With lower prices, fewer tourists, and milder weather, autumn can be one of the most advantageous times of the year to visit popular summertime destinations. As September draws near, lower tourist demand in these areas precipitates a seasonal drop in airfare, hotel rates, and other travel costs. And as long as you avoid travel during Thanksgiving week in the U.S., you can expect significant savings and less harried visits.
Prices for visiting a summer travel hotspot may be even lower during winter months, but experiencing these locations in the more comfortable fall weather can be the greater benefit. Our top five choices for off-peak fall travel are Central Europe, and in the U.S., the Northeastern Coast, Southwestern National Parks, Hawaii, and Lake Tahoe.
(Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the U.K.)
During the warm, dryer summer months in central Europe, American tourists swarm cities like London and Paris, overcrowding top attractions and driving airfare prices sky-high. However, during the fall, the weather cools, the crowds thin, and the cost for air travel can plummet by 50 percent or more. Travel costs in general tend to drop further as the season progresses, and rise again for the holidays in December.
To illustrate air travel savings, we compared round-trip fares from this past July and this coming October between New York’s JFK and various European cities:
|City||July fare||October fare|
Taxes and fees are not included in the fares listed. Fares from July are last-minute fares, posted by SmarterTravel.com. Average fares for summer travel are higher than the last-minute fares. October fares were found on Travelocity.
SmarterTravel.com keeps track of all Europe airfare sales, including fall specials, which you can view on our airfare page. You might be able to find even lower round-trip fares from your home airport by searching our last-minute fares.
While lower-priced airfare will be your biggest source of savings, you will also find that many hotels, B&Bs, and other types of accommodations reduce prices for the fall. Search PlanetHoliday.com to find discounted lodging in the area you plan to visit.
There are a few things to keep in mind when planning a fall trip to Europe:
- The weather in the fall cools off gradually, with more pronounced temperature drops in inland countries like France and Germany than the more temperate U.K. and Ireland.
- Although more precipitation is likely to fall, particularly in November, you can still experience many fine days throughout the season.
- Traveling within these countries should be easier, as roads will be less clogged with tour buses and other traffic. However, bus, rail, and ferry service to more remote regions, such as the Scottish Highlands, may close down or operate on a reduced schedule until late spring.
- Some museums and attractions may also have reduced hours.
From Cape Cod and Nantucket to the Hamptons and the Outer Banks, the coastal regions of the Northeast U.S. experience dramatic population shifts at the end of summer as beach goers and vacation homeowners head back to the city. Savvy travelers who don’t mind cooler fall temperatures will find ocean-view suites and roomy beach houses at prices they can afford, and the peace and quiet thatÃ?Â?s nearly impossible to get in the summer.
Oftentimes, smaller inns, B&Bs, and individual vacation rentals close completely because of the lack of visitors. However, most hotels, resorts, and inns do remain open and work to attract paying customers by cutting rates and offering special vacation packages. Area chambers of commerce often work with local hotels, restaurants, and other businesses to promote packages and special events designed to keep travelers around for a bit longer.
Check out the seasonal savings possible with fall hotel rates as compared to summer rates in a variety of Northeastern shore destinations:
|Hotel||Summer rate||Fall rate|
|Baron’s Cove Inn
Sag Harbor, NY (the Hamptons)
|$175 to $500||$95 to $275|
|Ocracoke Harbor Inn
Ocracoke, NC (the Outer Banks)
|$98 to $200||$75 to $190|
|Chatham Bars Inn
Chatham, MA (Cape Cod)
|$320 to $1,600||$200 to $1,210|
|$600 to $2,300||$200 to $1,500|
These prices are based on the per-day summer and fall prices posted on the hotels’ websites and do not include taxes. Different rate ranges may be applied during holiday or transitional periods.
To begin your search for fall hotel and vacation specials for these regions, look on official tourism websites. You can find accommodation specials and hotel listings on tourism websites for Cape Cod, the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Outer Banks.
While it might get too chilly for sunbathing later in the season, fall along the Northeastern seaboard often brings clear, crisp days that many travelers prefer to hot, muggy summer days. You can still find plenty of activities such as sailing, sea kayaking, and fishing through much of the season, and can enjoy unique fall events like New England’s cranberry harvest, the Martha’s Vineyard Culinary Classic, and the Outer Banks’ commemoration of the Wright Brothers’ flight. Top
Although Hawaii does not experience major seasonal change weather-wise, prices for travel vary depending upon seasonal tourist traffic. Tourism levels happen to drop in the fall months when summer vacationers clear out, just as the ocean rises to its warmest temperature. Also, the annual Aloha Festivals begins at the end of summer, bringing hundreds of cultural events to the islands throughout the fall.
