Summer is generally the busiest (and most expensive) travel season, particularly for major U.S. cities. It’s no wonder. Many cities offer summer-long festivals and events that attract visitors from around the world. However, there are ways to save. We offer some specific tips for Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, plus four savings strategies you can use anywhere.
Chicago is at its prime during the summer. Popular events such as the Taste of Chicago bring tourists and Chicagoland residents to the city, while large conventions attract business travelers all summer long. With warm, sunny weather, the city’s lakefront paths and beaches are packed with sunbathers. This summer is a particularly good time to visit, with culinary festivals (with discounted hotel rates), free public transportation, and plenty of free events.
- Discounted hotel rates: Running from May through October, Stirring Things Up In Chicago is a series of events celebrating Chicago’s culinary tradition. Cooking classes, culinary-inspired films, food-themed poetry slams, and more are taking place throughout the summer. To promote the events, hotel rates as low as $69 per night are available through 877Chicago.com, a website devoted to all things Chicago.
- Free festivals: Chicago is chock full of festivals and events this summer. The Chicago Outdoor Film Festival begins July 12 and runs through August 23, showing free films in Grant Park on Tuesday evenings. This year, the films were chosen by Chicago resident and film critic Roget Ebert, and include Star Wars, Annie Hall, and Citizen Kane. Chicago’s oldest festival, Venetian Night, takes place on July 30, and features a lakefront aquatic parade, fireworks, and a free concert. Late August marks the 17th annual Chicago Latin Film Festival, with free music by Grammy-nominated artists, as well as vendors selling artwork, clothes, and jewelry.
- Free trolleys: An inexpensive way to get around the city is Chicago’s free trolley network. Summer hours range from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days per week, depending on route. Trolleys serve most of Chicago’s major tourist attractions, including Navy Pier, the Museum Campus, and Michigan Avenue.
New York is one of the country’s most-visited cities, and summer is a great time to go. The city offers no shortage of things to do, including free theater and concerts. Summer-long promotions mean discounts on hotels, dining, and shopping. As an added bonus, many New Yorkers head out of town on weekends, leaving the city open for visitors to explore.
- Summer Breaks: The city of New York teams up with American Express every summer to offer its Summer Breaks promotion, which brings special discounts on everything from hotels and city tours to shopping and theater tickets. Visitors with American Express cards can get Summer Breaks cards that offer downtown hotel rates from $99 per night, two-for-one admission to the Chelsea Art Museum, specially priced tickets to Chicago on Broadway, and much more.
- Central Park attractions: Central Park hosts a variety of attractions for free during the summer. The Public Theatre’s summer-long Shakespeare in the Park performances are free, and beginning August 16, will feature a musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona. SummerStage puts on free music and dance performances in June, July, and August.
- Restaurant Week: Many of New York’s premier restaurants participate in Restaurant Week, which has been extended through Labor Day. Three-course prix-fixe lunches cost $20.12, and dinners cost $35.00, allowing visitors to sample world-class dining at lower-than-usual prices, Mondays through Fridays.
San Francisco experiences cool, foggy summer days, though fog often burns off as the day progresses. Despite the sometimes-gloomy weather, there are plenty of free summer music and dance events to keep visitors occupied. Discounted hotel rates can be found all summer long, and visitors can take advantage of reduced-price dining in August.
- Discounted hotels: San Francisco’s Convention and Visitors Bureau website, Only in San Francisco, offers hotels from $89 per night. Some of the discounted rates require payment online with a Visa credit card. It’s hard to beat the prices, especially for downtown.
- Free music festivals: The 68th annual Stern Grove Music Festival runs from June through mid-August. Free Sunday concerts are performed by music and dance groups, starting at 2 p.m. Concertgoers can make a day of it by bringing lawn chairs, blankets, and picnics. The 11th annual North Beach Jazz Festival presents free concerts on Saturday, July 30, and Sunday, July 31.
- Reduced-price menus: August brings Dine Out San Francisco, a two-week-long event sponsored by OpenTable.com. Three-course prix-fixe menus at top restaurants start at $20 for lunch and $35 for dinner, Monday through Friday.
While each city has its own special summer events, some general savings strategies apply.
- Look on your city’s CVB website for coupons and discounts.
- If you’re planning to visit several museums or attractions within a few days, consider buying a CityPass or Go Card, which offer discounted admission prices and allow you to zip past lines at some museums.
- If you plan to use public transportation, consider buying a metro card or a visitors pass, which is usually cheaper than buying separate fare cards for each ride.
- Before booking airfare, remember to research all your options, including alternate airports. Low-fare carriers such as JetBlue and Southwest often serve smaller, less-congested airports than the major airlines.