Forget what your kindergarten teacher taught you, at least where travel is concerned. There aren’t four seasons, there are three: high season, low season and the period we’re about to enter, shoulder season, which combines reasonable costs with sunny skies.
Actually, scratch that. There are even fewer seasons now, according to search engine Hipmunk.com’s CEO Adam Goldstein. “The airlines think about just two seasons: summer and winter,” he says. “The schedule for the summer is all about peak demand; the airlines want to have as many flights as possible, at as many prices as possible then. In winter, they schedule fewer flights but they still plan for holiday demand. But in September and October, there’s a lot of overlap. It’s a facet of their scheduling that leads to lower fares. They’re scheduling for October as if it’s November, even though there are fewer people flying.”
And that disparity in supply and demand affects not just airfares, but also attractions, hotels, restaurants in touristy areas, you name it. “It’s the best time to travel if you want to save money,” says Laura Vegalia, Vice President of Sales for the air/hotel package giant BookIt.com. “After the kids go back to school and before winter travel heats up, well, the hotels really consider it their hungry season, so they come up with good deals” she explains. “Every destination that we have is giving us specials right now.”
Does that mean the discounts will be record-breaking? Alas, no. “Airfares are above where they were a couple of years ago. There’s nowhere I’ve seen really amazing deals,” says Goldstein.
Veglia concurs, though notes that there are still ways to save money, if travelers are savvy. “Yes, airfares are higher, but a number of hotels have been offering flight credits to off-set those costs,” she says. “That’s particularly true in the Caribbean”
Airfare offsets are just the beginning of the deals in the Caribbean, which, because of hurricane season, is taking heroic measures to attract customers, including kids-stay-free programs, free extras (like rounds of golf, scuba lessons and meals) and other perks.
“What I tell my friends about September and October travel to the Caribbean is: book!” says Veglia. “There’s no denying a hurricane can happen. But the likelihood of it happening is minimal. If there’s a storm and you have to cancel, you’ll get your money back. And after a hurricane you have the best weather of all.”
I'll note that some destinations--like Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Vincent and the Grenadines--are outside the hurricane zone. But prices still drop to these places because of a fear of traveling to the Caribbean in fall.
The national parks of both Canada and the United States are another particularly smart option for fall travel, says best-selling guidebook author James Kaiser (www.jameskaiser.com). “Its my favorite time of the year in the parks,” he says. “The crowds are way down, the weather is fantastic--often better than it is in summer!--- and you can get discounts. It’s the best kept secret out there.” Of those discounts, Kaiser contends that the prices for lodgings around the park drop by a good 10-20% from their summer highs in shoulder season.
And sometimes the perks of this season for park travel are unexpected. “The light in September and October is softer and gentler, just beautiful. If you’re into photography, you’ll really love it,” he notes. “And if you’re visiting one of the parks with bears, like Yosemite, you’re more likely to get a look at them, because they’re out, making the final push to fatten up before their winter hibernation.”
Hawaii is another shoulder season expert’s choice this year, according to Mark Drusch, Chief Supplies Officer of travel booking site OneTravel.com. “There’s lots of airlift to the islands,” he explains. “In fact, there’s enough service to match the growth in visitation so fares aren’t going up there. Anyplace where fares are flat, its pretty good, relatively speaking.” Hotel prices are decent as well, he notes, with the best values for those who book air/hotel packages.
A final choice for fall? Though airfares are still high, a number of travel experts told me that Europe is on their radar. “A lot of our members report that they’re going to cross the pond,” says Travis Katz of the social media-based travel site Gogobot.com. “I think its because the prices are so low on the ground, what with the drop of the euro and the economic crisis.”
“After September 10, prices for hotels can drop as much as 40%, particularly in France and Italy. Greece, for obvious reasons, is also cheaper this year,” continues Katz. Drusch agrees noting. “I would highly recommend Spain and Greece this fall, because they’re cheaper than they used to be, “ says Drusch. “Particularly in the business centers, cities like Athens, Madrid and Barcelona. Intra-European travel is slower, so you can upgrade to a biz hotel for the same price that you used to pay at a leisure hotel. “Sh