How to Save on Fall Travel

Autumn trips are often more affordable --and more fun.

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Summer’s over, but that doesn’t mean your best trips of the year are behind you. Fall can be the ideal time to get out of town, because prices go down, temperatures cool off, and most people stay home, making tourist destinations less crowded.

[See 8 Painless Ways to Save Money.]

Many popular locales consider it a “shoulder season,” meaning it’s not off-season completely, so shops are still open, but you can avoid prime-time costs, too, explains Anne Banas, executive editor of Boston-based SmarterTravel. And consumers appear more likely to spend on travel this year: According to American Express Travel, domestic air travel is up 19 percent compared to last fall.

For those looking for a beach-centered trip, Banas says it’s easy to find great deals to the Caribbean. Worried about hurricane season? Banas says that as we get further into fall, the risk goes down. (Plus, you can always purchase trip insurance.)

Travelers looking for smaller, domestic trips might want to consider Virginia, with its vineyards and fall foliage, or Orlando, since Disney World will be much less crowded. Chris McGinnis, an editor on Best Western's youmustbetrippin.com blog, says his favorite fall spots are Colorado and New Mexico. “Aspens are golden, skies are blue, temperatures are warm, and there are no crowds – and deals are abundant,” he says.

For those on the West Coast, McGinnis recommends Hawaii. Because there are so many last-minute fare deals, travelers can set up fare monitors on comparison websites so they are alerted when fares go below $300. Another option: Hotel plus airfare packages on Expedia drop to around $700 per person for four nights at a four-star hotel in the fall.

[For more money-saving tips, visit the U.S. News Alpha Consumer blog.]

One word of caution: Stay away from cities that tend to host big conventions, which tend to pick up in the fall. When tens of thousands of people come into town, hotel rates can double or triple, cabs are hard to find, and good restaurants are booked up, warns McGinnis.

Europe is another prime candidate for a fall trip, especially since airfares have dropped from their prohibitively high heights reached over the summer. While travelers would have had a hard time scoring a round trip ticket for less than $1,600 in June or July, now prices are hovering at about half that. Banas says she spotted a roundtrip ticket on Iceland Air for just $399.

The price drop, Banas says, can be attributed to simple supply and demand. People want to travel in the summer, when kids are out of school. Anyone with the flexibility to go now can benefit from that.

If you can wait even longer, until after November 15, Banas says prices will drop again. And while the weather also gets cooler and damp in Europe, for many activities, such as museum visiting, you’ll be indoors, so it doesn’t matter.

If you’re traveling on an airplane, be sure to avoid paying extra fees with these three tips:

1) Look up the policies of your airline before getting to the airport. Say you’re taking a United flight from New York to Denver next week. If you visit United.com, you’ll find that a chicken caeser salad goes for $9, as does a turkey sandwich. That might inspire you to pack your own peanut butter and jelly, or at least a granola bar to tide you over. Or say you’ve booked a ticket on Southwest. You can go ahead and relax while packing your checked baggage, because the first two bags are free, unlike on most other airlines.

2) If the policies are hard to find, use a site such as SmarterTravel.com, which offers a fee guide, so you don’t have to do any extra work. SmarterTravel.com’s guide provides the fee policies on all major airlines, so whether you’re flying with Delta or Continental, you can get a breakdown of the fees to expect. (Air Canada and Midwest provide free blankets, for example, while Virgin America’s sleep set, which includes a pillow, blanket, sleep mask, and earplugs, will set you back $12.) Kayak.com also offers a useful chart.

[Visit the U.S. News Personal Finance site for more insight and money management tips.]

3) Do your comparison shopping before you buy a ticket with a fee guide nearby. You might think that a $300 roundtrip ticket from San Franscisco to Austin is a great deal. But if the airline will also charge you $50 for your two checked bags, $8 for a meal, and $15 for the seat you want, you might be better off getting a slightly more expensive ticket on a more all-inclusive airline. Or, just be sure to bring your own food and blanket along for the ride.

Kimberly Palmer is the author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.