During autumn on the Hawaiian islands, you’ll find plenty to do, less crowding, reduced hotels rates, andÃ?Â?best of allÃ?Â?cheaper airfare. We compared sample round-trip airfares between various U.S. cities and Hawaiian airports for August 2003 and this coming October to demonstrate the savings:
|Route||August fare||October fare|
|San Francisco to Honolulu||$546||$355|
|Los Angeles to Kona||$606||$407|
|Boston to Honolulu||$742||$468|
|Chicago (ORD) to Maui/Kahului||$800||$562|
Taxes and fees are not included in the fares listed. Fares for August are sale fares from United and American as reported by SmarterTravel.com in July. Average fares for summer travel are higher than these sale fares. October fares were found on Travelocity.
SmarterTravel.com keeps track of all Hawaii airfare sales, including fall specials, which you can view on our airfare page. You should also visit the websites for Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines, as these carriers have regular specials and promotions.
Check our hotel page, for a list of deals on accommodations in Hawaii. You can also visit the website for the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, where you can search for accommodations, activities, events, and travel specials. Top
It’s hard to figure out why summer is a popular time to visit the National Parks of the Southwestern U.S.: Temperatures are often well over 100 F degrees, and on some days, you’ll spend more time looking at the car bumper ahead of you on the entrance road than the scenery. Instead, try visiting the Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, or another Southwestern National Park in the fall when temperatures are more comfortable, the number of visitors declines, and prices for lodging and activities drop.
Some hotels and tour providers begin offering low-season prices in September while others wait until October or November to cut prices, depending upon the demand. Sample rates for hotels near various parks with the summer rate, fall rate, and the start date for fall pricing listed, include:
|Hotel||Summer rate||Fall rate||Fall start date||Zion Ponderosa
Mount Carmel, UT (Zion)
|$115 to $169||$98 to $144||September 9|
|Fray Marcos Hotel
Williams, AZ (Grand Canyon)
|$129 to $149||$79 to $99||October 16|
|Sunflower Hill B&B Inn
Moab, UT (near Canyonlands and Arches)
|$145 to $195||$90 to $165||November 1|
|The Grand Hotel
Grand Canyon, AZ
|$149 to $209||$109 to $149||November 1|
These prices are based on the per-day summer and fall prices posted on the hotels’ websites and do not include taxes.
Searching for accommodations near Southwestern National Parks can be a bit tricky since most lodging is not located inside the park, but in small, unfamiliar towns outside park boundaries. To find out what your options are, try looking at a guidebook that lists area accommodations, or visiting a comprehensive travel website like Trip Advisor. Keep a map handy so you can determine how far away each property is from the park; in some cases, hotels listed for a certain park can be 50 miles away or more! Once you’ve found some convenient locations, visit the hotels’ websites or call to find out rates and specials. Be sure to determine when their off-peak rates begin.
Each parks’ climate is unique, but all tend to have more moderate temperatures and clearer skies in the autumn. To find out what a park’s weather will be like during the fall, visit the National Park Service website, and select a park from the pull-down menu. This will take you to the park’s homepage, where you can click on “Travel Basics” or “Weather Planning Info” to learn about the climate.Top
In between the busy and high-priced summer recreation and winter ski seasons, Lake Tahoe’s tourism trade takes a bit of breather, relaxing its prices as well. Some hotels and resorts may lower prices by 40 percent or more.
Sample fall rates compared to peak rates (during the summer and winter) for accommodations around Lake Tahoe are:
(summer and winter)
Kings Beach, CA
|$95 to $275||$40 to $235|
|Best Western Inn
|$102 to $232||$89 to $183|
|Inn by the Lake
South Lake Tahoe, CA
|$108 to $635||$98 to $355|
|Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe
Incline Village, NV
|$299 to $1,499||$199 to $999|
These prices are based on the per-day rates posted on the hotels’ websites and do not include taxes.
Lake Tahoe is encircled by numerous towns on its California and Nevada shores, so you should check out the available accommodations in multiple areas to find the most convenient and affordable hotel for your stay.
Begin by browsing through official tourism websites. Visit the portal website for the Lake Tahoe Chambers of Commerce, where you can link to individual town and region tourism sites, and you can then find region-specific accommodation and recreation listings. Usually, you’ll find links to hotels in the area, a list of specials, and sometimes a hotel search function that allows you to search for accommodations by date and compare rates at a variety of properties.
Fall visitors can expect temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees during the day, with clear, sunny weather 86 percent of the time. In the higher elevations, heavy snowfalls don’t begin until late November, while areas closer to the lake remain snow-free for much of the season. Though some recreation providers close after Labor Day, many activities such as lake cruising, hiking, and golf are still offered, and you’ll have a lot less competition for reservations and parking (which can be a nightmare in the summer).Top
This feature is the third installment of a five-part series on low-season travel. You can read the first feature detailing general strategies for planning low cost, low-season trips, and the second feature on the top five low-season destinations for summer travel. Our top low-season picks for winter travel will be posted this coming November.