No matter what you and your significant other think is the perfect vacation, the immense variety of the United States offers a spot for you to relax, recharge and enjoy each other's company. There's no one "best" vacation to fit all preferences, but whether you want to lie on a beach, cuddle in a mountain cabin, enjoy the great outdoors or stroll through a city to a gourmet restaurant, the two of you can make memories to last a lifetime by exploring all that America has to offer.
If a romantic getaway means strolling on a beach with palm trees waving in the warm breezes, the Florida Keys offer all that and more. For the ultimate in secluded luxury, visit the resort at Little Palm Island (littlepalmisland.com), where you can dine privately on the beach and return to find your bungalow prepared with candlelight, rose petals, champagne and strawberries. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the cobblestone streets of historic Charleston, South Carolina. Look out over the harbor while staying at the HarbourView Inn (harbourviewcharleston.com), one of Conde Nast's Gold List Award hotels; book a room with a working fireplace and venture forth to visit nearby antique shops. A romance package welcomes you with a dozen roses and offers turn-down service with rose petals and sparkling wine, as well as continental breakfast delivered to your room.
Slow down the pace and focus on each other during a six- to 14-day Mississippi River cruise. The American Queen (americanqueensteamboatcompany.com) travels from Minneapolis to New Orleans, visiting such ports as St. Louis and Hannibal, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; and Vicksburg, Mississippi. The steamboat features Victorian decor; relax in your stateroom and on your private balcony, or enjoy nightly dancing, music, gourmet dining, lectures from an historian, shore excursions or spa treatments. Get away from it all in Tennessee and enjoy stunning views of the Smoky Mountains while staying in a luxurious log cabin (resortsandlodges.com) with a fireplace, hot tub and rocking chairs on the porch. In the Pigeon Forge and Gaitlinburg area, you'll be near the Dollywood theme park and plenty of dinner theater and music shows, as well as such outdoor attractions as hiking, ziplining and white-water rafting.
High in the Rocky Mountains, Aspen, Colorado, offers winter sports such as skiing, snowmobiling and snowboarding, as well as cool, comfortable summer weather and an upscale, artsy town. The Sky Hotel (theskyhotel.com) features king suites with gas fireplaces and jetted tubs; guests can use the 24-hour fitness center or book a spa treatment and then head for the evening wine hour and Chef Shawn Lawrence's take on local ingredients for dinner at the 39 Degrees Lounge. The Resort at Paws Up (pawsup.com) in Greenough, Montana, is a luxury resort on a working cattle ranch. The two of you can stay at a private home or in a camping tent -- with an en-suite bathroom and a camping butler. Take a private horseback or a horse-drawn wagon ride, indulge in a couple's massage or enjoy fire and fondue for two, as well as wine tastings and chef's demonstrations.
The desert southwest offers stunning sunsets to wind down your day; consider one of Concierge.com's World's Sexiest Resorts, the Hotel Valley Ho (hotelvalleyho1-px.trvlclick.com) in Scottsdale, Arizona, with its midcentury decor. Soak in a tub for two, schedule a spa treatment, reserve a private poolside cabana and have chocolate-dipped strawberries or handcrafted truffles delivered to your room. Hawaii abounds in lush resorts where couples can relax; Travel and Leisure's website lists the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay (fourseasons.com/manelebay) as one of the United States' 10 Most Romantic Hotels. Take surfing or hula lessons, play golf or tennis, scuba dive or snorkel, renew your vows or create your own signature perfume before retreating to your private terrace for a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.
Napa Valley in northern California is one of the most popular romantic destinations in the United States, with rolling hills of lush vineyards. Take a wine tour, see the countryside by bicycle or horseback, or ride in a hot-air balloon for an unforgettable experience. The Knot website notes that the best weather is from August to November. Stay at the luxurious Auberge de Soleil (aubergedusoleil.com), as famous for its restaurant, overseen by Chef Robert Curry, as for the French-inspired inn. A completely different experience awaits lovers in Alaska, where the "New York Times" notes that you can enjoy the luxury of solitude by renting one of the state parks' public-use cabins (http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/cabins). Some cabins are on lakes or saltwater beaches -- go fishing for the ultimate in fresh dinner -- and most are accessible only by plane, boat or hiking trail. You'll be roughing it while taking in majestic scenery, such as glaciers and waterfalls, as well as possibly sighting bear, seals, bald eagles and other wildlife. This far away from it all, you may be able to hear nothing but each other's heartbeats.
In hopes of appeasing travelers, some carriers are buying newer planes and remodeling terminals. One airline has even brought back free snacks for economy-section fliers.
In earnings reports released this week, executives from the country's biggest carriers crowed about profits that have surpassed totals reported before the Great Recession and the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"Our 2015 performance was a record for Delta on all fronts," said Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Richard Anderson, whose airline reported $4.5 billion in net income for the year, compared with $659 million in 2014.
The airlines can thank demand for air travel that increased up to 9% last year, while the price of fuel —one of the airline industry's biggest expenses — dropped more than 30%.
Despite the plunge in fuel costs, domestic airfares for the year have changed little from 2014.
According to Farecompare.com, a site that tracks ticket prices, the cheapest domestic airfare rose by 1.5% in 2015 over 2014. The U.S. Department of Transportation has yet to calculate airfares for the entire year, but the average domestic fare for the first six months was $388, down less than 1% from the same period in 2014.
