Many travel destinations often have months that are busier and more popular than other times of the year. The slower months depend on several factors. Unfavorable weather, closed attractions, construction and renovations in progress all contribute to making a certain time of year the off-peak season.
But the benefits of a slow season might just outweigh whatever the downsides are. You'll almost always get cheaper rates and more personalized service, plus your destination will be less crowded and safer during offseason travel.
As far as your destination is concerned, Leanne Ballard, director of business development at travel website Kayak.com, suggests keeping your options open. Decide on the "beach" as a theme but keep the location of that beach flexible.
"Mexico may have better deals than the Caribbean for your ideal last-minute dates," Ballard says.
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Locating the Deals
Offseason or low season occurs at different times in different places. Optimum weather, school vacations, large conventions and popular events can all contribute to high season at any destination, says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com.
That means traveling to ski resorts in the summer and New Orleans when it's not celebrating Mardi Gras. So-called shoulder seasons also offer lower prices on lodging and activities. That's the time between a high season and low season, usually in the fall and spring.
"You'll get good discounts and bargains during shoulder seasons, but not as low as in low season," Banas says. "For instance, New England's shoulder season is right after Labor Day, and you'll experience a 20 (percent) to 50 percent drop in prices then."
Banas recommends booking lodging midweek to get the very best price.
The best way to find the most economical lodging is to book at the last minute, Ballard says.
"As the date gets closer, lodging management drops the price in order to fill rooms," Ballard says. "They look at what inventory they still have to sell and adjust the price accordingly. If you can wait one to two weeks before your trip, you should get the best price."
Begin your search for a hotel, motel or bed-and-breakfast with a travel search engine such as Kayak.com, Hotels.com or Expedia.com. At Kayak.com, you can sort by price or star rating (five stars are the best), Hotels.com lets you filter by price, star rating, special deals and family-friendliness, and Expedia.com sorts by price and most popular lodging. All of these sites offer reviews written by previous hotel guests.
Uncover Reduced Fares
Once you've determined your destination, visit sites such as Kayak.com, Momondo.com and Southwest.com to find the best domestic fares, says Jason Clampet, head of content at Skift.com, a travel news site. Orbitz.com, Cheapfares.com and many other sites will show you good domestic fares. Just type "cheap fares" into Google and you'll come up with a raft of possibilities.
"For an international trip, I'll add in Mobissimo.com because they scrape fares from easyJet and other bargain carriers," Clampet says.
If you're not sure what is the best time for offseason travel or what the cheapest rates might be at your chosen destination, use a service such as Bing's travel search or Momondo.com that give users a good sense of how prices fluctuate during a given period and if the fares are rising or dropping.