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Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Dec. 13, 2001 – Reduced airfare prices now being offered make travel to the mainland for residents and to the Virgin Islands for tourists a lot more affordable.
Several tourism industry professionals in the territory see the various airlines' current sales as good news.
"It looks like the airlines are now as concerned about the winter season as the hotel industry has been since September," Richard Doumeng, general manager of Bolongo Bay Beach Club and Villas on St. Thomas, said Thursday.
Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards said Thursday she expects the sale to drive up traffic to the territory. And the new St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association president, Jayne Hillner, also sees the sale as excellent news. "I hope people take advantage of it," she said Thursday.
Hillner said reservations for coming weeks are on the rise at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, the territory's largest hotel, where she is the general manager, and this could be related to the lower airfares. However, she said January and February bookings are still looking on the slow side.
However, Wendall Snider, president of the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association, said he isn't hopeful that lower airfares will help the territory's tourism outlook. "You also have to look at seat availability," he said Wednesday.
He said that a friend recently got the last seat available — and it was in first class — to return to St. Croix on Dec. 22 from North Carolina. And he said that American Eagle has reduced the number of flights coming from San Juan and between St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Snider said travelers have a "bunker mentality" — even though airfares are low, they are still staying home. He said a hotelier friend in Florida, at a destination reachable by car, told him business was off by 25 percent. Snider also said the recession doesn't help, since people with money to spend are waiting to see what happens. He estimated that it will take at least a year to recover.
Travel agent Marcy Appel with All Travel on St. Thomas said she doubts the airfares will go any lower. The airlines launched the sale to induce people to fly in the aftermath of Sept. 11, she said, but "there's not the traffic." Appel said her clients are booking at the last minute, rather than in advance. "I'm doing very little for Christmas," she said.
Most, if not all, of the carriers with service to the Virgin Islands from the mainland have sales to Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas and Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix — with conditions, of course. In general, the prices also apply traveling north from the islands and back.
Savvy travelers know to consult the airlines' own web sites, other travel-service Internet sites, the airlines' toll-free telephone numbers and their own travel agents to see which offers the best offer. Some travel web sites offer inducements such as extra airline miles to sweeten the pot. If time is money, though, you may prefer to let your travel agent do the looking.
Findings current as of Dec. 13 included the following:
American Airlines' web site listed a price of $319 round trip from St. Thomas to New York's JFK International Airport departing on Jan. 16 with a return on Jan. 23. But www.orbitz.com had a fare of $314. A phone call to American Airlines turned up one for $351. Appel's computer spit out a $353 fare.
A press release from Martin Public Relations, the territory's mainland p.r. agency, indicates that American fares from various East Coast cities begin at $328, with those from the West Coast starting at $498. Fares to Miami start at $293 and to Boston at $356, it said, and Delta Air Lines flights to Atlanta start at $368.
Regulation-wise, all have three-day advance purchase requirements. Prices for travel Monday through Thursday are the lowest, with slight increases for weekend flights. Tickets are non-refundable and there are some blackout dates.
American tickets at these fares must be purchased by Dec. 28. Travel must be completed by May 16. American offers a 10 percent price cut if you book at www.aa.com.
Delta's sale-priced tickets also must be purchased by Dec. 28, with travel completed by May 19. Delta, too, gives 10 percent off for booking at its web site, at www.delta.com.
The Martin press release also says Continental Airlines is offering fares as low as $375 from Newark, but neither the release nor a visit to the carrier's website, www.continental.com, provided any specifics.
For United Airlines and U.S. Airways, the sale ended Dec. 11, but both airlines still offer a 5 percent discount for booking online — at www.united.com or www.usairways.com.
Richards also said the territory's "Stay and Play, We'll Pay" promotion, for which bookings must be made Saturday, has helped to boost the volume of tourism, which plummeted after Sept. 11. "It's gaining a lot of attention," she said. The marketing effort [see "Tourism partnering produces new promotion"] gives visitors a fourth night free and $200 worth of American Express travelers checks.
Richards said she may extend the booking deadline for the promotion, which was announced the first week of November.
Doumeng said Thursday that he expects to see the deadline extended to Dec. 31. He said that tour operators have sold "well less than half" of the 3,750 available packages.

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