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.
1 of a 2 part series - click for Parts
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.
Book early if traveling
at a popular time of year.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Consider changing your
travel dates forward or back to move your travel start date
into a lower airfare season.
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.
Remember that more
expensive airfare seasons do not always mean better weather
or vacation experiences at the place you are traveling to.
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
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
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
Stay in business
oriented hotels over the weekend and get special weekend
Stay in weekend break
type hotels during the week and get special weekday rates
Always check to see if
the hotel has lower rates for more than one night stays.
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
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
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.
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
Check to see if there
are any special festivals or events occurring (ask the
visitor/tourist bureau and perhaps the hotel directly).
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
Check the opening hours
and seasons of any specific attractions or sights that you
wish to visit.
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
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19 Sep 2003, last update
30 May 2021
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