Peak Season vs. Off-Season Travel: What Are the Differences in Costs?

Couple enjoying beach vacation holidays at tropical resort with swimming pool and coconut palm trees near the coast with beautiful landscape at sunset, honeymoon destination.
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While there’s still plenty of trepidation in America and beyond, the travel industry is open for business once again — and it’s high time. The world is overdue for a vacation. 

The virus has changed nearly everything about travel, from where you can go and how big your group can be to what you can pack and the mask on your face.

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One thing, however, will never change: the law of supply and demand. 

When you travel in the peak season — when everyone else wants to travel — demand, and therefore prices, are high. In the off-season, planes take off with empty seats, hotels are filled with empty beds and the travel industry as a collective lowers prices to increase demand. 

When Is the Off-Season? That Depends on You

Generally, it’s cheaper to travel in the off-season when demand and prices are low. So, when is peak season and when is off-season? Well, that depends on a whole lot of variables including where you’re going, when and why. If you’re traveling to the Poconos in Pennsylvania to go skiing, for example, winter is peak season. If you’re going to the Poconos to enjoy the area’s many lakes and water activities, summer is peak season.

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But it also depends on things like whether or not school is in session and whether or not you’re traveling during holidays — that includes holidays both in your country and wherever it is you’re headed. Which hemisphere you’ll be visiting plays into the equation, too, as does the all-important variable of weather.

The Great Peak Season/Off-Season Travel Trade-Off

In virtually all cases, off-season discounts come with a compromise. There’s a reason that Vermont and New Hampshire are packed during the beautiful fall foliage season and empty during the region’s notoriously brutal winters. You’d be lucky to find a hotel room in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and if you do, you’ll pay much, much more than you would for the same room any other time of year.

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Generally, if you’re willing to pay more and tolerate crowds, you can visit places when the weather is better, when there’s more to do and when it’s the best time of year to enjoy whatever it is that makes the place you’re going to special. 

If you’re willing to sacrifice things like primo weather and scheduling, on the other hand, you can expect to pay much less and have the run of the place when you get there.

Planning Involves Lots of Moving Parts

Here’s a brief synopsis, according to Columbus Travel, on how off-season travel deals tend to play out in real life. It’s important to reiterate that these patterns are pre-COVID-19. Neither Columbus Travel nor anyone else can say for sure if the old rules will still apply in 2021 and beyond now that the dam is bursting on a year of pent-up demand.

  • If you’re traveling to Mexico or the Caribbean, particularly the Bahamas, booking a cruise between June 1 and Nov. 30 can save you between 40% and 60%. Also keep in mind, however, that the reason for the discount is that those are the months of the region’s hurricane season. 
  • Prices for travel to Mexico usually drop by 20%-50% between the Monday after Easter and the middle of December. 
  • In the winter, airfare, hotels and travel packages are cheaper for those headed to Europe. 
  • On the other side of the calendar in June and August is when prices drop for travel to South America — that, after all, is their winter. The same holds true for Australia and South Africa, where winter starts in June and summer starts at the end of December. 
  • If you’re considering Hawaii, prices are lowest and crowds are thinnest from September to mid-December and from mid-April to mid-June.

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  • For those planning a trip to California, fall and winter travel from November to February is when off-peak savings are most likely. 
  • On the other coast is Florida, where travelers can visit for much less between June and September. Anyone who has been to Florida in the summer, however, can testify to the trade-off — crushing heat, suffocating humidity and insects that look like they belong in dinosaur times. That includes voracious mosquitos and what Floridians call “palmetto bugs.” They’re giant flying cockroaches. 
  • Southeast Asia’s rainy season — “rainy” is a nicer way to say “monsoon” — lasts from June to October. You can save big money by traveling then but definitely pack an umbrella.  
  • Finally, there’s the wildcard of school. When school is out, prices rise. That’s partly because families can’t travel when class is in session, but also because kids are out of school during holidays and in the summer, when travel prices generally rise anyway. Prices tend to drop from August through November and January through May when kids are in school and family travel is light — except for beach destinations like Hawaii and Mexico, which are packed at those times. The peak time for school vacations, on the other hand, is during March because of spring break and during Christmastime for the winter holidays.

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Last updated: May 12, 2021

About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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