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Hot tips for peak fall travel

SmarterTravel

Fall is typically a slow travel season but certain destinations really heat up as the temperatures cool. If you would like to go leaf-peeping, travel home for the holidays, hit fall festivals, or find faraway locales with great autumn weather, you may find high prices and limited availability. If you want your fall travel to come in under budget, read our tips to autumn savings.

Fall foliage: New England

September and October are the peak months for fall foliage, and New England is one of the best spots to visit as temperatures drop from their humid highs and the trees explode with hues of red, orange, and gold. However, you’ll also find country inns with “no vacancy signs” and back roads backing up with camera-toting visitors. Though autumn is high season in the forested areas of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, you need not spend a fortune to see New England dressed in its finest.

If you live in New England, you have the best option for saving money—do your leaf peeping as a day trip. The states are so small that you can easily drive into forested areas and back to the city in one day. If you’re coming from afar, you’re more likely to find accommodation deals and fewer minimum-night requirements if you plan your trip for midweek, generally Tuesday through Thursday. There will be fewer people on the roads then as well.

Jason Aldous of the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing tells us that if you’re flexible about location and do your research, you can always find somewhere to stay, even on busy weekends. He recommends choosing a region, then looking for deals, rather than setting your heart on staying in a specific property in a certain town. “You’re less likely to find deals in better-known towns,” he told us, and no matter where you stay in Vermont, you can drive to any other place in the state within a day. You can find New England autumn packages at VermontVacation.com, NewEnglandInns.com, and the Visit New Hampshire website, or check the tourism website of the state you plan to visit.

As foliage viewing is often a driving activity, be sure to check SmarterTravel.com for the latest car rental deals if you’re not bringing your own vehicle. Should you need to fly to New England, smaller airports in Providence; Manchester, NH; Portland, ME; and Hartford, CT, are served by low-cost airlines such as Southwest Airlines, while JetBlue and Independence Air fly directly into Boston. Check SmarterTravel.com’s current air deals and last-minute specials for discounted airfare. And as always, gazing out at autumn’s foliage fireworks costs absolutely nothing.

Home for Thanksgiving

Anyone who has ever been in an airport around Thanksgiving knows that it’s one of the year’s peak travel times. Everyone flies on the same handful of days in order to be home by Thursday. Flights can be oversold and lines at the airport are usually incredibly long. And due to all the demand, Thanksgiving airfares don’t come cheap.

If you’re willing to be a little bit flexible with your travel plans, you can find bargains and avoid the crowded airports. Our first tip is to avoid popular travel times and locations. Don’t fly on the Wednesday or Sunday of Thanksgiving week. Instead, leave a day early on Tuesday, take an early-morning Thursday flight, or fly the less-popular red-eye on Wednesday night. Just keep in mind that if your Thursday flight is delayed or cancelled, you may miss your turkey dinner. Similarly, spend an extra day with the family and fly home on Monday. As most holiday travelers avoid these times, you’ll find better fares and calmer airports.

Also, try alternate airports (Providence instead of Boston, Oakland instead of San Francisco). These smaller facilities tend to have fewer crowds and are more likely to be serviced by low-fare carriers such as Southwest, JetBlue, and Independence Air. You’ll have a better chance of coming up with a bargain, too.

Our second tip is to book early, or take your chances and reserve your flight at the last minute. If you know your plans in advance, you can have your pick of flights before limited low fares sell out. On the other end of the spectrum, you can wait for last-minute Thanksgiving sales as airlines try to get rid of leftover inventory. However, you run the risk of not finding an available or affordable seat if your route is a popular one.

Our last piece of advice is to volunteer to be bumped. If your flight is oversold and your travel plans are somewhat flexible, ask to be bumped to the next available flight. Airlines typically give out vouchers for several hundred dollars off your next flight as a thank you, so you can get home in time for turkey and get your next flight at a significant discount.

