Best Times for Fall Travel

The fourth quarter of the year—for travel, that means October through mid-December—is the slowest time of the year in many destination areas. That means you get some of the year's best prices.

Sun-Sand-Surf: Typically, the fourth quarter is the slowest season in U.S., Caribbean, Central American, and Mexican beach destinations. Many Americans are back at work or in school after summer vacations and planning for the year-end holidays. Weather is generally good, although it's still hurricane season; and ocean water remains warm for swimming and temperatures are fine for outdoor activities. Of course, starting December 20, you see fewer deep discounts. And typically, the period from the pre-Christmas weekend until January 5 is the busiest of the year in many major tourist destinations.

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Cruises: The cruise business pretty much parallels the beach pattern. One cruise website is pitching several eight-day December Caribbean departures starting at $319 per person (about $40 a day), with promised "upgrades" and "onboard credits." Three-night trips from Los Angeles to Mexico start as low as $159 per person. The best deals on repositioning cruises, from Europe to warm-weather areas, run from early October to the first week in December, with many at less than $50 per person, per day. Alaska, of course, is over by then. These deals come and go quickly, but they can be really great.

Mountain Destinations: Ski centers experience a fourth-quarter slump between the end of the summer season and the start of ski season, which usually begins in late November or early December in most U.S. resorts. But until the snow falls, you don't find much going on at this time of the year, and many hotels, lifts, restaurant, and other tourist facilities shut down for maintenance.

Child-Centric Destinations: Obviously, the best times to visit Disney complexes and other theme-park destinations keyed to kids are when the kids are in school—if you want to go without kids. According to data from Disney, prices for the weeks between Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year week are among the lowest of the year, although the absolute bottom season is early January.

Big Cities: Business travel tends to wind down between mid-December and early January—and especially during the week between Christmas and New Year's—so business-oriented hotels in big cities often slash rates or offer promotional packages. In several major cities, you can expect to find a hotel Nutcracker package every year as well as hotel shopping and hotel theater deals. Keep an eye out during the next month or two.

Once you decide where you want to go, you have several ways to locate the best hotel deals:

  • Check with one or two of the big online travel agencies for specials and promotions.
  • Log onto the official visitor website for any city or area you plan to visit and you'll usually see a long list of promotional deals.
  • For hotel accommodations, consider placing a really low hotel bid through Priceline or finding a big discount on Hotwire.
  • Look for good air-and-hotel packages.
  • Consider a vacation rental.

Don't kid yourself, however, about the vacation experience. No matter where you go, the fourth-quarter product may be quite different from what you get in either the summer or winter peak seasons. You typically find fewer visitor activities and options. Also, you may find that a week on a sunny beach in October or November doesn't provide the same contrast as a week in January or February, nor does it offer relief from the worst winter weather at home. There's more to a vacation experience than a low price. But if price is really important to you, take a look at vacationing during the next few months.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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