Istanbul or Islamabad? London or Larnaca? The possibilities for travel at the end of the Holy Month seem endless … but are they? Bagging a short break at a reasonable price - let alone a bargain - takes research and planning thanks to the popularity of Eid Al Fitr, which traditionally sees airfares rise as availability plummets. A little insider know-how really helps, according to Nathan Adams, the head of holidays at Dnata, a local tour operator. He argues that Eid is a great time to pick a package deal because firms like Dnata are able to offer plane tickets and accommodation for the same price as an economy airfare alone if booked separately.
This Eid, he says, most people will be winging their way to Istanbul, where you can find deals that offer up to 50 per cent off hotel prices compared with booking at other times of year; Bangkok, where prices are typically 25 per cent lower; Malaysia; and the increasingly popular "paradise" resorts of the Maldives and the Seychelles. None of these will offer much respite from the heat, however, and Europe, which offers cooler climes, has been more expensive than ever this year thanks in part to the Olympics. The end of Ramadan is expected to bring an exodus of travellers to places like Berlin, Paris and Zurich, with travellers keen to take advantage of the three-week break before the kids go back to school. "People won't necessarily find great value in Europe," Adams says, "but they will get room upgrades and other 'value adds'." Closer to home, staycations are still popular in spite of recent reports of rising hotel prices in the Emirates. The height of summer brings "low season" rates even at the end of Ramadan and the profileration of new resorts has tempered rates.
If the idea of joining the masses is truly an anathema, don't be put off a more independent-minded holiday. Thanks to the never-ending recession, hotels are having to work hard to attract guests, with many offering "stay three, pay two" deals on room rates and other incentives such as vouchers towards meals and beauty treatments; this is particularly true of large, worldwide chains. If you are booking a smaller hotel, it is always worth calling to haggle for a discount if you are booking a number of nights, last minute.
There are still some great deals on airfares over Eid, so shop around using price comparison websites such as Kayak.com to do the mousework for you. The results can be surprising: you need not spend hours waiting for connections with obscure airlines to save money. Etihad Airways, for example, is advertising return flights to Muscat, Oman, for just Dh510 return, including taxes. The low-cost carrier, Flydubai, is also offering flights to some interesting cities at tempting prices.
"A number of destinations are proving popular, including Istanbul," a Flydubai spokesperson says. "Slightly further afield, we are also seeing many bookings on our central and eastern Europe routes, with Kiev and Belgrade in particular demand. Return flights start from Dh1,513 and Dh1,990 respectively. With such great demand on Eid getaway flights, we advise passengers to book early to take advantage of our lowest fares."
So, book now and discover somewhere new - there's really no excuse to stay at home.
1 Nairobi, Kenya
East Africa is beginning to register in the consciousness of UAE holidaymakers thanks to the proliferation of flights into Nairobi in Kenya, the ideal base for a "fly-in safari", especially in August when the two-million strong annual migration of zebra, gazelle and wildebeest across the Masai Mara game reserve is in full-blooded flow. From August 1, you can book a six-night "Kenya Classic" safari with Etihad Holidays (www.etihadholidays.com) taking in the Masai Mara, Rift Valley and Amboseli National Park, with its spectacular views of Kilimanjaro, from Dh7,895 per person, based on two people sharing at a three-star hotel, on a bed and breakfast or half-board basis, including return economy flights, game drives and land transfers in a safari minibus. For a more luxurious stay, the specialist tour operator andBeyond (www.andbeyond.com) has three-night, all-inclusive safari packages at Bateleur Camp in the Masai Mara for US$4,200 (Dh15,426) per person, based on two people sharing, not including international flights.
Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) is offering flights to Nairobi over the Eid period from Dh2,030 return, including taxes.
2 Baa Atoll, Maldives
It's hard to keep up with the pace of tourism development in the Maldives, a string of atolls surrounded by the ludicrously blue seas of the Indian Ocean that still constitute many people's idea of paradise, in spite of very recent political upheavals. The Dusit Thani Maldives is a peaceful new resort on its very own private island, which is surrounded by a coral reef, a 35-minute seaplane flight from the capital Malé, and has both over-water and beachfront villas. Book now to enjoy a spacious, 122-square-metre beach villa with butler service and an outdoor private plunge bath from US$525 (Dh1,928) per night over Eid, including breakfast and taxes, a saving of more than 40 per cent.
3 Muscat, Oman
A blink-and-you'll-miss-it one-hour flight away, Oman is the ideal destination for a short Eid break, with local airlines offering cheap fares to the capital, Muscat. The Chedi Muscat has a reputation as rather a glamorous retreat thanks to its private beach, spa and numerous restaurants. Until September 30, a double "serai" room costs from 133 Omani rials (Dh1,269) per night, including taxes, early check-in and late check-out when available, and 10 per cent discount on food, drinks and spa treatments.
This offer is only available to GCC residents; to book, call 00 968 24 52 44 01 or email, email@example.com.
