Where to find the best autumn travel deals
Demand, and costs, for typical holiday destinations, like mountains and beaches, is reduced during the autumn season. (1998 EyeWire, Inc.)
If you can be flexible about what day you leave, like big cities, willing to go to the beach late in the season and aren’t afraid of hurricanes, you can find a deal this season.
To find a great travel deal during peak business travel season this autumn, my advice would be to go where business travellers are not going.
Here are five places you are least likely to find business travellers and most likely to find low prices in coming months:
Midweek or Saturday flights
Business travellers are predictable — they like to fly to work on Sunday evening or Monday morning, and then fly home on Thursday or Friday. That means bargain hunters are likely to find the cheapest seats on days with lower demand: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. They are also more likely to find cheap fares on midday or late night flights, which business travellers tend to avoid.
Weekends in major cities
Since autumn is peak season for meetings and conferences, hotels near large convention facilities tend to fill up (and raise rates) on weekdays. This means bargain hunters will most likely find good hotel rates on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at major city hotels. For example, rates at Atlanta’s two W hotels are $263 per night mid week in October, but on weekends, rates drop to just $127. Similarly, in Frankfurt, a deluxe king room the posh Villa Kennedy goes for $302 midweek, but just $210 on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Mountains or beaches
With business travellers focused on work instead of vacation, demand in typical holiday destinations wanes during autumn, a period known in the travel industry as “shoulder season”. With a decrease in demand, rates tank, and suppliers are more likely to toss in extras (upgrades, welcome cocktails, breakfast) to stimulate business. Best of all, the weather is usually dry and sunny during autumn. But beware: this is also the time of year many resorts perform scheduled maintenance, which can be noisy or disconcerting, so be sure to ask about this when making your booking. For the best deals during shoulder season or other periods of waning demand, check on opaque or last-minute booking sites such as Hotwire.com or Priceline.com where suppliers go to dump excess inventory at low rates.
Business class during late winter holidays
Transatlantic business class fares typically run in the $5,000 to $7,000 range during peak business travel season — far beyond what most bargain hunters are willing to pay. However, business travellers tend to stay close to home and hearth during US Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year holiday period. When demand slides, airlines put those big seats at the front of the plane on sale. For example, Lufthansa recently rolled out a business class sale on flights between the US and Europe for about $1,700 round trip (including taxes and fees) in late November/early December. As the holidays draw nearer, I expect other airlines to offer similar business class deals like they did last year.
Autumn is the very best time of year to find deals on cruises for two reasons. First, kids are back in school, which means less demand from the family travel segment. Second, fearful that bad weather might ruin their well laid plans, consumers tend to avoid booking cruises when big storms hit the headlines like Hurricane Irene did in the US in late August. As a result of the decline in demand, fares tumble to rock bottom in September, October and November. For example, Disney’s popular 7-day cruises down Mexico’s west coast from Los Angeles are as low as $100 per person, per day in October. But the cheapest peak season rates around Christmas are twice that much at $206 per person. Four-night Caribbean cruises on the upscale Celebrity line go for as little as $50 per night in September or October, but during the holidays or spring break, rates more than double to a minimum of $125 per night. Best of all, fears of hurricanes ruining cruises are mostly unfound since new ships are fast enough to steer clear of any danger and the worst that can happen is that your itinerary changes.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel