Wednesday 21 March 2018

Escape the winter chill

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Gemma O'Doherty

Powder soft sand, warm turquoise seas, swaying palms -- there is nowhere like the West Indies in winter. And though the prospect of a spell under the Caribbean sun might seem like a pipe dream for most of us in these bleak times, with a bit of smart research, you should be able to pull it off.

Last month, Hurricane Tomas caused chaos on some of the most stunning islands in the region, including St Lucia, Barbados and St Vincent.

As life settles back to normal and high season approaches, hotels are struggling to fill rooms, leading to bumper bargains during peak winter months.

Some islands are so keen to lure back tourists, they're even willing to fork out for flights. If you book a holiday in the Bahamas, the tourist board will give you a free companion airfare from the US mainland or an instant air credit worth $300 (€220).

Mix this with a privately owned villa booked directly and you've got the makings of a wallet- friendly deal.

Villas can work out surprisingly good value for families, and going self-catering means you don't have to spend money eating out every night.

If you'd rather try all-inclusive, the biggest islands offer the best deals, so focus on the likes of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic where competition is intense and five-star resorts are crying out for bodies.

Those lucky enough to afford a pre-budget escape could pick up a week in Dominican Republic for €889 with Tropical Sky, including flights and a four-star hotel.

An extra week will take the bill to just €1,119 and you won't have to spend an extra cent on food or drinks.

Keep an eye out too for deals such as the one offered by Barcelo hotels, which is offering 30pc off stays until April 30. Right now, you could end up paying as little as €60 a night for a double room even before the discount.

If you want to hold off until spring, Trailfinders has a week in Barbados, one of the priciest Caribbean islands, for €839 on departures between April and June 2011.

Before you pull your plastic out of your wallet, make sure to haggle with your tour operator, to the point of embarrassment if needs be.

Don't accept anything close to the brochure price. Research all of the options with each company, play them off against each other and put them under pressure to give you the best deal.

If they won't budge on the bottom line, then demand an upgrade on your suite and make sure they throw in Champagne, a free spa treatment and dinner.

Remember that every Irish travel agent is desperate for your business and they should be willing to bend over backwards to get your booking.

If they're not, look across the water to the competition in the UK, where you might just find yourself a better deal.

Irish Independent

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