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Welcome to our column in which our knowledgeable deal editors answer your personal questions about shopping, saving, and making the most of your hard-earned dollar! This week's enquiry came to us by email, and we've outlined some top travel tips to answer it.
Question: My wife and I are in the preliminary stages of planning a trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons sometime this year. My question is — are there any travel deals available for a trip like that, or perhaps you could just offer some general advice for planning a vacation like that? We live in South Carolina and do plan to fly. -Dusty E.
Great choice of vacation destination, Dusty! Yellowstone National Park is one of the most distinct and diverse ecosystems in the world, and it's right here in our back yard. (Well, not exactly the back yard of South Carolina, but you know what I mean!) Combining a trip to the Grand Tetons National Park is the perfect way to round out your trip to this stunning part of the country.
From a tourist's perspective, the most important thing to pay attention to when booking your vacation is the weather. Yellowstone National Park is famous for its unpredictable weather, which is typically on the chilly side. Average winter temperatures range from 0°F to 20°F. Summer temperatures don't reach much above the high seventies during the day, and drop down to freezing at higher altitudes at night. Plus, in summer (but not just summer) you've got to be prepared for outbursts of rain. So the name of the game is "layers" when it comes to packing for your Wyoming adventure, even in summer.
Despite the summer showers, summer is the best time to visit Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and thus unfortunately the most expensive. Here at DealNews we try and focus on value for money, rather than just the cheapest option; so whilst you will definitely find cheaper packages if you're prepared to take a risk on the weather and visit in fall or winter, I think it's much better to spend a bit more and get a memory that doesn't revolve around trying to get your feet warm!
To get to the Yellowstone area, it's best to fly to Salt Lake City, UT. In general, Delta Airlines via Expedia has the best rates in June (especially early June), with prices averaging about $415 per person.
From the airport, it's a four-and-a-half-hour drive up to the park. if you're planning on renting a car, check out Thrifty Rent-A-Car and use coupon code "SPT3D" to drop the prices to around $120 for a 4-day rental.
As for accommodation, I found that traveling in early June yielded the best prices and the most availability, although many of my first choice hotels and lodges were completely booked up for the entire summer. The best value for money is a 4-night stay at the Yellowstone Inn in West Yellowstone, WY, (from $130 per night; we found this rate on June 6). The rooms at this family-owned inn are tiny, but the property is only five minutes drive from the entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
When you add up the cost of the flight, car rental, and accommodation, the price creeps up pretty quickly. If you have the money to spend, an escorted vacation package is a smart alternative. It's hard to compare these packages to booking everything separately, because the value comes in part from unquantifiable luxuries like having a driver and a tour guide.
This means that you're free to enjoy the majesty of the landscape and that you'll get a much more in-depth understanding of the places you're visiting. Packages also typically include meals, entrance park fees, and hotel taxes and porterage.
The best package I found was Gate 1 Travel's 7-Night Classic National Parks, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone and Grand Teton Vacation Package for two departing from Charleston, SC, (CHS) on June 8 (from $4,062, low by $160). This package includes roundtrip airfare, stays in Rapid City, SD; Cody, WY; Yellowstone National Park, WY; Jackson, WY, and Salt Lake City, UT. It also includes all transport between destinations, guided sightseeing, entrance fees, 11 meals, and taxes. Gate 1 Travel has another more family-orientated package, which includes a Float Tour along the scenic Snake River (from $4,816, low by $200).
Note: This article is part of a new series where we respond directly to reader questions about products and deals. Got a question about what computer you should buy, when to book a flight to Asia, or something else? Send it to us at email@example.com.