4 Budapest, Hungary
The Corinthia Hotels group is currently offering 30 per cent off its bed and breakfast rate on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at seven of its five-star properties across Europe, including London, St Petersburg, Malta and Lisbon. The lovely fin-de-siècle style Hotel Corinthia Budapest is about a 15 to 20 minute walk from some of the city's main attractions including Andrássy Avenue, a Unesco world heritage site thanks to its grand neo-renaissance mansions, and a shopper's paradise, and the House of Terror, a museum and memorial to victims of political repression. A double room over the weekend at the Hotel Corinthia Budapest costs from €120 (Dh536) per night, including taxes. Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com) flies from Dubai to Budapest via Doha, an eight-hour journey, from Dh3,180 return. For information, go to www.corinthia.com.
5 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Vietnam's commercial capital in the south of the country is now firmly on the travel map thanks to the new Emirates route that launched last month. Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is still known, has a lot to offer as a short-break destination, in spite of the seven-hour flight time. Walk the streets around District 1 for a snapshot of the country's history from French colonial times to the legacy of the "American War", enjoy a cup of chocolate-bitter coffee sweetened with hot condensed milk, shop at Louis Vuitton, eat at Ben Tranh market, then enjoy a shisha at Beirut, a new Lebanese restaurant. It's almost impossible not to enjoy the relatively relaxed pace of this Asian city and return revitalised. Emirates Holidays is offering a four-night stay in a four-star hotel in Ho Chi Minh City including breakfast, airport transfers, taxes and return economy airfares from Dh4,855 per person, based on two people sharing.
Offer valid until August 31; visit www.emiratesholidays.com or call 800 5252.
6 Kalutara, Sri Lanka
Located mid-way between the capital Colombo and the historic fort city of Galle, the city of Kalutara is not on the quite lengthy list of Sri Lanka's must-see attractions, but that would be missing the point of booking an all-inclusive package. Over Eid, Dnata is offering a three-night break at the recently refurbished Sands Hotel in Kalutara from only Dh3,220 per person, including a room upgrade, all meals and drinks, airport transfers and return economy flights; a saving of 40 per cent. With your costs understood upfront, you can relax by the hotel pool or at the local beach and save tramping the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya or tracking leopards at Yala National Park for your next visit.
To book, visit www.dnatatravel.com or call 04 316 6666.
7 Mahé, Seychelles
Seychelles is another island nation blessed with natural beauty and a proliferation of five-star resorts. It also has some interesting activities to tempt you away from the shoreline, such as guided walks through the Morne Seychellois National Park on Mahé, where the international airport is also situated. The weather here in August is warm and dry with cooling winds, making it a pleasant time to visit. From August 1, Etihad Holidays (www.etihadholidays.com) is offering three nights at the five-star Kempinksi Seychelles Resort in Baie Lazare on Mahé, in a hill-view room, with breakfast, airport transfers, economy-class flights and taxes from only Dh2,985, per person, based on two people sharing. Additional nights are available from Dh420 per person, per night. Flights from Abu Dhabi to Mahé take four-and-a-half hours. To book, call Etihad Holidays on 800 2324.
8 Brussels, Belgium
The Rocco Forte hotel group, best-known for its luxuriously appointed historic properties, is offering a complimentary night's stay for every three nights booked at its city hotels across Europe including Brussels, Florence, London, Prague, Berlin, Munich and St Petersburg. Under this "stay longer for less" offer, which is valid until September 30, a double room at one of its finest hotels, the Hotel Amigo in the pretty Belgium capital (a seven-hour flight away), costs from €237 (Dh1,053) per night, including taxes. Take a tour of the chocolate shops, then sip coffee at a pavement cafe, before admiring this year's carpet of flowers on the Grand Place. If you are looking for a staycation here in Abu Dhabi, the new Rocco Forte hotel is running a special offer valid for the three nights of Eid, staying in a classic double room from Dh986 per night, including taxes and a celebration Eid brunch for two people.
To book, visit www.roccofortehotels.com.
9 Istanbul, Turkey
One of the world's great cities, Istanbul is a firm favourite with holidaymakers at any time of year and will be heaving with international visitors, as well as locals celebrating Eid. Yes, it is popular but getting there won't cost you the earth thanks to Flydubai, which is offering flights from only Dh1,183 return in mid-August. The sights within the city are too numerous to mention, from the Ottoman splendour of the Topkapi Palace and historic mosques to the Grand Bazaar, traditional hammams and a wealth of Christian and Roman monuments, not to mention a great dining, shopping and clubbing scene. Istanbul is also a great jumping off point for other European destinations, if you take advantage of Turkish Airlines' (www.turkishairlines.com) extensive route network, as well as other low-cost operators such as Pegasus Airlines (www.flypgs.com) to drop you along the country's beautiful Aegean coast.
For more information, visit flydubai.com.
10 Bangkok, Thailand
Hop on the Skytrain and look out over the sweaty, tumultuous streets of the Thai capital with its popular mix of cultural attractions, shopping malls, open-air food and clothing markets and patient hospitality. Just over six hours away, Bangkok has long attracted visitors from the region and this Eid is a good time to try one if the many new upmarket hotels. Take the 345-room Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit in the central business district, a five-star hotel from the rapidly expanding French chain, which recently opened here in Abu Dhabi. Make sure you book a table at L'Appart, its French restaurant on the 32nd floor, and enjoy looking out over the city from the roof terrace. Until September 15, a four-night stay in a standard double room at the Hotel Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit costs Dh3,220 per person, including breakfast, airport transfers and economy-class flights at Dnata.
To book, visit www.dnatatravel.com or call 04 316 6666.