Travel When Others Don't To Save Big

It pays to be original when dreaming up your vacation plans, because if everyone else has the same idea as you, you’re sure to be paying the highest rates possible for travel, accommodations and attractions.

A post on Currency, AmEx’s personal finance blog recommends planning your trips on off-peak seasons to avoid the crowds and pay as little as possible.
The post says you’re best off traveling between April 15 and June 1, as well as Oct. 1 and Dec. 15 – obviously excluding the travel hell that is Thanksgiving – for the best rates.

Granted, there are some disadvantages to traveling during the off-seasons. The San Diego beaches, after all, aren’t quite as appealing in December, but Disneyland is still Disneyland during what passes for winter in Los Angeles.

What’s your favorite off-season travel destination?

Travel Off-Season for a Cheaper, Better Getaway [Currency]

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  1. OnePumpChump says:

    Is there some resource that can tell me what dates and times have the least passengers? I’m going to have to fly very close to New Year’s next year, and I’d like to minimize the pain.

    • Powerlurker says:

      You’re pretty much screwed unless you fly ON New Years Day. Other than that, remember that Tuesday and Wednesday are the lightest travel days and you do NOT want to fly on the Sunday after New Years.

      • OnePumpChump says:

        On new year’s might work. Otherwise…well, only one leg is domestic. Two if they can actually get me a flight out of the local airport.

    • Gulliver says:

      New Years and Xmas will never offer good travel options. Even New Years Day is a bit bad. You can find some deals on Xmas day, but actually only for early on in the day. Evening flights are generally pretty much high. This year is bad with the 26th being a Sunday/ January 2 is just as bad. Unless of course you are willing to stay at your destination until a week or so later.

      • OnePumpChump says:

        I’m not worried about the cost, I’m worried about the crowd and delays.

        • FatLynn says:

          I don’t know where you are going to/from, but your best bet to avoid hassles is to fly direct if you can, and if you can’t, avoid connections in cities that often have weather delays.

    • Darren W. says:

      Kayak does show some flight cost statistics, letting you see what days are cheaper than others. I think you have to sign up for a free account to see them.

  2. Tim says:

    It has a lot to with when certain destinations are more popular. For example, the Caribbean is popular in the winter, so if you can go in the summer instead, do that.

    • leprechaunshawn says:

      +1

      My wife and I stayed at a Sandals resort in Jamaica the first week of July 2009. The place was probably barely 25% full. We had pools almost to ourselves and there was never a wait for a drink or a table at dinner.

      • Sam Rabin says:

        Creepy; almost exact same situation here. We went to Sandals Ocho Rios (Jamaica) in August 2006. I wouldn’t say it was deserted, but we didn’t ever feel like we were waiting. We ended up getting a private “villa” (little cottage with a private pool and hot tub) because it was so darn cheap.

        If you can take the heat, I would strongly recommend it.

    • OnePumpChump says:

      Go to Alaska in winter!

      Hey, I assure you, you won’t forget it.

    • Powerlurker says:

      Temporal popularity can be rather granular. Skiing the week before or the week after the week when President’s Day occurs gets you much greater availability than skiing the week of it, because that’s when the public schools tend to have a week off and families go skiing. Unfortunately, off-season travel often ends up being limited to empty nesters and the childless.

    • lacabaleza says:

      Of course, with the Caribbean in summer, you risk hurricane season…ok, technically it goes through November 30, but I’d swear up until the past couple of years, we rarely had hurricanes much past September, early October. Most years, past then, you’re pretty safe.

      • keepntabs says:

        Hurricane Tomas just did major damage in St. Lucia this past Saturday, five people are confirmed dead; including one tourist. I travel to the Caribbean frequently, and the hurricane season is typically June 1 – Oct 31, and it had been a while since a major hurricane hit the area this late in the season. I recommend to anyone traveling nowadays, especially international travel, to buy travel insurance. Before you buy a separate policy, check with your credit card to see if it is already an included benefit.

    • Geekybiker says:

      I’ve been in the summer. No thank you. I’ll take shoulder season or winter in the Caribbean. If I travel in the summer (I generally don’t because it is high season for the breeders) I’ll go to cooler climates like northern Europe.

  3. jenjenjen says:

    If you’re considering a destination that is highly seasonal, you need to check into whether high-season-only businesses will be closed down.

