WHAT'S THE DEAL?
Europe for Two; Cancun Can't Wait
* Fly to Europe on Lufthansa and your friend goes (almost) free--a good deal only if you choose cities wisely. Plus, get a stainless steel watch said to be worth $300. The two-fer applies to specific economy fares; your companion must pay taxes and travel with you. (Buy by Feb. 15, travel by March 31; blackout dates are until Jan. 9.) Flights leave from Dulles and alight in 100 cities. There are good deals to, among other places, Istanbul ($798, sans taxes, for two), Milan ($674 ditto) and Vienna ($627). (Taxes will add about $60-$70 per passenger.) Deals to Paris, however, save only $20 per ticket over usual low fares. As for the sleek Festina watch, send or fax a copy of your ticket to Lufthansa before Feb. 15 and hope supplies last. Details: 1-800-399-LUFT, www.lufthansa-usa.com.
* 11th Hour Vacations is offering two January retreats to Cancun for a price more common in the off-season. The $599-per-person deal includes round-trip charter flight from Dulles (Thursday departures) and three nights at the deluxe Hyatt Regency. For $40 more, leave from BWI (Sunday, Monday or Thursday) and stay a fourth night. Departures on Allegro airline are Jan. 5-28 from Dulles and Jan. 2-30 from BWI. For comparison: oceanview, beachfront rooms are $169 a night, while flights to Cancun start at around $400. Details: 1-800-678-8626, www.11thhourvacations.com.
TRAVEL LAB REPORT
RESEARCH QUESTION: Are Park 'n' Fly packages at airport hotels--in which the hotels throw in free long-term parking with one night's room rental--a good deal, compared with what airports charge to park in their lots?
METHODOLOGY: Shopping around for parking deals at airport hotels and comparing their prices with those at Dulles ($6 a day), BWI ($7, seventh day free) and Reagan National ($8).
RESULTS: Most airport hotels with Park 'n' Fly packages require a one-night stay but throw in free parking, breakfast and a ride to the terminal--a good deal for travelers with early-morning flights who fear in- clement weather or a backed-up Beltway. Amazingly, a few hotels offer long-term parking to non-guests at rates far below the airports'. Some sample costs:
* At the Dulles Airport Days Inn (703- 471-6700), non-guests can park for $20 per week for two weeks and $10 for the third (three-week maximum), and get a free ride to the airport. Guests park free for at least two weeks. Rooms are $79 to $109 per night.
* A room at the Hampton Inn at Dulles (703-471-6700) includes a week's park- ing, breakfast and airport shuttle for about $130. It'll pay for a cab if you miss the shuttle, and pack you a snack if you don't have time for breakfast. After the first week, parking is $5 per week.
* At the Best Western Colony Inn (703- 739-2222) in Alexandria, non-guests park for $5 a day, with weekends free. From November to March, the hotel offers three weeks' parking, breakfast and an airport shuttle with a one-night stay ($79- $119). At other times, a $20 weekly parking fee is added to the room rate (waived if you stay the night you return).
* Holiday Inn Express at BWI Airport offers an airport shuttle, free local calls, breakfast, two weeks' parking ($10 for additional weeks) and a room for four for just over $100. 410-684-3388.
CONCLUSION: If you've got an early flight and need to be near the airport anyway, Park 'n' Fly is a good deal. Otherwise, for trips shorter than a week, most Park 'n' Fly packages don't pay. For example, three days' parking at Dulles costs about $18; a night at the Days Inn is almost five times more. After two weeks, though, you can break even, and real savings kick in during the third week. But the biggest deals are for non-guests, who can save anywhere from $8 a day to $22 a week.
SITE OF THE WEEK
For a succinct list of current, popular travel sites in all categories, www.top9.com/travel_transport
This site--a spinoff of local travel retailer Omega World Travel--is a boil-down of the most popular travel Web sites, counted by PC Data. The beauty is one-click access to the top nine sites in any group--airline, hotel, destination, etc. Nice way to avoid search engines or paid-for "best" lists. And where else can you learn that www.activedayton.com is so popular?
TRAVEL TIP 125
Jog? Who Needs to Jog?
PROBLEM: Your hotel has no exercise facilities, and you don't like to jog through streets in foreign cities.
SOLUTION: Dance, says tipster Barbara Morris of Alexandria. "Pack a headset and a cassette of music with a beat and dance in your hotel room at your convenience. This is also great on cruise ships where there's often a wait for exercise equipment, or it's too blustery/hot/rainy to jog on deck."
BONUS: "No need to pack outdoor jogging clothing--dance as skimpily attired as you wish."
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HOME THIS WEEK?
"Southern Accents," performances of Faulkner/McCullers stories, Monday, National Portrait Gallery, 202-357-2920.
Newport News, Va.: Jan. 22-23, Wildlife Arts Festival, 757-595-1900, www.valivingmuseum.org. Forty East Coast artists bring the wildlife indoors, with painted, glass-blown and jeweled renditions of flowers and animals.
Eatonville, Fla.: Jan. 27-30, Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, 407-647-3307, www.cs.ucf.edu/zora. The Harlem Renaissance author is honored in her home town.
Elko, Nev.: Jan. 22-29, Cowboy Poetry Gathering, 1-888-880-5885, www.westernfolklife.org. Real cowboys read poetry, swing dance and tame horses.
St. Moritz, Switzerland: Jan. 27-30, Polo World Cup on Snow, 212-757-5944, usa.discover-switzerland .com. The international horsey set plays polo on a frozen lake while jet-setters sip chilled champagne.
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