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A careful choice of timing for your next vacation might save you $1000 or more in travel costs.

It might also give you a very much better experience, with fewer crowds and congestion, and more of the things you want to see and do.

 
 
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When is the Best Time to Travel

Don't forget the weather, either! Some times of year might be too hot (or too cold), too wet (or too dry), or just plain too dark.

Weather related issues are discussed in the second part of this two part series.

Part 1 of a 2 part series - click for Parts  One  Two

 

 

If you're able to choose the time of year you take your vacation, then make the most of this flexibility and carefully consider the different factors that can influence how you enjoy your holiday experience.

There are a number of different factors to consider - and to trade off - when choosing the 'best' time to visit any particular place.

Costs - Domestic Airfares

Domestic air travel costs within the US remain reasonably constant all year, apart from the occasional rounds of special fares that arise.

Some types of year - popular travel times such as Thanksgiving or Christmas/New Year have a semi-hidden surcharge because there are fewer discounted seats available and they sell out early, so if you're looking at traveling at these very popular times, you might end up paying more than if you travel at other times of year, unless you book early and/or are very lucky.

Air fares can also vary depending on the day of week you travel and even the time of day you fly. And sometimes the cheap seats on a nonstop flight might sell out more quickly than seats on a route with a change of planes en route.

Strategies

  1. Book early if traveling at a popular time of year.

  2. Wait until an airfare sale comes along if traveling at any other time; but if none has occurred by 25-30 days prior to travel, buy your tickets anyway at the best fare possible.

  3. Choose the days of week you travel on carefully. Not only might there be a surcharge on some days, but some days will have fewer cheap seats on them.

  4. Choose the times of day and routing you travel on carefully. Often non-stop flights may have fewer cheap seats, and if you travel at less popular times of day (avoid early morning and late afternoon/early evening) there are sure to be more cheap seats available.

Costs - International Airfares

It is common for most international advance purchase coach class air fares to change during the year depending on the season. Airlines typically divide the year into a series of time slices (sometimes as many as six different slices), each one of which can vary from 'Low' season up through 'Shoulder' season to 'High' season and 'Super High' season. There can be a $600 or more difference between fares for the highest season and the lowest season!

Sometimes the mere change of a single day can make a difference of perhaps $300 in your airfare cost - if two of you are traveling, that is $600. As part of your research, find out what the airfare seasons are to the destination you're visiting.

Surprisingly, although most airlines generally have very similar or identical airfares from any city to any other city, these fares can vary due to one airline having a slightly different definition of when a season starts or stops. So if you absolutely have to travel at a certain time which is high season with one airline, check the other airlines - perhaps a different airline shows it as shoulder season.

Generally the airfare season is decided based on the day you leave the US. You could leave the US in low season and return in high season, but you will only pay the low season price for the entire roundtrip fare.

Now for the good news. The most expensive times of year for flying somewhere are not always the best times of year to be at your destination! Read next week's article on weather related issues to understand why mid-winter is sometimes a better time to travel than mid-summer, and other weather related peculiarities.

Lastly, it is common that airlines will divide the week up into what they call weekdays and weekend days. Sometimes there will be only three weekdays (typically Mon-Wed) and four weekend days (Thu-Sun) - wouldn't you love to work a three day week such as the airlines seem to suggest you do! Often the definition of which days are weekdays will vary depending on whether you are traveling from the US or back to the US. It pays to understand these issues, because if you fly on the more expensive weekend days, you can be paying $30 or more each way for the privilege. Two of you could save $120 just by changing your travel dates and traveling one day earlier or later in each direction.

Strategies

  1. Consider changing your travel dates forward or back to move your travel start date into a lower airfare season.

  2. If traveling near the start or end of an airfare season, check to see if other airlines have different seasonal timings - maybe your travel times are already in a lower season for that airline.

  3. Remember that more expensive airfare seasons do not always mean better weather or vacation experiences at the place you are traveling to.

  4. Avoid traveling on expensive days of the week.

Costs - Accommodation

Many hotels and resorts have seasonal variations in their room rates.

These variations can be both for a short special event (for example, Spring Break or a major regional trade show/convention) or for an entire season (summer rates at a beach resort compared to winter rates at the same place). Obviously you'll get a better deal if the hotel does not expect to be full while you're staying there.