  4. Big Mama Pain says:

    Just having flexible dates for when you are leaving and returning helps, too. A lot of airlines (Jet Blue, Southwest) let you see prices for the days surrounding the one you imputed, so you can get the best deal.

    • FatLynn says:

      Last summer, my family went to Vegas. Dad and brother got both flights + hotel from a Tuesday to a Tuesday for $850. I went Thursday – Sunday, and the flight alone was $550.

  5. raleel says:

    I enjoyed the Oregon coast in January. It’s really gorgeous. You kinda have to like stormy and rainy though.

    • ajlei says:

      Heh, I’ve lived in Oregon almost my whole life and I wouldn’t go to the coast in the winter… I like it during the spring, though, when it’s still cold but sometimes sun comes through.

  6. packcamera says:

    No offense to Phil, but “duh!” This tidbit is kind of obvious to anyone who has ever gone on a vacation. Better advice would to travel at the beginning and end of the tourism seasons for any particular location. The rates are still low, but the crowds and businesses are still lively. The drawbacks to off-season travel are:

    Limited tourism infrastructure (many places close in the off season as the off-season cheapskates don’t spend enough to warrant year-round rent).

    Bad weather – Tourists flock to Alaska in the summer, but no so many during the winter… I wonder why?

    Fellow travelers – buses drop off gaggles of grannies armed with bags of loose change onto 4-star hotels and cruise ships to fill rooms in the off season. If you plan on meeting new people or staying up past 9pm, then you may want to travel during the high-season. Otherwise get used to canasta and the early-bird special.

  7. Nessiah says:

    I should have planned my wedding day within these days. I got married 5 years ago on December 18th and my wife and I usually go to NY for a week at around that time which pretty much doubles airfaire if not more.

  8. Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

    I had 2 Disney World trips that were perfect planning. Took one in the summer 2 years ago. But went the week before 4th of July. I guess most people want to break up the summer for the kids so they don’t set a vacation up that close to when schools let out. There were lines, but not the brutal mid summer ones.

    The other time was last year for a long weekend at Halloween. Near record cold temps. Lows in the 60’s, highs in the 70s to low 80s. No lines for almost anything, most of the time it took longer to walk the empty line to get to the ride than the waiting in line. Water parks were open with no lines either.

    We planned this one as a surprise for the kids. They did not know we were going until we got to the airport and told them to get their luggage with the Disney tags on them out of the car. I HIGHLY recommend a surprise trip to Disney for kids, just not the first time.

    • kalaratri says:

      Did Disney for our Honeymoon around the 2nd week of December. Everything is all decorated for the holidays, the weather is fantastic, the price was great and it really wasn’t all that crowded at all.

    • SpaceCadet says:

      Best time to visit Disney World / Disneyland – the first week of January, after the holiday crowds leave. (Speaking as both visitor and former employee)

    • intense_jack says:

      I’m going To Disney World for 9 days at the start of December. We’re staying on property, and the basic meal plan is comp’d right now so I get a few meals a day for free. All this for under $2300 (flights included, but I got a sweet deal thru Southwest). My wife plans it all out, and she just really knows all the deals. Of course, we don’t have kids so we can travel in off peak times away from school breaks.

    • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

      This x 10,000. This is the way we did it for our kids when we took them on their first Disney Cruise (also highly recommended for the off season, unless you want to hock a kidney or two for their regular fares).

      Of course, surprising them like this…will it really get them to choose a quality retirement home for us?

  9. 451.6 says:

    I went to Japan in January one year. Sure, I didn’t get to see the cherry blossoms, but low airfare, reasonable hotels, and the lack of casual tourists made up for it. I spent a lot of time in Tokyo and Kyoto and the weather was really nice. There were a few cool days, but I didn’t need more than a light jacket. And frankly, when you’re climbing all the steps to various temples, the cooler weather is nice! It all depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation. The museums, restaurants, temples, stores, castles, parks, etc are all there in the winter.

    A lot of cities are like that. I love Boston and Denver in January. I grew up in DC and trips to the National Mall were much more pleasant in the winter, freak snowstorms notwithstanding. We’re also more pleasant in the winter when there are fewer tourists jaywalking around the tidal basin and making us late for work.

    • FatLynn says:

      This is a good strategy. At least it is dry there in January.

    • l_d says:

      Airfare to Japan isn’t that bad in April. January or February is generally the cheapest time to go, but it’s not peak.

      The summer is the most expensive time to go. It’s also hot and humid.

  10. SG-Cleve says:

    This is good advice to get a luxury vacation at a very reasonable price.

