advertisement

There's an excellent reason why a list of recession travel rules should begin with the old chestnut: Always do the math. Unless you take the time to test-book and compare actual costs, you won't become wise to the spend-to-save trick, the per-person pricing move, and other time-honored marketing ploys.

The good news? Occasionally, your calculator will hit paydirt. Here are three super deals that live up to their promises. We know. We did the math.

Deal No. 1: Ski Free at Bretton Woods, NH

Less than three hours north of Boston, New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley is a popular destination for families year-round, and especially in the winter with its sleigh-load of cold outdoor fun. The Omni Mount Washington Resort gets in on the act with sleigh rides, snowshoeing and dog sledding -- plus a kids club and heated indoor pool for when the kids are ready to come inside and warm up. Good news for snow-loving families: The Omni Mount Washington Resort is offering a Stay Here, Ski Free promotion (www.omnihotels.com) through April 11 (yes, the snow usually sticks around that long). Valid for midweek (Sunday to Thursday) stays, the package includes lift tickets to adjacent Bretton Woods, the Granite State's largest ski area, which boasts more than 400 acres and 101 trails and glades.

With nightly rates starting at $89 per adult, is this offer a good deal for families? We did the math to find out.

The package includes:

  • One night's lodging (worth $179 in January)
  • Two adult lift tickets to Bretton Woods (worth $66/adult x 2 = $132)
  • Two lift tickets for kids ages 5 to 12 staying in same room (normally $40/ticket x 2 = $80)
  • One Omni kid's backpack per child (let's say $10/backpack x 2 kids = $20)

When we test-booked a January stay for a family of two adults and two school-age kids (5 to 12), the package rate came to $219 a night. That is $172 less than the $391 this family would normally pay for lodging and lift tickets. (We won't include the backpacks, since they are not a necessary part of the ski getaway.) In other words, the package slices a whopping 47% off the price of what the stay-and-ski components would cost if purchased separately.

Note: With this package, lift tickets are included only for kids 5 to 12. At Bretton Woods, children 4 and under always ski free with a paying adult. Teens would still have to buy a $53-a-day lift ticket.

Deal or no deal? Grab your skis! This is a super deal, especially if your kids are between the ages of 5 and 12.

Deal No. 2: "Double Your Pleasure" in Jackson Hole

Set on a butte just outside the town of Jackson, the 1,000-acre Spring Creek Ranch (www.springcreekranch.com) has an elegantly rustic vibe and stellar views of the Teton Mountains. It also affords great access to all the winter sports available in Jackson Hole this time of year, such as skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, ice skating, dog sledding, and a unique add-on: a four-hour wildlife safari where you'll have opportunities to see bison, moose, elk and antelope up close. The resort's condos feature full kitchens, fireplaces, a patio or balcony and Internet access.

During the entire month of January, Spring Creek Ranch is running a "Double Your Pleasure" special that seems tailor-made for the family of four. When you book five nights in a two-bedroom condo plus three days of lift tickets, the resort kicks in a slew of buy-two-get-two extras and some completely free bonuses.

The base components include:

  • Five-night stay in a two-bedroom condo ($415/night in January x 5 nights = $2,075)
  • Three days of lift tickets ($290/day for a family of four x 3 days = $870)

    Buy-two-get-two components include:

  • Four airline tickets to Jackson Hole for the price of two (limit of $500/ticket, so worth up to $1,000)
  • Four dinner entrÃ?es for price of two at The Granary on-site restaurant (worth $17 x 2 entrÃ?es = $34)
  • Four 60-minute Rocky Mountain Relaxation massages for price of two (regularly $60 x 2 = $120)
  • Four 4-hour wildlife safaris for price of two (normally $115/adult and $85/child, so two free tickets worth $200)

Free components include:

  • Breakfast for four daily at The Granary restaurant (worth $50/day x 5 days = $250)
  • Shuttle service to and from town and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort? (always free)

Deal or no deal? This package delivers both added value and added fun with a combination of full-price, half-price, and free elements. If you booked all the package's components independently, you would pay $5,903 (assuming your airfare cost $500/person). The package comes in at $4,299, or 27% off the non-package price.

