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Early Birds Get the Luxury Travel Deals

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This holiday season, give thanks for big discounts.

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Editor's Note: This is the third in a series on luxury travel bargains.

Did you hear that the recession is over? Well, the travel industry hasn't gotten the news. They're still flying on a wing and a prayer.

That's great for you, because it adds a new truism to strategies for travel bargain hunting.

The old axiom -- that the best deals are grabbed at the last minute -- may or may not be true this time.

As 2009 winds down, booking early for the year-end holiday season can get you a better deal, with a higher degree of luxury, and you can take your pick from a wider selection of destinations and packages.

How the Early Bird Wins

Autumn is always the slowest season for the travel industry, and that's given its executives plenty of time to fret about whether they're going to get any business during the critical holiday season.

So, airlines and hoteliers are getting out early with their best deals in an effort to kick-start the season. If they're lucky, consumer spending may perk up before they're forced to hold a last-minute fire sale.

Their expectations aren't high to begin with.

International airfares were down 19% in the second quarter of 2009 compared to the previous year, according to American Express' North America Business Travel Monitor. Domestic air fares were down 18% in the same period. Those figures are based on prices actually paid.

Few projections are available for the holiday season, although Bing Travel -- a service of the new Microsoft (MSFT) search engine -- estimates that Thanksgiving airfares to US destinations will be down 22%, to an average $327

Meanwhile, hotel costs have fallen in every major US city except Honolulu, according to Bing Travel. New York rates have fallen as much as 30%, and Chicago rates are down 21% year-over-year.

Best Buys Right Now

We went looking for some real-life examples of great deals in the luxury sector for the period from shortly before Thanksgiving through New Year's.

We found that Thanksgiving week and Christmas week prices may go a bit higher, but if you're willing to be just a little flexible on dates, there are great high-end deals to be had.

Some of the deals on the following page may not still be available when you click, but you'll find other appealing offers there -- maybe even better ones.
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