Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs
Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Beat the Crowds, Save Your Cash
Peak season at popular tourist destinations can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, the energy and excitement are palpable when a place is hopping with visitors. On the other hand, battling hordes of fellow travelers leads to long lines, packed attractions, booked up restaurants, and sky-high hotel rates.
By planning your trip during the shoulder season, you can beat the peak season crowds and save big time. You’ll enjoy thinner crowds at sights, museums, national parks, and beaches. Attractions and tours won’t require advance reservations. Restaurants will have ample open tables without a long wait. Flights, hotels, Airbnbs, and rental cars will be significantly cheaper than high season rates.
We recently visited Paris in late September and had an amazing time. The weather was still pleasant during the day and hotel rates were slashed nearly in half compared to July and August. The Louvre had no line to get in. We could casually stroll through the Tuileries Garden and sit at sidewalk cafes with plenty of people watching but no jostling hordes.
Another benefit of off-peak travel is that locals are much friendlier and happier to engage with you when huge throngs of tourists aren’t clogging up their hometown. In Paris, we had delightful conversations with our Airbnb host, servers at restaurants, and merchants at shops. They weren’t harried and overwhelmed like during the summer crush.
My friend Maggie had a great experience visiting Charleston, South Carolina in early May. She found an awesome rate at a boutique hotel on King Street. Attractions like the historic mansions and City Market didn’t have massive lines. She could drive right up to the dock for a boat tour of the harbor.
Maggie said, “Visiting Charleston right before peak season was amazing. I felt like I got to experience the real charm of the city without all the crowds and craziness of summer. I saved so much money on my hotel and flights too!”
The shoulder seasons do change a bit depending on the destination. For ski towns, late spring and early fall provide savings once the snowbirds depart. In Europe, September and October are ideal months with fewer crowds and continued nice weather. For beach vacations, May, September and October will be less crowded and cheaper.
What else is in this post?
- Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Beat the Crowds, Save Your Cash
- Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - The Perks of Planning Your Trip Just Before or After Peak
- Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Enjoy Lower Airfare and Hotel Rates
- Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Don't Let the Weather Scare You Away
- Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Tips for Finding the Best Shoulder Season Deals
- Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Maximize Savings by Being Flexible with Dates
- Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - The Upsides of Visiting Between Peak Summer and Winter
Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - The Perks of Planning Your Trip Just Before or After Peak
Planning your vacation just outside of peak season can be one of the best travel hacks to save money and avoid crowds. By traveling right before or after the tourist rush, you’ll reap tremendous benefits without much downside. We’ll explore why shoulder season trips are totally underrated.
Booking your holiday a couple weeks or months before or after peak yields huge savings on flights, hotels, vacation rentals, and even activities. For warm weather destinations, shoulder season is typically Spring and Fall. In Europe, late September through early November provides lower prices and smaller crowds. For ski vacations, go just before the slopes open (late November/early December) or after they close in April.
Savvy travelers take advantage of shoulder season deals to plan incredible trips that would be unaffordable during high season. In the summer of 2019, I visited Norway and stayed at nice hotels for half off peak rates. My friend Jake scored roundtrip flights to Hawaii in May for under $300 and kayaked with sea turtles without loads of other tourists competing for space.
The weather is usually still fantastic during shoulder season too. Places like Rome, Barcelona, and Lisbon enjoy pleasant temperatures and sunny skies well into October and November. The Caribbean retains its balmy climate and turquoise waters in the Spring. You may just need to pack a light sweater for evenings.
Crowds thin out dramatically just before and after peak dates. Must-see attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Anne Frank House and the Roman Colosseum won’t have crazy long lines. You can casually stroll through sites and linger longer without being shuffled along. Restaurants have ample open tables so you can dine at leisure.
Another benefit is enjoying authentic cultural experiences without the fanfare. In off-peak seasons, you can mingle with locals, practice your language skills, and gain insights into daily life. Rick Steves, renowned travel expert says, “Spend time in a place during its shoulder season, and you’ll get a chance to see what it’s like to actually live there.”
Booking a trip around peak dates requires some planning as airfares and hotel rates are lowest when booked months in advance versus last minute. Allow flexibility around exact dates if possible, and consider traveling mid-week when crowds and prices are lower. Avoid holidays and school breaks. Sign up for deal alerts and pounce when sales pop up.
Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Enjoy Lower Airfare and Hotel Rates
One of the best perks of traveling during shoulder season is scoring killer deals on flights, hotels, vacation rentals, and other trip expenses. By planning your vacation just outside of the peak tourist crush, you can take advantage of lower rates across the board.
Savvy wanderers have discovered that flights booked for shoulder season travel are often hundreds of dollars less than the same routes during summer or other popular times. I compared roundtrip fares from LAX to Rome in July versus late September on the same routes. July was consistently over $1200 while September flights ranged from $780-$850 – even when booked just a couple months out.
The reason? Far less demand equates to major airline sales. Carriers entice travelers with shoulder season promotions to spur bookings during their slow periods. Similarly, hotels and vacation rentals offer deep discounts of 30-50% compared to what they charge during peak times.
Flexible travelers pounce on these shoulder season deals to plan trips previously out of reach. My globetrotting friend, Jackie, scored roundtrip flights to Thailand for only $495 by going in mid-October. She was also able to stay at nice beachfront hotels in Phuket for under $50 a night. During high season, the same properties cost over $125 per night.
I had a similar experience booking a last minute long weekend getaway to Charleston, South Carolina in mid-May. Roundtrip nonstop flights from Chicago were only $127 compared to triple that amount in June. I found a perfectly located Airbnb for $89 per night versus $300+ during summer.
Shoulder season hotel savings also extend to luxury properties and exotic destinations. In September 2021, I stayed at the extraordinary Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai for half the rate charged in January. Thrifty travelers on a budget greatly benefit from shoulder season hotel deals. However, even those splurging on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation get more bang for their buck during off-peak times.
Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Don't Let the Weather Scare You Away
Shoulder season weather can seem iffy compared to peak summer sunshine or winter wonderlands. However, fall and spring weather is far from a washout in most destinations. With the right planning and gear, you’ll enjoy pleasant days to explore and save big by traveling just outside of high season.
European vacations in September, October and early November benefit from comfortably warm daytime temps, though lows get chilly at night. Pack layers and bring a lightweight jacket, and you’re set to stroll charming capitals like Paris, Rome and Barcelona. October is actually an ideal time with dry sunny days and thinning crowds. Late fall trips require warmer coats, but the holiday ambiance is magical.
Cities farther north like Stockholm, Amsterdam and Berlin have cooler weather in shoulder season but remain welcoming with thinner tourist hordes. Embrace sweater weather and sightsee comfortably minus the peak season claustrophobia. Amsterdam makes a perfect October getaway when colors pop and festive Halloween vibes emerge.
Many warm weather destinations like the Caribbean, Central America and southwestern U.S. retain their sunny appeal through spring and fall. Temperatures lower slightly, but you can still bask in paradise. The tradeoff for fewer tourists and cheaper rates is totally worth it.
Shoulder season beach trips may require an extra beach wrap at night. However, daytime swimming and sunbathing are still in play. One advantage is less harsh sun, allowing more time frolicking oceanside without turning into a lobster.
For skiers, late autumn just as the slopes open and spring right before closing means fewer novice crowds. Lift lines shrink as die hards hit the mountain flanked by brilliant fall foliage or spring wildflowers. Deals abound on hotels, flights and lift tickets too as resorts try to entice travelers before and after peak dates.
Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Tips for Finding the Best Shoulder Season Deals
The key to scoring amazing shoulder season travel deals is flexibility. By remaining open to different destinations and being able to shift your dates a bit, you can capitalize on the major price drops that occur just before and after peak. Here are some tips to find and pounce on shoulder season promotions:
Look at weather patterns - See when the rainy or monsoon season typically ends in your desired destination. Late spring and early fall usually provide ideal conditions with fewer crowds. For Europe, target September to early November. For beach locales, May and October are good shoulder months.
Consider holidays and events - Avoid traveling during major holidays, school breaks or big events as rates will still be inflated. Use tools like Google Flights and Hotel Tonight to view price calendars and see which weeks have the cheapest rates.
Research past deals - Look back on shoulder seasons from prior years to see when deals tended to pop up for your target destination. Sign up for fare alerts from your favorite airlines and hotels to be notified of sales.
