Everyone says October is shoulder season in Europe. Therefore, I expect affordable prices, great hotel availability, and fewer crowds.
But lately, this reasoning doesn’t seem to hold true. My friends hoping to join me on a Mediterranean cruise in late October couldn’t find airfare to Rome or Barcelona for under $900. When trying to add an extra night to a pre-cruise hotel stay, I found rooms were nearly sold out and prices quite high.
I hypothesized that the increasing popularity of Europe travel had pushed the start of the shoulder season back to early November. When I asked Erin Krause, a spokesperson for Expedia, she rebuffed my theory. “Fall is still the best time to go to Europe,” she said, mentioning the low fares to London she and her friends recently found for an October trip. The shoulder season continues to run from mid-September through early November, and October is the sweet spot when all summer travelers have gone home, but the weather is still nice.
What about my experience? Krause points out that my expectations of affordable prices aren’t necessarily in line with reality. According to Expedia, summer coach fares to popular European destinations average $1,171. Fall fares are typically 20 percent cheaper, with average fares around $928. So, yes, October travel is cheaper than summer travel—it just may not be as affordable as you or I had hoped.
In addition, availability can be affected by events in your destination city, such as a cruise departure, conference, or sporting event. After my conversation with Krause, I learned that a big event in Barcelona was causing hotels to sell out faster than normal.
If you want to take advantage of October’s shoulder-season status, you should book airfare and accommodations 90 days in advance to find the best rates and availability. October prices may not be as cheap as you wished, but if you adopt a conservative outlook, perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
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(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)