Now is the best time to visit America

Cheap hotels, bountiful shopping and cut-price luxury. William Kay, Personal Finance Editor, asks why on earth would you go anywhere else?
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The Independent Online

Yes, there are long queues at airports. And yes, you do have to be careful about making smart remarks to passport officials. But America is still the greatest place on earth for a holiday - and now it's virtually half-price.

If you haven't been before, New York is the first stopping-off point. You can fly non-stop to Newark, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, for £192.80 return on British Airways. Or American Airlines will fly you first class to JFK for £2,730.60 return.

Anthony Lassman, publisher of Nota Bene, the upmarket travel magazine, prefers to take advantage of cut-price luxury travel: "I am a fan of both British Airways and Virgin. Virgin has the best business class with their new fully reclining sleeper seats. However, if you want a more established, Rolls-Royce feel, then go British Airways first class, especially if you can get seats 1A and 1K. They are the ultimate: completely private." Cost: £6,592.80.

Although New York City is only a small part of New York State, and the city itself has five boroughs, for most tourists New York means Manhattan. It's where all the images you've ever seen on television or the big screen come to life, from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building. Nowadays, the tourist trail has been supplemented by the obligatory trip to the site of 9/11, where the World Trade Centre's twin towers used to be. It is becoming rubbed smooth as time passes, but it's still worth making the pilgrimage.

You can find quite decent hotel rooms within easy reach of the action for as little as $50, which comes down to just £27, even at tourist exchange rates.

Then there's Mr Lassman's take on the cheap dollar. He says: "If you want to go to New York, you have two options. For the uptown experience - near the luxury Fifth Avenue shopping area, the skyscrapers and Central Park - then the ultimate is the Four Seasons. I've stayed there many times. The interior is stunning: beautiful flowers, beautiful lighting. And your room has got to be high up with a great view: the Park View Tower is the best. For the Tower, you are talking about $750 per night. The other option is to go downtown and stay at the Mercer Hotel. I love it. I would splash out and stay in one of their wonderful loft studios on the sixth floor. It's the nearest you'll ever get to living in a real, serious loft. But it is $1,100 per night."

Being more of a mid-priced sort of a guy myself, I prefer a good central location. Up to four people can share a suite at the Doubletree right on Times Square for $259 a night. And for a touch of elegance, round the corner on 44th Street is the legendary Algonquin, home of the Dorothy Parker round table. The rooms aren't huge, but at $179 they are affordable.

Shopping is what makes the US financially viable: you really can save enough money to pay for your trip. The likes of Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and Tiffany on Fifth Avenue are strictly for browsing only. But Macy's on 34th Street is for serious shopping, with Levi's jeans selling for around $30 and digital cameras for $60.

And if you want some financial return you could do worse than invest in art. Mr Lassman says: "I would head up to the art galleries of West Chelsea. There couldn't be a better time to buy contemporary art. The best galleries are between 21st and 24th Streets and between 10th and 11th Avenues, especially the Sonnabend Gallery and Barbara Gladstone. The trick is to buy early in the day at a new show."

But if you feel more adventurous you can fly to the west coast for under £300 return. The shops are just as cheap, so long as you go carefully through Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, and you have the added fun of Hollywood, Disneyland, Hearst Castle, the ludicrous hotels of Las Vegas and the tram rides through San Francisco.

Such delights are too tacky for many tourist stomachs, but there are also more spiritual pleasures out west.

"It's a great time to go to an incredibly expensive spa like Canyon Ranch in Arizona," says Mr Lassman, "and rub shoulders with a few celebrities while you're there. Afterwards, you'll feel fantastic and the feeling will last months, by which time you'll be ready to go on your next trip."

Which, while the dollar stays as low as it is, doesn't have to be to the US. Canada, whose dollar is always the poor relation of the US version, is even cheaper and boasts the Whistler ski resort on the west coast and Niagara Falls nearer to home. Mexico, the Caribbean and many destinations in Asia have dollar-connected currencies and they are all offering the best deals in years.

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