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Taking a free night isn’t always a smart move

Hotels and resorts are always giving away free nights these days. But free nights won’t always save you money. That’s because the “free night” may be calculated at a nightly rate that’s higher than other rates available at the same property.
/ Source: Wejustgotback.com

Hotels and resorts are always giving away free nights these days. But free nights won’t always save you money. That’s because the “free night” may be calculated at a nightly rate that’s higher than other rates available at the same property. When assessing whether a deal will save you money, always follow our . Number 28 is to compare apples to apples.

Wyndham's "" deal seems straightforward at first. When you stay at least five nights at any in a long list of Wyndham properties in Mexico and the Caribbean, you'll get your fifth night free plus an American Express gift card worth $100. You might think that one night free during a five-night stay would mean a 20 percent reduction of your bill. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Not so fast.

At the , for instance, the "5th Night Free Plus $100" package rate starts at $219 a night, compared to the lowest available rate of $170 a night, which is an advanced-purchase nonrefundable rate. Even after you subtract the cost of the free night, you'd pay $876 for a five-night stay, versus the $850 you’d pay for five nights at the advanced purchase rate. (True, when you factor in the $100 gift card, the package nets out as a $74 savings. But you wouldn't be able to use the $100 gift card on your trip. You'll receive your gift card in the mail six to eight weeks after you get back home. )

A better bet at the same property is the "," which gives you two free nights when you buy two nights, plus a $100 food-and-beverage credit. As with the “5th Night Free Plus $100” package, the rate for this package starts at $219 a night if you travel between August 25 and October 31. (It jumps to $294 a night in November.) With this deal, a four-night stay in September or October will cost $438, an average of about $110 a night, which beats the lowest available rate by $60 a night. Plus, you’ll get $25 a day shaved off your dining costs. Jackpot!

The "Caribbean Vacation Stimulus Package" is good through November 30 and can be booked online with promo code PKGCARIB1. The "5th Night Free Plus $100" deal is good through December 30. To reserve either deal by phone, call 800/WYNDHAM.

Meanwhile, our   is a mandate to visit the web site of your chosen destination's tourist board before you book a vacation. Not only is the typical tourist board a fountain of useful practical information, but it will likely have the inside track on travel discounts, too.

That’s especially true this year on Kauai, which has made a name for itself as a Hawaiian haven for active, eco-friendly, outdoorsy types. The from the Kauai Visitors Bureau prove that prices can be equally down-to-earth. A great example is the , where a one-bedroom, ocean-view condo can be nabbed for just $149 a night (down from $235—a savings of nearly 40 percent!) through December 18. The condos have full kitchens and private lanais, and the resort has a pool, tennis courts, barbecues,  a putting green, and a coastal walking path great for some impromptu family hikes. You're also next door to the very family-friendly Lydgate Park, a well-equipped county beach park with lifeguards and two cordoned-off areas for snorkelers and beginner swimmers.

More good news: The Fall Specials extend to cool activities, too. For instance, we loved the prospect of the 15 percent-off deal (worth about $45 in savings for a family of four) for the five-hour hike- and-paddle tour of "Secret Waterfalls" from  

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