In addition to these variations in occupancy, while some hotels have steady business every night, most hotels tend to either be more full during the week or during the weekend, depending on if their clientele is mainly business people or people on holiday. A downtown hotel in a large city will often be full every week night, but might be half-empty on Friday and Saturday nights (and sometimes Sunday night, too). But a hotel in Las Vegas will have quite the opposite pattern of room night sales, which is why you'll find Vegas hotel rooms are less than half price during the week, compared to their weekend rates.

Choose your itinerary to get you to business hotels at weekends and leisure hotels on weekdays.

During a hotel's low occupancy season, it may have various incentives to bring in more guests. These incentives vary from a simple lower room rate to 'two for one' offers (stay two nights, pay for one), or upgrades to better room types, or including free meals.

Now for the most important part of getting a special deal from a hotel - you have to ask for it! Hotel reservations agents are taught to first of all offer full priced rates. You must ask for lower rates - sometimes twice. Countless times I've been quoted a room rate, perhaps $200 a night. Then I'll say, doubtfully, 'oh dear, that's a bit over my budget. Do you have any sort of special rate available?'. And then, without any embarrassment at having tried to trick me into paying over the odds, the reservations agent will immediately reply 'Oh yes, we have our special (some sort of name) rate which is $120 a night. Would you prefer that?'

Sometimes I'll hesitate again and say 'Would that also give me an upgraded room?'. And sometimes they'll reveal an even better deal. It never hurts to ask, because the reservation agent is taught not to offer!

Because it costs a hotel a lot of money every time a guest checks in and out, and because they want to incentivize guests to stay longer, it is common to find many (leisure) hotels offering 'short break' rates that are much cheaper than the regular nightly rate. These short breaks can sometimes be as brief as two nights, particularly in low season.

Strategies

  1. Stay in business oriented hotels over the weekend and get special weekend break rates.

  2. Stay in weekend break type hotels during the week and get special weekday rates

  3. Always check to see if the hotel has lower rates for more than one night stays.

  4. Ask the hotel if there are any seasonal specials at any time of year and plan around these. Seasonal specials might be lower room rates or extra things included for free (perhaps meals) or 'pay three nights, stay for four' type promotions.

Popularity and Special Events

Anyone who has spent miserable hours waiting in lines at overly crowded tourist attractions knows to avoid peak tourist seasons, wherever they travel.

Whether it is choosing a quiet day at Disney (Tuesdays are suggested to be the best) or avoiding the entire July period in Europe, avoiding the crowds can have a major impact on your holiday enjoyment.

But as well as these regular peaks and troughs, there can be unexpected one-off peaks as well. There might be a special event occurring at your destination that completely fills up the area, pushes hotel rates up, and makes your stay crowded, expensive, and horrible. Major conventions can make taxis close to impossible, and all the area events and attractions crowded and hard to get tickets to.

But there is another side to this coin – sometimes a major event might be a major added ‘bonus’ experience to your stay – for example in New Orleans which is not only famous for its Mardi Gras celebrations, but which also has some excellent Jazz festivals at random seeming times of the year. Before going to a destination, try and see if there is likely to be anything happening that might be a positive or negative factor in terms of your own plans.

Sometimes there might be a local holiday (or two or three or four) that means the destination is either very busy, or that everything is closed for the holiday period and you’re unable to experience much of what you’d hoped to see and do.

Remember, in most parts of the world, the largest number of tourists are people from that same country. The impact on your travel experience will be greater as a result of what the locals are doing than as a result of what other foreign tourists are doing.

For example, local school holidays can have a major impact on things – and different places have different school holiday times. In the southern hemisphere the summer school holiday break usually runs December - January, and so this period of time is often very busy with local people also on vacation.

Remember also that in much of Europe, many of the tourist attractions close for some or all of the winter. If there are things on your 'must do' list, be sure to check what their opening hours will be.

Strategies

  1. Ask the visitor/tourist bureau for statistics on when their busy and less busy times of year are. Here's a website with a list of over 1400 different tourist bureaus!

  2. Check to see if there are any special festivals or events occurring (ask the visitor/tourist bureau and perhaps the hotel directly).

  3. Check to see if there are any local holidays impacting on your travels. Here's a website that lists local holidays for most countries in the world.

  4. Check the opening hours and seasons of any specific attractions or sights that you wish to visit.

Summary

Avoid the most expensive times of year, and also avoid the most popular times of year.

With a bit of careful planning, you'll end up with a much better value, and much more enjoyable, vacation.

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Originally published 19 Sep 2003, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

 


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