God dang it. Just as a US holiday seemed within reach — thanks to banished Covid restrictions and flight timetables sorting themselves out — it’s been whisked away again because of the weak pound. Last summer, a quid would have bought you US$1.42, now it’ll get you a measly $1.13, so your American trip costs almost a third more.
But there’s no need to cancel if you’re canny. Flight prices to the US always dip on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so travel midweek if you can. If you see a bargain fare, book it; airline tickets only rise as departure dates approach these days, so don’t wait for them to drop — they won’t. If you usually travel independently, consider going packaged — a tour operator gets the best hotel deals, plus the price you pay today won’t shift (unlike a hotel booked directly, paid for in dollars on check out). Hotel extras can creep up too — resort fees, wi-fi charges — so dodge them by joining the loyalty scheme, which can earn you room upgrades and perks such as a free breakfast. Here are six great American trips that give great bang for your buck . . .
Oregon’s Cannon Beach
1. Hipster holiday in Oregon
Oregon is one of only four US states to charge zero sales tax, which might mean nothing to you — until you hear that some state taxes nudge 10 per cent. This means every time you eat out, order room service, or hit the shops, it’s 10 per cent cheaper in Oregon. And Oregon, in the hip and happening northwest, has brilliant cult brands to spend your dollars on — it’s the base for Ace Hotels, Columbia sportswear, Sorel shoes (owned by every hiking A-lister from the Princess of Wales to Jennifer Aniston), Hydro Flask (ditto) and Nike.
Oregon’s cerebral city hub is indie Portland (whose unofficial tagline is “Keep Portland Weird” and was the star of TV show Portlandia), which is frequently voted in the top ten places to live in the US, based on quality of life. The pedestrian is king in leafy, walkable Portland (which means no pricey cabs), and its famous open-air market is one of the largest in the US (again — no sales tax). Beyond the city, you have spectacular Crater Lake National Park in one direction, and cool Cannon Beach in the other.
Details Seven nights’ room-only from £1,353pp, including flights and car hire (audleytravel.com)
The bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip
2. Luxury for less in Sin City
If you’re planning a big birthday blowout or honeymoon and only the best will do, consider Las Vegas where hotel rates are the lowest in the USA. An average room is $52 in Sin City compared to $236 in Boston — and this difference only becomes more marked as you hit the top-end stays. When we looked at significant travel weekends on the horizon — Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day — a five-star hotel suite in Vegas could consistently be nabbed for under £300 whereas a five-star in Boston would average about £725.
Don’t like gambling? Don’t sweat it. Las Vegas is excellently placed for America’s greatest hits: Grand Canyon (two-hour drive); Hoover Dam (40 mins); Mojave Desert (one hour); Death Valley (three hours); even Los Angeles and Palm Springs are under five hours’ drive. Then there’s the two-for-one brunch coupons, the pool-party vouchers, happy hours, and BOGOF theatre performances . . . Las Vegas is the spiritual home of the money-off hack. Ask at check-in for guest promotions, pick up coupon books in malls (it’s worth it!), and visit websites such as smartervegas.com, vegas4locals.com and vegasunzipped.com.
Details Four nights’ room only from £652pp, including flights (tui.co.uk)
The French Quarter in New Orleans
3. Deep South without digging deep
Dallas isn’t America’s most interesting destination, nor Atlanta for that matter — but both are US airline hubs (for American and Delta respectively), which equates to tons of affordable daily flights from the UK. So, why not use either as the gateway to the gorgeous Deep South, since cities such as New Orleans, Memphis, Austin, Nashville and Charleston are all well within road-trippable distance?
There’s more good news: Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas and Tennessee currently have among the lowest gas prices in the USA (about $3.20 a gallon compared to $5.80 in other states). It’s worth downloading a gas app too, such as GasBuddy; you might think you’ll save only pennies, but a tank of gas in Mississippi costs as little as $36 if you shop around (and $60 if you don’t). If you saw the Elvis movie this summer and want to turn a travel fantasy into reality, now’s the time.
Details Nonstop fares from London to Dallas or Atlanta from £589 return (compare at skyscanner.net). Affordable chains Aloft, Moxy and Indigo have hotels in New Orleans; room-only doubles from £90
The Manhattan skyline
4. Fairytale of New York
We bet you didn’t think you’d see NYC in this list. But the fact is, New York City equals the American Dream trip for many travellers, which is why it has the greatest number of hotel rooms, the most flights (from £345 return with low-cost carrier JetBlue, also try Norse Atlantic and from Manchester, Aer Lingus). Among America’s 50 biggest cities, New York hotel rates came in tenth cheapest — and this is surely down to choice, choice, and more choice. HotelTonight is a good app to score discount accommodation and lets you book several weeks in advance. In terms of free stuff, the Big Apple has museums, tours and sights agogo (for starters: the Staten Island Ferry via the Statue of Liberty, the High Line and American Museum of Natural History and the 9/11 memorial). And if you travel in January or February, you’ll enjoy air fares and hotel rates at their most affordable (they’re at their peak in November and December); January is also sale season, with up to 75 per cent off at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales and Macy’s department stores. Unlike other US metropolises, New York has excellent public transport, so make the most of it; a seven-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard costs £29 and means you can travel as far east as JFK airport (otherwise a £49 taxi one way), as south as Coney Island for hot dogs, or as north as the Yankees baseball stadium.
Details Three nights’ room only from £526pp, including flights (virginholidays.co.uk)
Swimming in Alaska
5. Alaska volunteering vacations
You might not think now is the time — what with inflation rising, sterling dwindling — to give up your time to volunteer, but it can be a cost-effective way to have a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. Travellers are invited to become husky dog-caretakers at this idyllically located ranch in Alaska, which offers wood cabin accommodation, airport pick-up, free dog sledding and all meals for about £275pp per week. Your duties include feeding the dogs, taking them out mushing, and cleaning (six hours a day; weekends off), and free time can involve anything from wild lake swimming to kayaking and mountain biking.
This is just one of dozens of life-changing volunteer vacations in the US, including mustang horse rescue in Florida, conservation work in the Colorado Rockies, and fair-trade farming in Hawaii. The longer you can volunteer, the cheaper the experience becomes and the more options you have (for example, it’s possible to renovate homes and shelters in New Orleans for as little as a week but the cost is £948pp).
Details Flights to Fairbanks, Alaska, from about £650 return (compare routes at skyscanner.net). Find volunteer projects at volunteerworld.com
Taking in the view in Yosemite
6. Bargain bucket list California
The Pacific Coast Highway will always be No 1 on Brit bucket lists. Something else that’ll never change? It’s free. So, the key to doing this road trip is to bring down all the other costs, such as flights and accommodation. Don’t fly into San Francisco and out of San Diego — yes, it’s time-efficient, but open-jaw tickets are notoriously expensive; instead, buy a cheap LA return fare and do a loop — you can throw in must-see national parks inland (Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon) to avoid driving the coast twice. And truthfully, the PCH portion south of LA is underwhelming, so skip it and you’ll make back time that way.
Camp your way round — national park entry fees are $35 per car and a pitch starts at about $20 a night (nps.gov), while you can buy a good tent from Walmart for $40 and trim baggage costs. Or download the Motel 6 or Super 8 apps — these two budget hotel chains have almost 3,000 US locations between them, and doubles start at $69 (the latter includes free wi-fi and breakfast).
Details If you prefer a tour-operator package, a 12-night fly-drive, including a motorhome and flights, starts at £1,230pp (trailfinders.com)