So your taxes are in! And now, like so many people around the country you’re waiting with bated breath for your income tax refund. Last year, the average federal refund amount was close to $3,000 so you probably can guess what we’re thinking. That’s right. Pack your bags because a vacation is now in the cards!
We’ve even sorted out a few “budget” and “splurge” options to help you narrow down the contenders. Hoping to squirrel away most of that refund? We’ve got you covered with some very thrifty spots. Go big or go home more your style? There’s something for you here as well. All in all, there are more than a few surprisingly affordable destinations for your travel planning inspiration. Without further ado…
Frugal Find: Los Angeles, CA
Believe it or not, La-La land can be done on the cheap (even in the summer) so long as you’re willing to avoid the tonier zip codes for accommodation. It’s pretty much all about the sunshine, beaches and people watching anyway. If you visit in July, August or even September, you’re practically guaranteed perfect sunbathing weather and there are loads of other free and low-cost outdoor activities in addition to sunbathing to keep you busy. Griffith Park, Runyon Canyon and Topanga offer picturesque hikes for every fitness level, you can take in a ballgame at historic Dodger stadium, and the L.A. food truck culture (cheap eats!) is on point. American is offering flights for $83 round trip on select dates* from Chicago, O’Hare and there are many hotels near LAX where you can get a room for under $100/night. Even the beach cities have budget options. At these rates you can get a 4-night vacation for two for about $600 total.
Long on Luxury: Maui, Hawaii
West coasters should seriously consider a getaway to Maui. For Hawaii virgins, it’s the perfect introduction to the state. Maui boasts some of the most stunning coastline in the world, first-in-class hotels and resorts, year-round sunshine, dining to suit every taste and budget, and activities that run the gamut from beach lounging and relaxing with pool service all the way to strenuous hiking and parasailing and everything in between. You can do a sunrise cycling trip down a volcano, zip line through the jungle, relax at a traditional luau, take a sunset cruise for foodies, wander and shop the charming streets of Lahaina or just hunker down poolside at your hotel. Flights from San Francisco start from under $400 per person on Virgin America.* We recommend the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa on Kaanapali Beach which has its own spa, pool and private beach. Garden view rooms start at $289/night. A four-night stay with airfare is just under $2,000 for two.
Frugal Find: Las Vegas, Nevada
Vegas always pops up in these roundups and for a very good reason. Flights, hotels and dining can all be had for next to nothing. You’ll want to save your pennies for the casinos and the many spectacular shows, but if a little R & R by a pool is the game plan, Sin City may be the best bargain going stateside. Charming Cheapskate tip: Play the tables downtown where some of the older casinos have low to very low limits (the El Cortez has the cheapest tables, but drinks can be a bit on the watered-down side). Flights New York to Las Vegas start at $250 round trip on JetBlue from JFK.* Many hotels on the strip have mid-week rates under $100, but the real discounts are to be found at the Stratosphere ($38/night) and Circus Circus ($29/night). Even high-end properties like the Bellagio ($219/night) and hipster haunts like the Cosmopolitan ($214/night) are priced pretty competitively. A 3 night stay for two in Las Vegas with round trip flights from New York for less than $600? We’re doubling down on this one.
Long on Luxury: Las Vegas, Nevada
No that’s not a typo. There are a few ways to do Vegas, don’t you know. If you’re on a budget, go during the week and stick to the cheaper casinos. If you’re more of the “can’t take it with you” type, we recommend heading to Sin City on the weekend when the international party people (and the international pool parties) are in town. With so many music headliners (residencies include Britney Spears, Elton John, Celine Dion) any number of Cirque de Soleil productions, a veritable who’s who of comedy stars rotating through – you can get a ticket most weekends for the show of your choice for right around $100/seat. The same hotels that were cheap during the week will give you sticker shock on the weekend -Bellagio ($364/night), Cosmopolitan ($490/night). Flights are also more on the weekend – $368 round trip for the same JetBlue nonstop out of JFK.* So, this is the high-roller move. You go for the weekend and you’re all in for $1,664 – that’s flights, accommodation and the show of your choice. And you’ve still got dough left over for gambling and pool party covers.
Frugal Find: New Orleans, Louisiana
Are you looking for European flavor but don’t have a passport? Say no more. New Orleans is our pick for fabulous music, decadent food, elegant architecture and a “language” all its own. New Orleans has a compact historic center and is completely walkable which is fabulous for visitors. The people of New Orleans have embraced the work to live ethos, and you’ll meet quirky and colorful characters wherever you go. Hospitality is on display no matter when you’re in New Orleans, which truly is a place where the denizens themselves seem to be on vacation 24/7. You really have to work to not have a good time in N’Awlins. It’s simply the best. Stay at the Royal St. Charles which is walking distance from the French Quarter for $111/night. Nonstop flights from JFK on American for $275 round trip.* Take a long weekend in the Big Easy for less than $900 for you and a friend.
Long on Luxury: Paris, France
Lots of people put European destinations at the top of their travel bucket lists, so we thought we ought to give our east coast peeps a classic European option. The key to getting a champagne vacation on a beer budget in expensive European destinations is, by and large, to just avoid the high season months for American travelers (i.e. summer). Paris is spectacular in the spring and early fall, so take advantage of these times of year! Nonstop flights out of JFK on XL Airways France start at right around $600 round trip for dates in September* and the Ibis Paris Montmartre has rooms overlooking Sacre Coeur for just $106/night. In a city positively rife with tiny, shabby hotel rooms, the Ibis chain will give you a decidedly North American vibe. Total price for a 6-night stay for two will run you $1,836. It’s a steal!
We hope we’ve given you some fun ideas on how to spend your tax refund vacation dollars this year. There’s a lot you can do to stretch your budget and so many amazing destinations to visit. We’d love to hear what other destinations are on your radar in the comments below or tweet to us @CheapAir. Happy travels!
*Airfares include taxes and fees and are valid as of 4/20/16 on select dates between 5/1/16 and 9/30/16. Lowest fare seats are capacity controlled and may not be available on every airline, flight, or date. Fares subject to change without notice.