As long as demand for air travel remains strong, airlines are not under pressure to slash fares, said Seth Kaplan, managing partner for the trade publication Airlines Weekly.
"These business are not charities, and they are not going to give consumers benefits just for the sake of doing it," he said.
Because of a series of mergers over the past decade, more than 70% of all domestic traffic is now controlled by four airlines, said Richard Gritta, a University of Portland finance professor and airline expert. The big four carriers — Southwest, American, United and Delta — controlled 50% of U.S. air traffic 10 years ago.
"Why would they want to cut fares when we don't have a choice if we want to fly?" he asked.
Don't expect to get a discount on those fees to check bags, either.
If airlines were to sharply reduce or eliminate all passenger fees, most of the airline industry's profits would evaporate, said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst for San Francisco-based Atmosphere Research Group.
"If someone is looking at these profits and thinking 'Does that mean bag fees will go away?' The answer is not only no, but very much no," he said.
Airline executives say they are sharing the wealth with passengers by investing some of their windfalls into new planes, better amenities and remodeled terminals. They're also giving raises to employees and dividends to investors.
Delta announced in December that it plans to order 20 Embraer 190 jets and 20 737 planes from Boeing. The 737 jets feature larger overhead bins and upgraded audio-video entertainment systems in the seat backs. The planes are scheduled to be added to the fleet by 2019.
United Airlines, which reported a net income of $7.3 billion for 2015, compared to $1.1 billion the previous year, announced plans to buy 40 new Boeing 737-700 planes that will enter its fleet beginning in mid-2017. Some of the new planes will be used to replace smaller, 50-seat planes operated by the carrier's regional airline.
Starting in February, United also plans to bring back free snacks to passengers in economy seats, with Dutch caramel-filled waffles served in the morning and rice crackers, mini pretzel sticks and ranch soy nuts offered during the rest of the day. Coffee, juice and other nonalcoholic drinks are already free.
Southwest Airlines, which reported $2.2 billion in net income in 2015, up from $1.1 billion in 2014, plans to speed up the retirement of more than 120 Boeing 737 planes, many of which are at least 15 years old. The old 737s would be replaced by new aircraft with modern amenities such as wireless Internet.
The flurry of plane ordering doesn't mean that airlines will be adding lots of flights. Some of the new equipment is replacing old planes, and carriers are being careful not to expand overall capacity by too much, which would have the effect of lowering fares, industry experts said.
The good news, according to industry experts, is that the lower fuel costs have allowed ultra low-cost carriers such as Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines to expand, which puts pressure on the larger carriers to keep fares from rising in those routes served by the low-cost carriers.
Denver-based Frontier announced this month plans to launch 56 new routes beginning by June, a 40% increase from the carrier's current 120 routes. In November, Spirit added seven new routes from Los Angeles International Airport to such destinations as Seattle, Oakland, Phoenix and Denver.
Delta, American and United have already taken steps to keep the ultra low-cost carriers from luring away too many customers.
Three years ago, Delta Air Lines introduced extra-cheap tickets, dubbed Basic Economy fares, which are nonrefundable, can't be upgraded or changed and don't let passengers choose their seats. The fares were originally launched in response to competition from low-fare carriers flying out of Detroit but Delta has since expanded the Basic Economy fares to other routes.
Fort Worth-based American Airlines announced two months ago that it will launch a no-frills, bare-bones fare. The carrier has yet to reveal details of the new fare, which start this year.
Not to be left behind, United Chief Revenue Officer Jim Compton said this week that the Chicago-based carrier will introduce an "entry-level fare" that will be directed at "price-sensitive customers." The new fare category will be available in the second half of this year.
DALLAS (AP) — If you use miles to get a free ticket on American Airlines, you may have to pay to check that suitcase.
American and US Airways announced changes Tuesday to their policies on checked-bag fees and redeeming miles for free flights.
Passengers traveling on American on miles they earned or who paid full price for an economy seat won't get free checked bags anymore. Some elite-level frequent fliers on both airlines will get one less free bag than before.
When it comes to redeeming miles for free flights, US Airways is ending blackout days. American will change the number of miles to get an unrestricted free flight — more on popular travel days, fewer on less-busy ones. And it's making an array of changes to the miles needed for international trips.
Suzanne Rubin, an American Airlines vice president who oversees the AAdvantage loyalty program, said the changes will increase revenue but she declined to give a figure.
The two carriers merged in December and formed American Airlines Group Inc., and Tuesday's changes are designed to bring the policies of the two closer together. Between them, they have 110 million loyalty-program members, Rubin said.
— For U.S. travel on or after June 1, American members can redeem miles for an unrestricted "AAnytime" award at 20,000 miles, 30,000 miles or 50,000 each way instead of the current 25,000-mile flat rate. The less-flexible "MileSAAver" awards will continue to start at 12,500 miles.
— Mid-tier elite members (platinum on American; gold and platinum on US Airways) will get two free checked bags; a reduction of one for the US Airways' Dividend Miles elites.
— Lower-level elites (gold on American; silver on US Airways) will get one free checked bag, a reduction from two for the American customers.
— Removing a charge for second checked bags on trips to South America.
Rubin said the company was not considering charging a fee for carry-on bags, as Spirit Airlines does.