    Went to the islands in southwest Florida in early August. Everyone said we’re crazy, but the heat was not unbearable and you can just spend a lot of time in the pool or in the Gulf.

    A Beachfront condo was less than half the wintertime price. The condo compound was about 20% full. There were few people on the beach and in the pool. Chairs were readily available. (Maybe 20 people at the pool, compared to 150+ in the winter.)

    Flights were cheap and they were practically giving away rental cars. Paid $150 for a full size car for a week.

    It was easy to get into even the most popular restaurants, instead of waiting a couple of hours in the winter. One place told us that they serve 100 meals per day in August and 1,000 per day in February. Unfortunately they were charging full high-season prices in the summer.

    p.s. this was South Florida, far far away from the oil spill.

  11. lockdog says:

    We honeymooned on Cape Cod in early November. It was awesome. Everywhere we went we got great service, since it was only us and the locals. At many places we had dinner with the people who had caught our dinner only hours earlier. The waitstaff were excellent, never harried and always offering helpful suggestions. Even though were were only there for about 10 days we were able to really relax and it actually felt like we had become part of the community. But, like one other poster said below, you do have to find stormy and gray romantic.

  12. working class Zer0 says:

    My wife and I once went to Ocean City MD. in January. We were able to get an ocean front room for about for $29.95 a night, that same room would have cost about 10 times that in the middle of summer. There’s still a lot to do there and we had a beautiful view.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Did you actually get to swim in the frigid ocean? Maryland in January is not the most pleasant of conditions.

      • Limewater says:

        The water at Ocean City is way too cold for swimming even in July, imo.

      • working class Zer0 says:

        I actually seriously thought about it, I was this close to doing it (holding my thumb and forefinger about 1/4 inch apart) but didn’t do it in the end.

    • Limewater says:

      Forgot this in previous reply, but thanks a lot for the Ocean City tip. I think I’m going to try to take advantage of it either this winter or the next.

  13. lettucefactory says:

    My first husband and I were married in late July. We went to a ski resort in Vermont on our honeymoon, and it was great. Good rates because it was the off-season for them, but still tons to do – mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, hiking, etc. And the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

    But it’s a challenge when you’re trying to meet family visit obligations. They want to see you (and the kids, if applicable) on the big holidays, but trying to travel for the holiday and not go at the same time as everyone else is damn near impossible. And that is a much more common situation for most people than deciding if they should plan their next for-the-hell of it vacation in April or September.

    • Powerlurker says:

      This isn’t always true. Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont is actually busier in the summer than in the winter for the most part.

  14. Michaela says:

    I like to go to the beach for Thanksgiving. I lived just outside of Destin, FL, for about 10 years, so I don’t really feel an urge to visit all the tourist crud around the beach towns (been there, done that). The off season gives me a chance to enjoy the scenery and local vibe. Plus, the variety of shopping centers make for great Black Friday shopping!

  15. Torchwood says:

    In 2003 and 2005, my mother and I took a Mexican Riviera cruise which just happened to be the very first cruise after the New Years Cruise. The weather in Mexico at that time of the year is slightly hot (due to the humidity), but it was nice.

    What enhanced the experience was that there were few “out of control” kids on board. Some parents believe that a cruise is also a vacation from parenting, yet bring the kids with them to cause a ruckus. Sorry, no vacation from parenting.

  16. Powerlurker says:

    My family regularly goes skiing over Xmas, bringing up a tree and everything so we can celebrate the holiday at the mountain. The slopes are pretty much empty until the 27th since most people who want to ski around Xmas/New Years don’t begin their travel until the 26th. Until then, it’s just us, the Jews, and the Asians.

  17. Dr.Wang says:

    Montego Bay in June

  18. MikeM_inMD says:

    The beaches of South Carolina to Delaware are usually pretty nice in mid-September, IF you can avoid tropical storms and hurricanes.

  19. MaytagRepairman says:

    My wife and I enjoyed the area around South Padre during November. I would never venture to go there in the spring with college kids on spring break.

  20. gman863 says:

    Big Mama Pain made a good point earlier: If you are flexible on your travel days, it will save you money and gives you a better chance of having more personal space since it’s less likely the flight will be packed.

