If you're not tied to school breaks, competitive pricing and special programs make offseason months a budget-friendly time to travel. Here's a roundup of deals in Vancouver, B.C., and Portland.

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I love all the travel deals that come our way after Labor Day. For anyone not tied to a school schedule, late fall, winter and early spring are great times to travel for less.

One of the best bargains is PCC Natural Markets’ annual two-for-one companion fare promotion with Amtrak Cascades. No guarantees how many of the 20,000 coupons will be left by the time you read this, but they’re free as long as they last at all Seattle-area PCC locations, and good for train travel between Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, Portland and Eugene from Nov. 1 to April 20.

The promotion brings the usual round-trip fare between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., to $38 per person vs. $76. Two children can accompany each adult for half the regular adult fare.

Both Portland and Vancouver, B.C., are ideal for car-free getaways. The SkyTrain (www.translink.ca) station is across from the Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, and there’s a bus and light-rail (www.trimet.org) stop next to the Amtrak station in Portland.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Priceline’s “Name your own price” bidding system for deep discounts on hotel rooms works well in both cities.

I recently bid $90 for a four-star hotel in downtown Vancouver and snagged a room at the lux Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre, for $108, including taxes and fees and free Wi-Fi vs. $178 on Expedia and $176 on the Sheraton’s website. Can’t wait to try out the heated indoor pool.

With Priceline, you don’t find out the name of the hotel until after your bid has been accepted and your credit card charged. No refunds. No going back. Sounds risky, but since you pick the star level and general location, it’s hard to go wrong if you stick with 3.5- to 4-star hotels.

The website www.biddingfortravel.com posts a list of hotels Priceline uses in each city, along with information on what other bidders have paid. Taxes and fees add another $15-$20 per night to whatever price you bid, and parking will be extra, another reason to take the train.

If you do drive, check Travel Portland’s (www.travelportland.com) “Portland Perks” deals on hotels that include parking and breakfast.

Some hotels are offering deals on their own. Kimpton’s Hotel Vintage Plaza will waive the 12.5 percent room tax on certain packages booked as of Nov. 1. The Ace Hotel (www.acehotel.com) has “Stick it to the Man” packages, with 10 percent room discounts and 10 percent off at some shops.

The Tourism Vancouver website(www.tourismvancouver.com) has a list of hotels offering one night free on three-night stays through April.

One-way tickets

It’s always less expensive to buy a round-trip ticket than two one-way tickets, right? Not necessarily.

Most airlines sell one-way flights. It can be cheaper to fly one airline on the outbound flight and another on the return, or use frequent-flier miles for one leg and pay for the other.

But I was surprised to find the same two Delta Air Lines flights priced slightly higher when purchased together instead of separately.

I wasn’t pricing a technical round trip, but rather what’s called an “open jaw,” a flight from Seattle into one city and back from another, in this case, into Miami and out of Cancún, Mexico.

Bought together as one ticket, the price came to $416.27 vs. $394.63 for two one-way tickets for the same flights, dates and times.

The base fares were the same, but differences in taxes and fees yielded a $21.64 savings.

A Delta spokesman said the airline doesn’t “typically comment on ticket pricing for specific markets,” but noted that prices can fluctuate based on competition and customer demand.

Prayers in the air

Readers seemed evenly divided on their reaction to Alaska Airlines’ practice of including a religious psalm card with meals served in first class.

Carole Ann Milton of Seattle emails that although she’s not a “religious person, I always enjoy reading them. It gives me a sense of calm, reassurance and comfort, even though I enjoy flying.”

Sara Shoubridge, of Woodinville, approached the question with a sense of humor.

She suggested Alaska might better serve passengers by providing information on “what the food is, as sometimes airline food is a little mysterious.”

Holiday break

I’ll be away for a while, doing some traveling and catching up with family. Others will write Travel Wise while I’m gone, so keep reading, especially as the holidays approach and travel gets more challenging. See you in early January.

Carol Pucci: cpucci@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @carolpucci

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