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Strategies for making the most of your long-weekend getaway

SmarterTravel

With Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving right around the corner, many travelers think of fall as a perfect time to escape on a long-weekend getaway. Whether you’re planning to spend a few days hiking, leaf-peeping, visiting a city, or on a beach, there are ways to get the most value from your next short vacation.

Avoid holiday weekends

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, avoiding holiday weekends is a smart way to save. Many Americans escape for Columbus Day or Veterans Day, and if you can sneak out of the office on a different weekend, you’re likely to save.

For instance, we priced four-night vacations in October using Travelocity and found savings of almost $100 by traveling the weekend after Columbus Day instead of on the holiday weekend itself. However, before booking your vacation, make sure you research a variety of weekend dates to find the lowest available prices.

Know where to look for deals

Before booking a getaway this fall, look for deals in a number of places. If you’re taking a trip on a whim, consider using a last-minute vacation provider website such as Site59. Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz also offer last-minute vacation packages. If you’re only looking for airfare, consider searching SmarterTravel.com’s Last-Minute Airfares database. Katie Deines of Expedia.com notes that most last-minute fares are released on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so you may be able to get the best fare for the upcoming weekend just a day or two before you depart.

If you’re booking farther out, it’s still a good idea to check the three major online agencies, all of which offer airfare deals, discounted hotel rates, car rental deals, and air-and-hotel vacation packages. SmarterTravel.com’s Weekend Getaways section also provides information on deals for long-weekend trips.

If you have a specific destination in mind, visit that city or town’s convention and visitors bureau (CVB) website. CVBs offer some of the best information on a destination, and often offer discounts and coupons for lodging, shopping, dining, and activities.

Know which days to travel

In general, the cheapest days to travel are midweek. Consider departing on Saturday (instead of Friday) and returning on Tuesday or Wednesday to avoid traffic and airport hassles. Traveling when most other people are not is the key to avoiding hassles and saving money.

Take advantage of the off-peak season

Liz Meggison of the student travel agency TravelCUTS suggests visiting “destinations or activities that are usually too pricey or overcrowded during other times of year.” As examples, Meggison notes that spending a long weekend at the Grand Canyon, Disney World, or Niagara Falls in autumn can be less expensive than at other times of year.

Additionally, popular ski resorts in the western U.S. begin offering early-season ski discounts starting in mid- to late November, which could be the perfect long-weekend getaway for skiers. Also, Europe and the Caribbean are also off-peak during the fall, and you can often find cheap vacation packages for these destinations.

SmarterTravel.com’s Vacation section offers a wide range of available vacation deals, some of which are short trips for three or four nights.

Sail away

Expedia’s Katie Deines also recommends taking a long-weekend cruise this autumn. Most online travel agencies list fall deals, even for last-minute travel. Although fall is hurricane season, cruise lines will usually re-route ships to avoid stormy weather instead of canceling entire sailings. Or, stay on the safe side and cruise the Northeast, Canada, or Europe.

In addition, fall brings repositioning cruises, which are often discounted more than regular sailings. So-called repo cruises occur when cruise lines move their ships to warmer waters for the fall. Repo cruises spend more time at sea and may be longer than traditional cruises, but can be a good way to save on a getaway. Check SmarterTravel.com’s cruise section for deals on short fall cruises or longer repositioning ones.

See the chart below for sample four-night vacations in October:

Package Provider Columbus Day rate October rate
Airfare from Los Angeles to Nassau, Bahamas, four nights’ accommodations Travelocity $766 (October 7 through 11) $675 (October 14 through 18)
Airfare from Chicago to Las Vegas, four nights’ accommodations Travelocity $524 (October 7 through 11) $459 (October 14 through 18)
Airfare from New York (JFK) to Cancun, four nights’ accommodations Travelocity $597 (October 7 through 11) $563 (October 14 through 18)

Prices are based on round-trip flights and include taxes and fees. Rates were researched on Travelocity’s website in September.

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