    With Southwest, check multiple airports in major areas. Although this may not always be true, sometimes a smaller airport (example: John Wayne Airport) nearby may have better pricing and less crowded flights than the major airport (LAX). The smaller airport may also offer faster flight-check in, TSA security lines and picking up a rental car. (In Houston, I’ve found the time spent from parking to actually boarding a Southwest flight at Houston Hobby is about half that of flying Continental/United out of the “big” airport, Bush Intercontinental)

    Final tip: If you’re staying in an area for several days, go to yellowpages.com, search Realtors in the city you’re visting, call and fish for deals on short-term rentals. My ex-boss did this a year ago for a one week training seminar in Colorado Springs. He got a 5 bedroom, fully furnished executive rental (damn near a mansion) with a 3-car attached garage at $100/night – much cheaper and nicer than 3 rooms @ $80/each ($240/night) at Hampton Inn…SWEEEET!

  21. jp7570-1 says:

    There are actually some dates you can travel relatively inexpensively and with fewer crowds. If you can arrange it, you can fly on Thanksgiving or Christmas Days – most people are already at their destinations by then.

    It also makes sense to try and avoid peak travel days – Sundays and Fridays are often the worst (depending which airport you are using). If I can arrange it, I often will travel on a Saturday for departure or return – usually fewer crowds.

    The time of day is also crucial. If you can stand it, the earliest flight out on a weekend is sometimes pretty quiet. Weekdays between 10 AM and noon are also sometime easier. Never try to fly during normal peak times (8 AM and 5 PM are the worst).

    And try not to change planes in the winter in Chicago O’Hare if you can avoid it (or most any other time of the year for that matter).

  22. shufflemoomin says:

    I live in Europe and almost always go to North America in January. I’ve always found it to be the best time by far. You have January sales, it’s colder so less people are travelling there, Hotels and flights are almost always cheapest at this time. People have less money after Christmas and New Year so you have an advantage again. As long as you avoid a skiing destination, I think this is the best plan for getting a cheap vacation.

  23. Bohemian says:

    We try to go during the week when we go to bigger cities. It is easier to get a discount on a hotel room. Restaurants, stores and museums are not as crowded. But we both have the luxury of vacation time and the ability to take weekdays off. About the only time of year I avoid going to Chicago or Mpls is between January and February. That is usually the stretch of winter that is unbearable. We also found that 4 star business oriented hotels are practically empty on the weekend and can be found on Hotwire for about 1/3 the price.

  24. Murph1908 says:

    Wife and I were married in late October. We waited a week to go on the honeymoon the first week of November when the flights to and hotel rates in Europe were about half the price.

    Last week of October/first week of November – no difference other than price.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Interesting. How was the weather?

      • Murph1908 says:

        Overcast, but it only rained one day. Light jacket or sweater was fine for most days. I little cold at night, especially when we took the boat tour on the Seine.

        The crowds were thin everywhere. Tower of London, Louvre, Stratford.

        Better than waiting in line in hot weather, in my opinion.

        Our airfares were under $500 each roundtrip from BWI to Heathrow. We got the London to Paris flights for under $100 each round trip.

  25. Jesse in Japan says:

    I have found that it’s cheaper to fly on December 25th than on other dates around the same time of year.

  26. abberz3589 says:

    We always used to go to Disney World on Mardi Gras break. It was awesome.

  27. Quake 'n' Shake says:

    My wife and I like to hit Vegas just before Christmas. We got a good deal on a suite that didn’t cost much more than a standard room this year. It’s usually not too crowded when we go, although I recall one year it was busier than expected.

  28. Clyde Barrow says:

    I do this often and it’s fun. I went to Paris in April then drove over to the town of Domremy, Joan of Arc’s hometown. I was one of four people visiting the area while the town was basically asleep. It was great. I was the only one walking around in her house and then I visited the art gallery and then I got to view a 60 minute movie about her life and I was the only one in the theatre. lol. I was told that by mid-July that there are so many people visiting that you can hardly move around. It’s well worth it to do your homework when vacationing.

  29. keepntabs says:

    I have been going to Europe during the month of February for the past 14 years. I usually go to England to see my close friend, and then travel to other countries from there. Last year, I went to Paris, and next February, I’m going to Amsterdam and Scotland. Usually, the weather has been rainy and cold, but that’s fine, because that’s how it is at home. I have had travel problems only once, and that was returning to the U.S., and there was a terrible snow storm on the East Coast that grounded a lot of flights.

    It’s been my experience that the best time to get travel deals to the Caribbean and Latin American is Nov 1 – Dec 15; right after hurricane season is officially over.