Ah, London in spring. Some might think this is a misnomer, but traveling to this fabulous city in March often yields surprisingly sunny days (or at least periods of bright patches). Hyde Park's flowers start blooming a little earlier than most Americans are accustomed to (their winters aren't as cold as ours, remember), and there's less of a crowd on the streets, in line for the Buckingham Palace tour, and at a museum such as the Tate Modern (www.tate.org.uk/modern), which features Turner Prize winning artist Rachel Whiteread's maze-like installment of thousands of casts of white boxes until April 2. Or, perhaps as a welcome reminder that spring is indeed on the way, check out Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew (www.rbgkew.org.uk), located about ten kilometers southwest of London (you can even take the tube there), which just wrapped up a glorious, colorful installation by glass artist Dale Chihuly. Several of the deals have booking deadlines that are quickly approaching, but you have until the end of March in most cases to depart.
British Airways (tel. 877/428-2228; www.britishairways.com) is offering a "Heart of London" package from $519 for three nights of accommodations and round-trip airfare from New York-JFK. You'll stay at a 3.5-star centrally located hotel, such as Mercure London City Bankside Hotel, Royal Eagle, the Bonnington or the Saint Gregory, and you'll receive a theater ticket to a popular West End show. The package is on sale until March 9 for travel from now through March 28. Daily continental breakfast is included, additional hotels may be available for higher rates, and there are no weekend surcharges. Possible shows include Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, or Les Miserables; others, such as Billy Elliot, Lion King, Mary Poppins, are available for an additional charge. The most remarkable part of this deal, however, is that the price does not escalate drastically if you are flying from west coast spots such as Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle--they're all priced from $590. Taxes or government fees are not included.
Virgin Atlantic (tel. 888/937-8474; www.virgin-atlantic.com) is running a fare sale from select cities in the U.S. to London, including New York ($154); Washington, D.C. ($179); and Los Angeles ($234). All are one-way prices based on round-trip ticket purchase. The sale is running through January 27, for travel up until March 31, and October 27-December 15. The offer requires a Saturday night minimum stay and a seven-day advance purchase. If you read the fine print, though, it says these flights won't yield flier miles.
If you are loyal to United (tel. 800/864-8331; www.united.com) you may be pleased to know that the airline is running a comparable fare sale to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with the same January 27 purchase deadline as Virgin for outbound travel through March 31. It might be worth comparing the two sales based on your departure city and restrictions. The United deal is good for off-peak travel (Monday-Thursday), and you must purchase tickets seven days in advance and include a Saturday night stay. Sample one-way fares they list are based on round-trip travel: Chicago, $172; New York, $159; Los Angeles, $239, and Washington, D.C., $184.
Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) almost without fail offers inexpensive deals to London, and their three-night, air-inclusive "London Getaway" is no exception, priced from a mere $329 for flights originating in New York or Newark, NJ, for travel between now and March 24. The booking deadline is February 16. The budget hotel Tria is priced at $329, but there are several options for under $400, including Queens Park, Holiday Villa Hotel, Comfort Inn Kensington, and a few others, categorized as either budget or tourist class operations. Additionally, they're running a "London Superior Class Supersale," with six nights at a superior class hotel (Millennium Knightsbrigde, Crowne Plaza at St James, Flemings Mayfair), priced from a mere $529 for New York departures. The deal is good for travel through March 11, and the booking deadline is February 16. Airport transfers, continental breakfast and London sightseeing tour are all included, as are hotel taxes and service charges.
Expedia (tel. 800/397-3342; www.expedia.com) has a bunch of air-and-hotel deals to London going at the moment, all based on four-nights stay. Priced from $619, including airfare for Country Inn & Suites Kensington, The Cumberland (from $689), or the Hyde Park Paddington from $719. But you must act quickly--the booking deadline is January 23 for travel February 1-April 30. The sample rates posted on Expedia are based on New York departures on American Airlines and double occupancy. Alternately, you can just search for a specific hotel, as the sale is also good for just hotel rates, which start as low as $79, if you already booked airfare elsewhere.
If you or someone you know (like a parent) is more comfortable with the idea of an escorted trip, CIE Tours International (tel. 800-243-8687; www.cietours.com) is running a London Experience priced from $1,038 (land only) or $1,318 (air inclusive, prices based on New York departures), a seven-day experience that puts you in superior hotels such as the Jurys Kensington Hotel for five nights. You'll visit the Tower of London, a full day touring Stonehenge and Bath, and tours of Hampton Court and Windsor, and a dinner and theater evening. Departures are available about once a month, starting in May. Prices jump slightly through the summer months and drop again a bit in the fall.
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