Wednesday, February 17, 1999

Don’t look for
travel bargains
at New Year’s

Hotels and airlines will
raise prices for those bringing
in the year 2000

By Christine Donnelly


Pity the poor soul looking for bargain travel packages for New Year's Eve 1999.

"Every day we get people asking, 'Do you have any specials for the millennium?' No. Don't even think about getting a $299 packages to Las Vegas," said Lynda Bell, manager of Regal Travel's Kahala office.

Bell is warning clients to expect to pay "at least twice" the usual price for airfare, hotel rooms and the like, and that many of the most sought-after locales for New Year's Eve celebrants already are sold out despite the astronomical prices.

"It's all supply and demand ... People want something special and it seems they're willing to pay," she said.

The hotel/casinos Regal Travel books in Las Vegas -- including Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand, the Mirage and Bellagio -- are full, she said. At Disneyland, the 1,638 rooms in the two hotels on park property are sold out. And most of the cruise lines Regal books only are taking waiting-list reservations.

William Smith, vice president and general manager of Vacations-Hawaii, said about half of his company's millennium packages to Las Vegas are sold out despite "absolutely no promotion" and higher-than-usual prices.

Vacations-Hawaii is owned by Boyd Gaming Co. and books rooms at the Boyd's California, Fremont, Stardust and Main Street hotels.

Its four-night packages, including airfare, ground transport, hotel room and meals, start at $649, compared to $449 for a normal New Year and $339 during the off-season, Smith said. And that starting price could rise "a couple of hundred dollars" as seats on three charters are sold.

But he insists it's still a good deal, especially considering that luxury resorts such as Caesars Palace and Rio Suites are charging $1,400 to $2,000 a night around New Year's Eve and require a four-night minimum.Celebrants also will experience a spectacle well beyond the usual Las Vegas extravaganza. "Everybody's planning extreme celebrations and the prices reflect that," he said.

Bell said the vacation destinations always popular with Hawaii residents -- Las Vegas, New York City, Disneyland and Disneyworld -- are proving equally so for millennium travel. But she's also seen a surge of interest in places such as the South Pacific, which will be among the first to greet the Year 2000, and Rio de Janeiro.

Wherever the destination, some keys to getting the best deal are advance planning, flexibility in travel dates and acting quickly if the price seems right.

For example, discounter Cheap Tickets Inc. yesterday quoted a Hawaii-New York round-trip airfare of $596 on TWA, as long as travel began by Dec. 26 and ended by Jan. 4. But a ticket agent warned seats at that price were "very limited." Likewise, United Airlines quoted a "special" rate of $616.34 for a round-trip Honolulu-Las Vegas ticket after Christmas. But that rate was going fast, the agent said, and would rise to between $811 and $911.

Bell said Delta yesterday quoted an $850 fare for a round-trip ticket from Honolulu to Las Vegas that departs Dec. 28 and returns Jan. 2. The fare usually is around $400, and the mark-up is typical of major carriers, she said.

Besides higher prices, many suppliers have stricter-than-usual cancelation policies or are requiring multi-night stays. And Bell lamented that the cheaper "kamaaina fares" several major airlines usually post around Christmas likely won't occur this year.

Mainland and international travelers hoping to greet the new century in Hawaii face the same high prices and tight availability as isle residents going elsewhere.

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