Festival bound: Munich, Germany

Fall is a great time for festival-hopping, with community fairs and harvest celebrations. One such affair, Munich’s Oktoberfest, takes place from September 18 to October 3 this year. It’s the world’s biggest folk festival, with approximately six million people flooding the city to drink beer, listen to music, and eat traditional German specialties. Raise your mug with your mates in one of the beer tents and you’ll be set back around seven euros (almost $9) for a liter of beer. And because all the drinking and revelry can quickly add up, here are some hints to keeping your spare pennies in your pockets.

The best advice we have is to book early. At press time, a full month before the festival begins, most hotels in Munich are already booked solid and special packages have sold out. You’ll find more availability if you book in the spring, but remember that savings are relative. Prices can triple for the festival period, so a good deal for Oktoberfest lodging may seem over-priced by normal standards.

If you don’t mind a little inconvenience, look for accommodations outside of the city, in suburbs that are still connected to Munich via the train or subway. Or, to be closer to the action, you can rent a tent for 45 to 55 euros per night ($56 to $68) at the Wies’n-Camp, located in the Olympic Horse Stadium, 10 minutes by subway to the Oktoberfest festival grounds. The Munich Tourist office can you help you find suitable lodging before or after you arrive in Germany. You can also try the Munich Hotel Association.

Public transportation is the cheapest way to get from your hotel or campsite to Oktoberfest, not to mention the safest way home after all the beer drinking. Both the MVV subway lines and the S-Bahn trains will run late during Oktoberfest. You can purchase one- or three-day subway passes for yourself or a group of five adults; prices range between 4.50 and 18 euros ($6 to $22). If you’re staying farther afield, you can purchase a special weekend S-Bahn train ticket for 28 euros ($35), valid for up to five adults on all regional trains and the S-Bahn, as well as free MVV travel in the city. The fairground can be easily reached from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Munich.

Admission to Oktoberfest and all beer tents is free, so your biggest concern will be how many beers and sausages to buy. But keep a good eye on your wallet in the crowded beer tents. You don’t want a pickpocket to take away the money you saved when planning the rest of your trip.

Exotic escapes: Hong Kong

Autumn may be chilly or rainy in your neck of the woods, but hop on a plane and you can find nicer climes. For example, Hong Kong’s weather is at its best in October and November. Days are sunny and warm, but not as hot and rainy as the summer months. Most tourists plan their visit for the autumn season, so deals tend to disappear. However, you’ll still have plenty of options for saving if you know where to look.

For more money-saving tips on Asia travel, read our Asia vacation booking guide

Start with the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s website. The site lists vacation packages from numerous providers, with value offers starting at $899 for round-trip airfare and five nights’ accommodations. The site also offer E-Coupons for freebies, such as half-price ferry tickets and free souvenirs with the purchase of a tour.

Once you arrive in Hong Kong, you can save by taking the Airport Express train from the airport to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. The train is fast and cheap, plus you can check in for your flight and check your luggage at the train station on your way back to the airport. You can also take public transportation to Hong Kong’s attractions; fares range from 50 cents to $4, and the ultra-convenient Octopus card saves you from hunting for bus change. Or, take the famous Star Ferry between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon for just a quarter; you’ll get great views of the city from the harbor, while traveling to your next destination.

If you’d like to experience Hong Kong’s unique culture, take advantage of the Tourism Board’s Cultural Kaleidoscope activities. You can learn tai chi, sail on an authentic junk boat, or take a pearl or jade appreciation class, led by English-speaking guides and free of charge. Take in the views from Victoria peak, walk through the countryside of the less urban islands, or browse in the Stanley Market, and you won’t have to spend a penny to appreciate what Hong Kong has to offer. For a unique dining experience, try one of the “speakeasys” (si fang cai), where gourmet food is served in someone’s home for as low as $10. Try the Secret Pantry, Mum Chau’s Sichuan Kitchen, or Gitone Fine Arts for fine food at budget rates.

So whether you’re traveling close to home or around the world, you can always find ways to make your autumn travel affordable. Combine our tips with your own travel savvy, and your fall vacation could be your most inexpensive getaway of the year.

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