advertisement

Unless you're a hardcore surfer or skier, Australia's charms are seasonless. Come fall, you can still buzz on Sydney's youthful energy, and zip an hour away to the oily blue eucalyptus wilds of the Blue Mountains. The fashion capital of Melbourne is no less sophisticated, and the rugged cliffs and surf of Ocean Road Drive are even more bracing. Ayres Rock is just as red, and you can still see penguins on Philip Island, nocturnal animals on Kangaroo Island, and Tasmanian Devils on "Tazzy," off the southern coast. What's more is you can have it all at discount prices in the coming months, as the land down under slips into autumn.

As we've reported before, the most notable deal is the Qantas Airpass (tel. 800/227-4500; www.qantasusa.com), best for departures from the West Coast. From April through August, $999 buys round-trip air from Los Angeles or Honolulu to Australia, plus three free domestic hops once you arrive. Fly into one of nine cities -- Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Hobart, or Launceston -- and you can shuttle to three more of them before departing for the U.S.

The pass is good for seven-day minimum stays in Australia from April 26 until June 17, and from July 19 until August 26. You needn't arrive and depart from the same city, most of which are in southeastern Australia, with the exception of Hobart and Launceston in Tasmania. Alternate departure cities are available at extra cost, including San Francisco for $50; Seattle and Portland for $150; St. Louis and Chicago for $260; and New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. for $300. Taxes of about $137 are not included.

Go Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) is also running several great packages from the West Coast into Sydney and Melbourne. The best value is the "Cosmopolitan Cities" package: eight nights in Sydney and Melbourne -- four nights in each -- for $1,279, from Los Angeles and San Francisco, from May 1 through June 9. In Sydney, you'll stay at the four-star Pacific International Hotel, in the heart of downtown. In Melbourne, you'll stay in the 3-1/2-star Quality Hotel Batmans Hill on Collins. For $1,459, you can upgrade to the four-star, historic Art Deco Grace Hotel in Sydney and the four-star Savoy Park Plaza in Melbourne. Tickets must be purchased by May 19.

All Go Today packages include air, connecting flights where necessary, accommodations, and hotel taxes and fees. Airport taxes and fees of $40 to $200 are not included. Alternate departure cities vary for each of the routes described, but samples for the Sydney-Melbourne deal are representative, including Seattle or Portland for an extra $95, Chicago for $195 more, and New York or Washington, D.C., for an additional $245.

The single-city packages are least expensive. Five nights in either Sydney or Melbourne are $1,099, for travel from Los Angeles and San Francisco, between May 1 and June 9. In Melbourne, you'll stay in the aforementioned Quality Hotel; an upgrade to the Savoy Park Place is $1,209. The purchase deadline is May 19. In Sydney, the base hotel is the Pacific International, described above, with an upgrade to the Corus Hotel for $1,189. The purchase deadline is April 20. Additional departure cities and hotel upgrades are available. See the website for details.

Talk about traveling Down Under on our Australia Message Boards today.