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THE MIAMI HERALD
Island Hopping Gets A Boost From Airline Package Deals
BY JAY CLARKE
June 22, 2003
For most vacationers, visiting the Caribbean means going to one island and staying there. Now some airlines are making it easier to sample more than one of the region's intriguing isles on the same trip.
Air Jamaica, for one, has come up with a couple of special deals for travelers.
''We want people to think of the Caribbean as more than one destination,'' said Allen Chastanet, vice president of marketing for the airline.
TWO FOR ONE
Under the airline's Island Hopping program, travelers can visit two islands for the price of one.
A vacationer can fly to Jamaica, stay over for some days, then continue to any of the other islands served by the airline -- Barbados, Bonaire, Curaçao, Grand Cayman, Grenada, St. Lucia, Turks and Caicos or the Bahamas. Travelers pay only the fare to the most distant destination; no charge is made for the Jamaica stopover, except for air-related taxes which can hover around $100.
Among those who use the program, Chastanet said in a phone interview, are honeymooners. ``They fly into Jamaica with the wedding party [for the ceremony], then go off on their honeymoon to another island.''
One scenario: For $849 per person, double occupancy, a couple can spend an all-inclusive three nights in Jamaica plus another three all-inclusive nights in St. Lucia. Price includes flights, hotel, meals, most sports facilities and entertainment, but not taxes.
Another Air Jamaica program permits ever greater exploration of the Caribbean. Persons traveling under its Caribbean Hopper program can visit an unlimited number of Air Jamaica destinations out of Jamaica for 30 days. Cost is a flat $550.
''Students and Europeans like it. So does anyone with time to spend [in the Caribbean],'' Chastanet said. Some golfers, for instance, use it so they can play courses on several islands, he said.
So far, the number of people who choose either island-hopping program remains small, Chastanet said. But the idea of enabling travelers to visit more islands in the Caribbean gets encouragement from other airline executives.
''Anyone who experiences two islands is likely to come back again,'' said Jennifer Carlson-Linskey of Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) in a phone interview. ``The islands are so different.''
LIAT, a longtime player in the Caribbean, has a 21-day Explorer air pass that enables travelers to visit three islands. It is priced at $300 plus taxes. For wider ranging travelers, LIAT offers a 30-day Super Explorer that permits unlimited travel to any of the 20 islands the airline serves between Guyana and the Dominican Republic. Cost is $575 plus taxes. No backtracking is permitted.
BWIA, a major Caribbean carrier that also has provided inter-island flights for many years, also offers two air passes.
Its 30-day Caribbean Airpass allows unlimited travel to the 18 islands served by the airline. It is priced at $550 economy, $900 first class. BWIA also sells a four-destination pass, also good over a 30-day period, for $350, economy only.
Both the LIAT and BWIA airpasses carry certain restrictions, which may include purchase of the pass outside the Caribbean, travel into the Caribbean only on the airline providing the airpass, no repeat visits to the same island and no backtracking. In all cases, airpass validity begins after arrival in the Caribbean. Taxes are additional and can be substantial.
A fairly recent player in the Caribbean is Caribbean Star, whose website shows it reaches 14 islands, chiefly from a hub in Barbados. The airline, however, did not return repeated calls for information about its fares or programs.
Meanwhile, American Airlines, which dominates Caribbean air service, is restoring some Caribbean flights it dropped last month, but most of its flights depart out of San Juan. That means that in order to fly between any two islands served by American or American Eagle, the passenger must connect through the airline's Puerto Rican hub -- a sometimes time-consuming process.
Easier, and perhaps less expensive, is to investigate the many small airlines that make inter-island flights. Windward Islands Airways (WINAIR), for example, serves eight isles out of St. Maarten. Air Sunshine goes to Vieques, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Tortola and Virgin Gorda out of San Juan.
Many islands have small airlines that provide service to nearby islands that the larger ones do not. For example, Dominica, which is served by Air Guadeloupe and LIAT, has four smaller airlines -- Cardinal, Air Caraibes, Amerijet and Caribbean Air Services. Besides American, BWIA, LIAT, British and British Caledonian, Grenada is served by Airlines of Carricou, Helenair and Canada 3000. American and LIAT fly into Anguilla, but so do Air Anguilla and Tyden Air. Besides American and LIAT, St. Vincent has Air Martinique, Mustique Airways, Carib Express and SVG Air.
WHEN YOU GET THERE
Determining what airlines serve a specific Caribbean island is easy enough once you're there; simply check out the airlines at the airport or talk to people involved in tourism. It's harder from the United States. You can visit the websites of the island or click on www.see-caribbean.com or www.caribbean-connection.com. Be warned, however, that the information on those sites is not always accurate, complete or up to date.
Another way to go island-hopping in the Caribbean is by private charter aircraft. Chartering your own plane offers maximum flexibility and actually can be competitive in price to commercial airlines if one has sufficient numbers. With six passengers, the cost to each of chartering a plane will likely be less than on a commercial carrier; with four, a bit more.