impact these reduced flights to the southern resorts will have. So do I. Three friends were upset when they recently tried to book January package holidays to their favourite resort — only to find it was already sold out for the week they wanted. They settled for switching their vacation period to three weeks later. The message is loud and clear — if you want to enjoy the sun, sea and sand of your favourite resort this winter, book it now!

“Hopefully, CARP members will get that message,” says Doubt. “But some, I’m sure, will still wait for those massive sell offs — they’ll be disappointed.” To encourage travellers to book early, CARP Travel, Sunquest and Signature are sweetening the pot with early booking discounts and other goodies. For example, Sunquest is giving discounts of $70 to $200 if holi-days are booked before Dec. 13 and taken between Jan. 5 and April 22. Some travel companies state you must book and pay for your holiday prior to the bonus deadline. And Signature president John MacNeill has been promoting his company by offering a million dollars in excursion vouchers. “Judging by the popularity of day trips at all our sun destinations, we know it’s going to be a great incentive to book early,” he says. CARP Travel is also offering similar discounts on its travel packages to the sunny south. Golfing holidays are particularly popular and are booking quickly, comments Sunquest’s Jill Wykes. Her company is offering unlimited golf, plus a $200 booking bonus for its resort at Tampico, Mexico. At the Holiday Inn Sunspree in Jamaica, another popular golf spot, the early booking incentive is $100 per couple. And Costa Rica’s Melia Playa Conchal golf resort offers a $100 booking bonus.

Even if you’re looking for a week of luxury, the early booking bonus applies. The five-star Melia Rio de Oro in Cuba, one of my favourite sunspots, has a $100 a couple deal if booked prior to Dec. 13. And for long stays of three to four weeks, the three-star Best Western Margarita Dynasty on Margarita Island is giving $120 a couple for a minimum of two weeks. So it’s definitely “lets make a deal” time. Check with CARP Travel or your travel agent for the bonus deadlines to your favourite winter getaway.