Budget Travel

Trip Coach: “Shoulder Season” Bargains for Fall

Booking trips in the “sweet spot” between high season and low season can nab you a great vacation at a shockingly low price.

Fall is on the way, and that means “shoulder season” bargains. We recently shared some fall travel secrets live on Facebook. As a result of that lively, informative conversation and some great questions from our audience, we've put together this cheat sheet for autumn savings:

WHAT IS SHOULDER SEASON?

We call this time of year “shoulder season” because, in a lot of popular destinations, it’s between the high summer season and the low winter season. The weather is perfect in September and October, but the summer crowds are gone. We'll see airfares and hotel rates drop in popular summer destinations as summer turns to fall, including beach towns, National Parks, theme parks, and European cities.

BOOK A HOTEL DEAL

To take advantage of “shoulder season”, do your homework: Visit a web resource (such as our brand-new BOOK A HOTEL page) and compare rates from early September (a.k.a., right now) with rates a few weeks later. You'll often see hotels on the Jersey Shore, New England, and the Carolinas drop their rates by as much as half as summer turns to fall. Pounce on a rate that's right for you.

VACATION RENTALS CAN SAVE YOU BIG

But if you're traveling in a party of more than four people, a vacation rental like HomeAway or Airbnb may be the way to go. Don't be put off by rates over $200/night until you've compared the rental to the cost of two (or more) hotel rooms. A spokesperson for HomeAway recently let us know that they are seeing savings of 10 percent or more on Shoulder Season bookings.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO BUY PLANE TICKETS?

The question we get asked most often is: When is the best time to buy plane tickets. The answer is usually roughly two months ahead of your flight -- that's typically when airlines have lowered fares as much as they are going to.

Of course, for travel in September and October, we're already past that window, so the best day to book a flight might be... right now. Our partners at Skyscanner crunched the numbers for fall travel and noted that early September is the best time to book a Thanksgiving flight (with savings of about 4 percent and an average U.S. domestic round-trip selling for around $300), and that in general the ideal window for finding lower fares starting around 11 weeks prior to your flight - a bigger window for savings than usual.

We also always recommend following all the major airlines, hotels, and package tour companies on social media and to sign up for their e-newsletters, so you'll be among the first to learn about flash sales and deals. And, right on cue, airlines will start rolling out Shoulder Season sales in September - happy travels!

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