Airfare, hotels and even some tourist attractions get pricier during the high season, when swarms of travelers hit the road in record numbers. But while weather conditions might be perfect during high season, it’s the off-season that offers the best deals. From cheaper flights to empty cruises, here’s a look at how off-season travel lets you experience the world without spending a fortune.
Airfare Plummets in the Off-Season
Low airfare is just one of the many desirable advantages of off-season travel. But, you’ll need to do your research to find out when your favorite destinations are in low season.
While summer flight prices are traditionally high, some destinations actually have lower rates during the hotter part of the year. Some typical winter destinations like ski resorts see a dip in foot traffic in the summer, but still have a lot to offer visitors when the snow’s melted, according to Consumer Reports.
Even destinations like the Caribbean see a dip in tourism over the summer. If you can handle scorching temperatures, you’re bound to find steep discounts on airfare. For even deeper discounts, keep your travel plans open and run “flexible trip” searches with online travel sites.
Get Low-Cost Luxury Seating on Empty Flights
These days, plane passengers don’t just pay extra for premium seats. In fact, many airlines charge hidden fees for the more desirable economy seats, such as those with a few extra inches of legroom.
For example, Air New Zealand charges up to $1,500 extra for two passengers in its Economy Skycouch seating. This fee gets you three seats with flip-up footrests and armrests that transform the row into a comfy couch.
If you arrange for off-season travel, you might not need to pay for better seats. Since long-haul flights are likely to be sparsely populated at this time, you can create your own “sky couch” by nabbing an empty economy row and a few pillows. You’ll arrive at your destination rested and ready for fun.
You Can Pay Less to Stay Longer
It’s common knowledge that hotel rates drop during the low season. Along with scoring hotel rooms for rock-bottom rates, you can often purchase luxury accommodations for less.
According to the New York Times, Miami hotels often reduce high-season rates by 50 percent during slow times. Additionally, you can snag special deals like free valet service, a fourth night free or a hefty credit toward meals at the hotel restaurant.
If you’ve been dreaming of vacationing in Europe on the cheap, expect to find lower hotel rates from November through March. The cold will be biting, but popular destinations tend to be more affordable, reported USA Today. Travel from mid-June through August, though, and say goodbye to your savings.
Leisure Activities Cost Less
Whatever leisure activities you have in mind for your vacation, you’ll likely pay less during the low season. If getting a relaxing massage or rejuvenating facial is on your short list, book during the off-season to get more for your money. In fact, in July and August, Miami’s low season, the city’s premier spas (under the auspices of “Spa Month”) drop their prices by up to 50 percent.
You’ll find great spa deals when you head to ski country in warm weather, as well. Spas in Vail, Colo., for example, offer significant discounts for off-season visitors.
If you’d rather spend time with a caddy than a massage therapist, you’ll find discounts on off-season greens fees across the country.
Off-Season Tours Are Less Expensive
If you dream of embarking on a wildlife safari in Africa or a guided tour of Egypt’s pyramids, rearranging your schedule can save you money. According to Travel + Leisure, safari lodges offer serious low-season deals and discounts, with prices dropping by up to 40 percent.
For example, you’ll pay up to $3,770 in the high season for a family tent at the legendary Cottar’s Safari Service, which boasts sunset views across the Serengeti. Green-season (mid-March through May) prices dip to $2,181 a night, however.
Many tour companies offer special off-season discounts, as well. Go Ahead Tours, for example, cuts prices on tours happening around the world — from Alaska to the UK and Italy — with low demand.
You Can Go Cruising for a Deal
If you want to relax on an affordable cruise, you can still get big discounts by scheduling your trip off-season. High and low seasons vary depending on the body of water in question, so do your research before booking a trip.
While you can certainly score a deal on a traditional ocean cruise during the off-season, the best savings occur on the river. Not only can you get discount rates on European river cruises during the “shoulder” months of fall or early spring, but you’ll also enjoy more elbow room and better accommodations at this time of year.
Repositioning cruises will save you even more. With this cruise option, your ship departs from one port and drops you at another. As a result, you can explore two different cities while enjoying big discounts. Best of all, repositioning cruises are typically less crowded, so you won’t have to worry about packed pools or lines at the buffet.
Score More Car for Less Money
It’s nice to have wheels when you are away from home, and many travelers consider a rental car an essential part of the travel package. Like every other commodity, rental car prices rise when a lot of other people are renting, too.
In fact, rental agencies use software that links both to online travel sites and competitor sites. Prices rise when demand peaks and inventory is low. It doesn’t take a brain scientist to figure out that this most often happens in a location’s high season.
So, how do you get the best rate? Travel off-season and book a vehicle well in advance. Then, check the going price every few weeks until your travel day. If a better price is available, grab it and cancel the reservation you have. You won’t incur a fee for this and might even be able to snag more car for less money.
Prices Dip for Off-Season Dining
Eating out can make or break a vacation, as well as a vacation budget. The more you love fine dining, the more it makes sense to consider off-season travel.
Remember, supply and demand is the basic rule. As demand drops in the off-season, prices drop, including food prices. That’s as true in popular European destinations like Barcelona as it is in America’s resort cities.
Some cities even hold “restaurant weeks” during the off-season. For example, popular Miami Beach is less popular when it swelters in August and September. So this sultry South Florida city offers incredible food deals at this time, such as “Miami Spice,” which is packed full of restaurant bargains and foodie-related events. Plus, with fewer tourists, you’ll get reservations more easily — and your waitpersons will be less stressed.
Ride the Rails for Less
Taking a train might be the main course of your vacation, such as if you’re traveling across Canada by train. It can also be a delicious side dish, like when you’re visiting London and then heading to the coast on a South Western Railway train. In either case, you’ll likely do far better on price if you book in advance and travel off-season.
According to South Western Railway, traveling outside of busy periods pays off financially. You’ll also have a quieter, more serene ride. Almost any destination with a clear high season will lower fares during the low season.
Think of Alaska, the Last Frontier. It attracts crowds to incredible Denali Park in the summer, but riders disappear in the long, cold Alaskan winter. Does it surprise you to learn that a train ticket between Anchorage and Fairbanks goes for $244 in summer but only $195 in winter?
About the Author
Lawyer, writer and world traveler, Teo Spengler splits her home time between San Francisco and France. She has specialized in travel, legal and business writing for the past 15 years. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Arizona Central, Fairmont Hotel Blog, Fairmont Moments, Houston Chronicle, Jet Blue.com, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites.