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Air sales, hotel deals and a slew of holiday events make Washington, D.C. an affordable fall and winter vacation destination for travelers from all over the United States. International in scope and population, the nation's capital is a brochure for diversity with foreign exchange students, international dignitaries, and cultural performers as prevalent as politicians. Fortunately for travelers, the cold winters and bone-chilling winds that whip through the open spaces and wide boulevards cause hoteliers to drop rates and make lodging a low-budget affair.

United Airlines (tel. 800/241-6522; www.united.com) is having a Take Time For You sale that has three special fares to Washington, D.C. Roundtrip travel from Chicago to D.C. costs $118; from Austin and San Antonio the cost is $218. Travel must be completed by February 13, 2006 with a fourteen-day advance purchase. Air taxes and security fees are not included in the above fares.

For hotel deals to the D.C. area, Travel Zoo (www.travelzoo.com) has a full page dedicated to D.C. hotel deals. We found a 50 per cent off deal to the Capital Hill Hyatt (tel. 800/233-1234; www.washingtonregency.hyatt.com) where rooms booked by November 17, 2006 cost $99 (or plus $10 for some dates) for travel good from November 18 all the way through December 31, 2006. The hotel is only steps away from the Capital Building, the National Mall and many of the museums affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute (tel. 202/633-1000; www.si.edu).

Just steps away from the White House, the Hotel Washington (tel. 800/424-9540; www.hotelwashington.com) is another hotel offering lodging for $99 per night. Travel for this deal is good from November 21, 2006 until January 31, 2007. An add-on to this special gets you a one-bedroom suite for an extra $100. This special is over half-off the swank hotel's regular rates. It's also good for seven-nights a week -- weekend or weekday, depending on availability. Each room has standard marble bathrooms, high thread-count cotton sheets and free in-room wireless Internet access. Film buffs may recognize the hotel from the Godfather II, Francis Ford Coppola's epic. Another bonus: travelers who purchase this special rate get a free bottle of wine with their room for the night. (Beats free breakfast for some.)

Always reliable and affordable, Travelocity's Last Minute Deals Travelocity (tel. 888/872-8356; www.travelocity.com) have air/land combination deals to D.C. A pull-down menu directs you to choose a departure city and a destination before a search engine finds pending deals. If, for example, you live in Birmingham, Alabama and want to visit D.C. with your wife, partner or friend, available packages that combine airfare and hotel start at $309 per person for a trip leaving Friday, November 17, 2006 and returning Sunday, November 19, 2006. There are over 36 hotels to choose from. The lowest price is for the Holiday Inn on the Hill, a three-star hotel just two blocks from the Capital building and Union Station. From here you can easily walk to all the sites along the National Mall. 

While the eyes of most big Christmas tree aficionados focus on Rockefeller Center in New York, D.C. has its own version of a giant Douglas-fir or Colorado Blue Spruce. For 82 years, the President has been lighting a National Christmas Tree. This year's lighting is scheduled for 5pm, December 7, 2006 on the Ellipse, the grassy knoll just south of the White House. Call tel. 202/208-1631 for details; tickets are free but required to attend the tree-lighting ceremony.

Local tour providers offer comprehensive city tours of D.C. giving up-close looks at the city's majestic architecture. Historic Tours of America (tel. 800/213-2474; www.historictours.com/washington) has several trolley tours including a Monuments by Moonlight tour that costs $28 per person. Departing at 6:30pm from Union Station during fall and winter months, the tour is 2½ hours long and visits the Iwo Jima Memorial, FDR Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veteran's Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. On board the tour you'll get glimpses of Capital Hill by night as well as the White House, Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument.

For full-day tours, Party Shuttle Tours (email customerservice@dcpartyshuttle.com; www.washingtondcpartyshuttle.com) has a six-hour morning tour or three-hour evening tour that stops at most of the city's major sites. Starting at the Old Post Office, the six-hour tour hits the almost all the monuments, the White House, the Capital Building and the Pentagon. Other sites you'll see from the shuttle bus include the Supreme Court, Ford Theater, the FBI Building, National Cathedral, and Arlington Cemetery. Prices are $60 per adult and $55 per child for the morning tour and $30 for all tickets for the evening ride. The morning tour starts at 10 a.m. with the afternoon tour beginning at 7 p.m. And don't think the term "party shuttle" means alcohol is involved. The word party here refers to a "party at a friend's house," or a fun, family-oriented congenial atmosphere, mirroring the city it tours.

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