- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

‘Tis the season of taxes. The dreaded months that lie ahead are filled with receipts, workbooks and a few four-letter words. But underneath the dark cloud that looms steadily over tax season is one shining glimmer of hope: a refund.

Will you get one? How much? What will you do with it? Consider doing a little something self-serving with your hard earned tax dollars: travel.

It may seem frivolous, but the reality is that now is the best time to travel. Airlines are dropping fares faster than they take flight, hotels are offering discounts and upgrades and restaurants are hungry for dining cards. The burning question: where to go?

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Popular domestic destinations including New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Chicago are increasingly affordable and more attractive to travelers on a budget. Thanks to low-cost carriers including Virgin America, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and AirTran Airways, flights are more frequent and less costly.

For less than $400 round-trip, travelers can hop nearly a dozen different airlines from Washington, D.C., and arrive in Vegas in enough time to hit the casino before the night’s end. New York is less than an hour flight and for less than $100 a night you can stay in Times Square, where the options are endless. Hint: consult with the hotel concierge for discounted theater tickets and popular restaurant reservations.

This week, Continental Airlines announced a Hawaii flight sale that starts as low as $202 one-way from Washington, D.C. Taxes and fees aren’t included, but unlike other last-minute flight sales, you don’t have to travel right away. Book and buy Hawaii flights now and travel through Dec. 15 - plenty of time to get cheap rates on Hawaii hotels.

If international travel is your calling, or if you’ve never been overseas, now is the time to go. The dollar may not be as strong as it once was but it’s gaining strength in England and throughout Europe. The secret to overseas trips is simple: If you see a good airline fare, book it.

Iceland is topping everyone’s must-travel-to list — the long flight is worth it for a glimpse of the Northern Lights. What’s more, the Icelandic krona is currently melting, making the U.S. dollar strong and valuable in Iceland. If the flight to Iceland is too long for the little ones, board a flight to London and immerse yourself in royalty. The Great Britain pound is still stronger than the dollar, but thanks to hotel discounts that come with everything from free tours to discounted museum passes, you’ll still save money.

It seems there is no escaping the state of the economy, but in fact there is one silver lining shining through the cloudy forecast: Travel deals are at an all-time low. No matter where you travel, there’s a deal. If you’re smart, plan ahead and follow a few simple rules, it’s possible to book a vacation that won’t burn a hole in your bank account.

Melanie Nayer is the Senior Editor of Cheapflights.com.

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