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REAL DEALS

Bargains come in holiday wrap

With Thanksgiving and Christmas bearing down upon us, here is some sage savings advice: Pick your travel days carefully.

''Some of the best air fares and hotel deals we've seen all year can be found in early November and early December, before and between the major holidays," said Gregg Brockway, chief product officer at Hotwire.com, a discount travel site. ''We call these periods 'super off-peak,' because they fall during times when fewer people travel and airlines and hotels have excess capacity."

So juggle your dates if you can. Here's an example from Brockway: ''A family of four traveling from Los Angeles to Honolulu could save as much as $600 on air fare alone by leaving Dec. 12 versus Dec. 23."

Similar advice comes from priceline.com, another discount site. ''The difference is eye-opening," says Brian Ek, a priceline spokesman. ''The national average price for an airline ticket bought for departure on Nov. 25, returning Nov. 30 [both peak travel days] was $294.40. Then we calculated the national average price for an airline ticket bought for departure on Nov. 21, returning Dec. 5 -- off-peak days. The price was $194.35. That's a savings of $100 just by changing your travel days.

''We [also] calculated the national average price for an airline ticket bought for departure on Dec. 22, returning Jan. 2 -- peak travel days. The price was $316.66. Then we calculated the national average price for an airline ticket bought for departure on Dec. 19, returning Dec. 31 -- off-peak days. The price was $271.54. That's a savings of over $45.

''As they say, what a difference a day makes."

Off to the Azores Portugal's Azores archipelago may not pop to the top of your thoughts when considering a destination, but it's well worth evaluating. The islands have a mild climate year round (between 57 and 71 degrees), deep blue and green lakes, volcanic cones and craters, a profusion of hydrangeas and azalea, 15th-century churches, and majestic manor houses. Azores Express, a US-based operator, is currently offering round-trip flights for $400 plus tax and fees of about $75; a business-class upgrade is $150 each way. Flights to Lisbon, Portugal's historic capital, start at $479 plus tax.

Call 800-762-9995 or visit www.sata.pt and click on English.

Craft and cooking New Hampshire artisans will be showcasing -- and selling -- their wares at Canterbury Shaker Village during a ''Gift in Hand" festival Nov. 21-23. There will be traditional and contemporary textiles, woodenware, ornaments, pottery, tinware, jewelry, specialty foods, and holiday greenery, as well as spinning and weaving demonstrations. Admission is free.

The village is also selling complete Thanksgiving dinners for six for $100 plus tax. Orders must be placed by Nov. 21, and may be made in person or by phone.

The village is in Canterbury, about 20 minutes north of Concord, N.H., and has 25 buildings on nearly 700 acres. Visit www.shakers.org or call 603-783-9511.

Free upgradesThrough Dec. 8, Orbitz will award one customer a day a free upgrade to first-class air travel. Customers can register to win by visiting the Orbitz.com homepage and clicking on the promotional banner to sign up for Care Alerts. Winners will be selected in random drawings.

The new Care Alerts feature allows travelers to select when they want to receive alerts that confirm departure time and gate information -- at five, four, or three hours before departure. Users can also designate how they will receive this information (via mobile phone, pager, PDA, or e-mail.)

Numbers gameSan Francisco's Galleria Park hotel has a ''Pay the Year You Were Born" promotion that works like this: On a two-night minimum stay, the guest pays the regular rate (currently $109-$199) the first night, but on the second night the rate corresponds to the last two digits of the guest's birth year. Thus, someone born in 1963 would pay $63 for the second night and, for that matter, every other night of the stay. Pity a person born in 1899.

(The fine print: The promotion runs Nov. 21-Jan. 11, single or double occupancy, and does not include tax. Bring an ID that shows the year you were born.)

Call 800-792-9639 or visit www.galleriapark.com.

Unique guesthouseThe Monastery Guesthouse in Cambridge, run by the Brothers of The Society of Saint John the Evangelist, has reopened after an extensive freshening up. The two wings of the guesthouse near the Charles River and all 15 guest rooms have been painted, windows and screens washed, furniture polished, rugs and drapes cleaned, and, in most cases, new beds bought. Overnight rates remain the same and include meals: $60 per person, or $75 per person including spiritual direction with one of the brothers.

Call 617-876-3037 or visit www.ssje.org.

$487 Jamaica deal Virgin Vacations has a seven-night Jamaica package from Boston beginning at $487 that includes air fare, accommodations, hotel taxes, and service charges.

(The fine print: The $487 figure is for a sample package at the Samsara Resort, based on midweek travel through Dec. 8. Space is limited, there are cancellation and change fees, and there may be other restrictions.)

Visit www.virginvacations.com.

Nantucket for seniorsThrough Dec. 3, travelers over 50 get 50 percent off regular room rates of $130-$180 at Harbor House Village in Nantucket.

(The fine print: Guests must present a photo ID; only one room occupant need be 50.)

Call 866-325-9300 or visit www.harborhousevillage.com.

Rocking RockettesThe Radio City Christmas Spectacular plays in several cities, and is coming to Boston for the 2004 Christmas season, but there is nothing like seeing the high-stepping Rockettes in their original location. The Millennium Broadway Hotel's Radio City Package, starting at $399, includes two tickets to the show, one night's accommodations, and continental breakfast for two. Extra nights with breakfast are available from $249 a room per night.

(The fine print: The package is offered through Jan. 4, subject to availability. Taxes are not included.)

Call 866-866-8086 or visit www.millenniumhotels.com.

Up for auction When you can bid for a San Francisco vacation on eBay, you realize just how dramatically the Internet has changed the world of travel. The San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau is offering a Bay Area vacation package with a wine country excursion at www.stores.ebay.com/sanfranciscostyle.

The package offers a two-night stay in San Francisco along with a taste of the Napa Valley. Successful bidders will stay at the Hotel Palomar or the Park Hyatt, drive a Dollar rental car for one day, visit COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food, & The Arts in downtown Napa, or have a private tasting at the Franciscan Estates Winery. The package also includes two spa robes embroidered with a cable car emblem. All eBay packages include a welcome kit with maps and guides, a Pier 39 Fun Pack, two gold cable car pins, and a gift certificate for See's Candies.

Other ''San Francisco Style" packages may include tours of Pacific Bell Park, dinner cruises on the bay, admission to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, lunch and/or dinner at a popular restaurant, guided tours of the city, attraction passes, and other amenities.

A Buy It Now option is also available for those who do not wish to bid. A recent look at the auction site showed spirited bidding on a Magnificent Hotel and Bay Cruise package with a buy-it-now price of $325 and a Hotel and Chagall Exhibition package with a buy-it-now price of $269.

(The fine print: You can't win these auctions for just a few dollars because they have reserves -- undisclosed minimum prices the seller will accept. Packages are subject to availability and are available through December 2004 or longer.)

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