The full-price elements of the package (lodging and lift tickets) come to $2,945. The lion's share of the savings comes from the buy-two-get-two elements. The catch here is that you have to spend to save, so consider those components as wiggle room. If, for example, you forego the massages, you could lower your final bill by another $120. Likewise, if you can find airfares for less than $500, you'll lower your final bill by the difference.

This offer is available until January 31 and is only available by phone. Call tel. 888/838-6606 and ask for the 'Spring Creek Ranch Double Your Pleasure Package.'

Deal No. 3: Fly Free to Disneyland on Alaska Air

Contemplating a family getaway to Disneyland? In conjunction with its sister airline Horizon Air, Alaska Airlines is offering an air+hotel+tickets package with a Kids Fly Free component (www.alaskaair.com/as): you get one free air ticket for one child (ages 2 to 11) for every purchased adult airfare. The offer is good for flights into LAX, Orange County/Santa Ana Airport, Long Beach and San Diego.

The promise of free airfare can be very compelling, but before you buy any bundled trip, you need to do the math to make sure you can't get it for less if you book on your own. Let's see how the components break down:

  • Airfare: When we price-checked Alaska Airlines airfares for a family of four traveling from Seattle in late February, we found regular fares starting at $300 per person and a few limited-time fares starting at $100. We comparison shopped at Kayak.com and Orbitz.com, and found some $100 and $120 fares for several airlines, including Alaska Airlines -- which are great deals.
  • Lodging: The Alaska Airlines package includes lodging, and taps a Buy Three Nights, Get Two Free deal (www.alaskaair.com/as/vacations/) at the three Disneyland Resort hotels (Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier). This translates to a 40% savings on your lodging.
  • Disneyland tickets: The deal automatically adds Disneyland tickets, such as the 3-Day Hopper (good for both Disneyland and California Adventure) for each family member. When we tried buying 3-day hoppers for a family of four through Disney's website, the latest sale (http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disneyland/en_US/reserve/ticketListing?name=TicketListingPage) brought the price down to $596 -- without the deal, they would total $776.

Once the elements in your package are bundled together, your final price depends on which hotel you choose. When we checked rates for a 5-day trip for our Seattle family of four, the total price came to $2,563 if staying at the classic Disneyland Hotel (the mid-priced choice of the three properties). Of that price, $592 is for the 3-day Park Hoppers for all four family members -- a teeny break compared to Disney's deal.

Deal or no deal? There are many ways to snag a Disney deal these days. No doubt, the airline's Kids Fly Free package saves you a nice chunk of money. Many families will find tremendous value in the convenience of booking airfare + hotel + tickets in one tidy bundle.

Could you beat the price by booking the elements on your own? Quite possibly, since Disney is offering its Two Nights Free (http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disneyland/) for the same dates without any airfare requirements. Everything depends on whether you're willing to invest time hunting down a dirt cheap airfare. For example, if our Seattle family of four was able to snag $100 airfares on Kayak.com, their independently-booked five-day vacation at the Disneyland Hotel would total about $2,400 -- about $160 cheaper than if booked with the Alaska Airlines package.

When booking the Alaska Airlines deal online, just click on the participating hotels after entering your dates. Or you can book through Alaska Airlines by phone at tel. 800/468-2248.

Note: Finding dates that work for you can be frustrating. There is a different set of blackout dates for the airfare and hotel components, which creates a patchwork of spotty availability if you want to take advantage of both deals. Blackout dates for air travel are: February 18-19 and 22; March 19, 21, 26, 28; and April 2-5. For the hotel deal, blackout dates are January 7-17, February 12-14 and March 28-April 10.

For both deals, you must book your trip by April 1. For the Kids Fly Free offer, you can travel January 5 through April 30. For the Buy Three Nights, Get Two Free offer, you must arrive at your hotel by April 29 at the latest.

WeJustGotBack.com is an authoritative online guide to family trip-planning. The award-winning site features reviews of kid-friendly hotels and resorts, expert planning advice, readers' travel tips, destination insider guides, vacation deals, and more. Subscribe to our newsletter to hear about resort specials and exclusive, money-saving offers. Follow us on Twitter at @WeJustGotBack.