Book well in advance - Airfare and lodging deals will be cheapest and most plentiful when booked months ahead of time versus last minute. Be prepared to lock in reservations to get the best fares and rates.
Look for package deals - Many tour operators and OTAs offer shoulder season vacation packages that bundle discounted flights, hotels, and even extras like tours or activities. These can offer great value.
Be open to nearby airports - If your target location has multiple airports, check prices for all of them. Nearby airports often have cheaper deals, and you may be able to save substantially by flying into a different option.
Use mileage programs - If you have a stash of airline miles or hotel points, the shoulder season is a great time to cash them in for flights and rooms that would be very expensive during peak demand.
Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - Maximize Savings by Being Flexible with Dates
One of the keys to unlocking major savings on shoulder season getaways is remaining flexible with your travel dates. By bending your ideal timeline by a week or two in either direction, you can capitalize on periodic price drops and snap up deals that align with your schedule.
Savvy jetsetters like my globe-trotting friend Amanda plan their annual vacation during the 2-3 weeks when shoulder season rates hit rock bottom. Each year, she scours airline and hotel deals to pinpoint the timeframe with the steepest discounts to Hawaii in May or Europe in late September.
Being wedded to specific travel dates means you’ll miss out on periodic airline sales that slash fares by hundreds of dollars or hotel promotions taking 50% off nightly rates. Amanda tracked European hotel prices over a 6 week period and found rates dropped by over $800 for her target dates compared to just two weeks prior.
By diligently monitoring rates and being willing to shift your dates around, huge savings await. My nomadic pal, Mark, uses a visual calendar to identify big airfare sales to Asia and Australia. He recently booked roundtrip flights from LAX to Bangkok for just $375 by being flexible to fly mid-week and extending his trip by one day to catch the cheapest rates.
When planning travel more than 6 months out, identify 2-3 week date ranges for departures and returns. Sign up for fare alerts from your favorite airline websites and apps to be notified of sales. Check rates frequently, and be ready to book when deals that fit your flexible timeline pop up.
Don’t limit yourself to only weekend or weekday departures if possible. Midweek flights are often substantially cheaper, so look at flying out Wednesday morning and returning Tuesday evening, for example, to maximize savings. Consider staying a few extra days if it allows you to catch a killer discounted fare.
The same flexibility applies when booking hotels and vacation rentals. Shoulder season rates can fluctuate widely, with random weeks having huge price drops. Using apps like HotelTonight is a great way to spot last minute deals at awesome hotels you may not have previously considered.
Shoulder Season Savings: How Visiting Destinations During Off-Peak Times Can Cut Costs - - The Upsides of Visiting Between Peak Summer and Winter
The shoulder seasons of spring and fall offer the perfect opportunity to experience popular destinations without the peak summer and winter crowds and costs. By planning a vacation in the interim months between high and low season, you can beat the hordes of tourists while still enjoying pleasant weather, open attractions, and savings on accommodations.
Visiting in springtime means missing the chaos of the summertime tourist rush in locations across the globe. You can meander through top museums in Europe like the Louvre and British Museum with minimal lines. Take in the colorful blooms at iconic sights like Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands and Washington D.C.’s National Mall. Go beachcombing in relative solitude along shores normally packed during summer.
My friend Becky recently visited Paris in late April and had an amazing time. She said, “Walking around montmartre was like being in a whole different city compared to summer visits. I could take my time browsing shops and cafes without being jostled by crowds.”
Fall shoulder season also dazzles, with thinner crowds, mild weather, and striking natural scenery. In destinations like Cape Cod and Napa Valley, fall offers firearms foliage set against crisp sunny days perfect for wandering and wine tasting. Rome and Barcelona still enjoy summer-like weather in September and October, creating ideal conditions to explore minus the crowds.
I recently visited Zion National Park in October and had an amazing time hiking trails with far fewer people than the peak summer months. Cooler fall temperatures were actually preferable for getting active in the striking red rock landscapes.
Shoulder seasons also bring significant savings on accommodations before winter rates skyrocket. In ski towns, fall offers upscale lodges and cozy cabins at steep discounts before the snowbirds arrive. Even at popular big city hotels, spring and fall overnight rates can be hundreds of dollars cheaper compared to the pricey summer season.