Fares are up, so the most important step is to hunt down cheap airfare. Use a site like Airfarewatchdog.com to find cheap fares originating from your city. Look for tourism board offers, too. The Bahamas are offering free companion airfare through February 9, or a $300 credit for a solo traveler who books airfare and hotel together.
Do consider packages. Tour groups and travel deal sites like Travel-Ticker.com and CheapCaribbean.com offer bundles of air and hotel. The hotels and airlines are shouldering some of the cost. We saw a weeklong Cancun trip that started at $300. That's about what you would pay for airfare alone, so it is like staying for free.
Weigh the option of all-inclusives. Many people avoid all-inclusives because the rates seem really high. But when you factor in all you'd spend on food, alcohol and activities at other resorts, they can actually be the cheaper option. Sandals has an offer right now of up to 65% off its room rates, plus bonuses like free nights or companion airfare.
Check your local port for cruises. Cruise lines often offer preferential rates to people from the state where the cruise originates. So if you live in New York, California, Florida or other popular ports, you can often save $100 or more off the going rate.
Even after you think you've found your dream hotel, hunt around. Some of the booking or package sites offer little extras, like a free spa treatment or extra restaurant credit that you can only get by booking with them. Resorts, too, may offer extras for booking direct.