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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to


A belated Happy New Year to you all. And speaking of New Year, 2002 promises to be a year unlike any other in the travel industry. Although travel has rebounded somewhat over the past few months, the industry is far from normal. Fear of flying and a soft job market make any predictions beyond the next month or two perilous at best, but predict I shall.

Lets start with cost. The price of an airline ticket will increase during the second quarter of 2002. Why? OPEC has done the airline industry a huge favor by keeping oil production at near record levels for 4th Qtr, 2001. That has enabled an industry that works on thin profit margins to keep airline ticket prices reasonable. OPEC has already started cutting oil production, which means the cost to fuel the aircraft will rise which in turn means higher ticket prices. The price of those tickets of course will depend on how high gas prices rise and consumer demand for air travel. One-way to get around the rising ticket prices is to book early.

If the slump in travel should persist, there are several places that might
offer travel discounts even in the face of rising gas prices. Let's start
with Hawaii. Our fiftieth state depends heavily on foreign visitors,
especially from Japan. Unfortunately for Hawaii, the Japanese have not
returned in significant numbers. That means lots of bargains for late winter
and spring travel to the islands from the U.S. mainland. The biggest draw
back may be getting there, since air service to Hawaii has been cut by 20
percent. If demand should start to increase expect ticket prices to follow

When traveling to Hawaii, check out the air and hotel package deals. Many of
these packages can save you up to 50 percent of the cost versus trying to
book them separately. If you opt to book these package deals, make sure the
hotel is something that meets your expectations. Many tour operators make
these deals and put you up in one or two star hotel. Ask the tour operator
about your accommodations and then do your own research to make sure you are
satisfied with the hotel. If the hotel is not up to par, you might want to
book the package deal anyway and find hotel accommodations on your own.
Sometimes the package deal is better than booking airfare separately. Yes, I
am suggesting that you pay for an empty room. Just about every hotel in
Hawaii is offering some form of a discount. You just might find a four or
five star hotel at a great price.

Europe is especially attractive at this time of year and a depressed travel
market could mean bargains galore well into the summer travel season.
Americans are by far the largest contingent of foreign visitors to many
European countries, but due to the recession and the distance involved early
predictions are for a down year in European travel. Look for package deals,
room upgrades, meals, lots of freebies and bonus-mile offers from the

Cruise lines will continue to offer great deals for the foreseeable future.
Many cruise lines have shifted their itineraries to bring ships closer to
home making it easier for the consumer to drive to a nearby port rather than
fly. The Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera and the Panama Canal could offer
some attractive pricing plans. One area where cost may be a factor as summer
approaches is Alaska. Thanks in part to its close proximity to the U.S.
mainland deals might be a little difficult to find, but if more cruise lines
reposition ships to Alaskan ports, the resulting glut could drive prices down

Summer is usually off-season in the Caribbean. If you can withstand the
occasional hurricane scare its a great time to head down either on a cruise
ship or directly to one of the islands. If you are worried about hurricanes,
your odds are better to avoid one if you travel during early summer rather
than later in the season. And since it's off-season in the Caribbean, there
should be plenty of discounts available. Those are my early season
predictions. Wherever you decide to go have a great time and by all means
book early for the best savings.