Luxury vacations for less

Looking to get away? Good timing: The rates at high-end hotels have rarely been this low. From the Caymans to the U.S. capital, we found spots to suit any budget.

By Diane Tegmeyer, contributor

A private suite at the St. Regis in Bora Bora
Deal-hunting etiquette
Feeling bold? You may be able to wangle an even better deal than anything you see advertised if you follow these rules.
Plan ahead. Before you book, call the hotel and ask for the manager's or, better yet, the sales director's e-mail or phone. Then see if he or she can beat other prices you've found.
Ask for extras. If the manager won't budge on price, request a spa credit, meal credit, or greens fees, advises Alan Fuerstman, CEO of Montage resorts.
Get upgraded. The place to ask for an upgrade is at the front desk. Chitchat for a few minutes with the personnel. Ask how long they've been at the hotel. They've heard it all, and the nicer you are to them, the nicer they'll be to you. After you've handed over your credit card, ask, Is the hotel full, or is there any chance for an upgrade? If it's a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, first vacation without the kids, etc.), say so.
Tip well. If you plan to return, be generous. A handwritten note to the manager can also make a big impression.

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- There's a name for what ails you, and it's called "luxury guilt." Even if you can afford to travel, you reason, isn't it wrong to indulge when times are so tough? Well, if you haven't been swayed by the open-your-wallet, shorten-the-recession argument, how about this one: You may be missing a rare chance to visit some of the finest hotels on the planet at prices you aren't likely to see over the next decade. The deals now are better than in the aftermath of the Asian economic crisis, 9/11, or SARS, says Jan Freitag, vice president of Smith Travel Research, making travel to just about any place in the world from 30% to 50% more affordable than last year. One note: If you don't find these rates on the hotel website, call to book.

Beaching it

The general rule here is, go as far as your frequent-flier miles will take you. For example: The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii, where Julia Roberts vacations with her family, is giving $1,000 resort credits good for anything on the property (including room rates) for those staying at least four nights. At the Four Seasons Maui, rooms are starting at a (relatively) affordable $395 per night and include extras like outrigger-canoe excursions and introductory scuba clinics. In Bora Bora, at the St. Regis, an entry-level room used to be $1,300 per night, but now every second night is half price. Bonus: You're near the lagoon James Michener once called the "most beautiful in the world." For groups, check out the "second bungalow for half price" package.

One other romantic spot worth considering: Sandy Lane in Barbados, where Aristotle Onassis once rowed in from his yacht to frolic alongside Princess Margaret and Frank Sinatra. The resort was completely renovated in 2008 and has numerous packages, with rates ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars off typical prices.

City escapes

Ritz spokeswoman Vivian Deuschl says the Ritz has never before offered savings like the ones this summer. Particularly appealing: the Ritz-Carlton Peace of Mind package available at all the Ritz U.S. and Caribbean hotels as well as those in Dublin, Lisbon, Marbella, and Egypt. You get one free night for a three-night stay, two for five nights, and three for seven. Also included: breakfast, kids' programs, valet parking, and waived resort fees. The savings can be anywhere from the low hundreds to the low thousands.

For something more exotic, the Peninsula chain will give you a complimentary second night in a suite at all its hotels around the world (except Beverly Hills). And plain old rate cuts mean that at the newly refurbished Peninsula in Beijing, just steps from Tiananmen Square, a room costs just $431 for two nights.

Deals abound in other European cities: In Venice, for example, at the spectacular Hotel Gritti Palace built for the Doge in 1525, or at the Hotel Bristol in Vienna, you'll get a free fourth night, resulting in a minimum $400 savings (other members of Starwood's Luxury collection have similarly dramatic deals). In London, Claridge's is debuting a Timeless Weekend summer package; rooms that are regularly $738 drop to $375 Friday through Sunday, including breakfast.

Another excellent deal on the higher end is the luxe Mandarin Oriental properties: When you book a suite at any Mandarin in the world for three nights, you get one night free, a free breakfast, and a spa credit that varies by hotel.

Family affairs

Finally, if you're traveling with kids, you'll need plenty of space -- and plenty to do. At the famed Connaught in London, a family package includes two double rooms for the price of one (savings of at least $866 per night). Check out the mahogany staircase: Ralph Lauren reportedly loved it so much he built an exact replica in his New York City flagship. For those interested in some history closer to home, at the St. Regis in Washington, D.C., where President Calvin Coolidge cut the ribbon for the hotel's 1926 opening, rooms typically run $845 per night. This summer they are $495, including continental breakfast, a $50 food credit, and kids' DVDs.

Perhaps the most intriguing deal of all is in the Cayman Islands, where one child per paying adult flies free from any Cayman Airways gateway city -- Miami, New York, or Tampa. Nearly every resort, including the Ritz-Carlton and the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, has a five-nights-for-four option, where kids stay free in rooms with adults.

A final option: heading for spots that are out of season. At Little Nell, the ideally situated resort at the base of Aspen, summer rates typically begin at $530; this summer you can choose from an adjoining room for 50% off or a fourth night for the price of three. In India, the Taj Hotels company has priced four nights at one of three spectacular Taj Palace properties and two nights at a Taj hotel in either Mumbai or Delhi -- with breakfast, dinner, and discounts on spa -- for $2,190 per person based on double occupancy. Given that a single night at a Taj Palace typically runs around $800, if you can brave the high temperatures, those may be the lowest prices you'll see for some time. To top of page

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