When to snag off-season deals

Ever thought to yourself: “This place would be so much better without all the tourists and the inflated prices”? The weather may be perfect, but traveling to a popular spot during tourist season means lots of people, plenty of waiting and higher prices.

However, if you can be flexible with your dates and activities you can dodge these pitfalls and score some great deals. Here’s when to find discounts to six of the most popular (and pricey!) tourist hotspots, according to Forbes Traveler:

The Caribbean and Central America

In the snowy months of winter our thoughts go south to sunny escapes. The problem is many travellers are thinking the same thing — including families and students on spring break getaways.

If you’re looking for the best weather and the best deals, try May and June when the temperatures start to rise and prices begin to fall (by as much as 50 per cent). If you want the lowest prices, September through November is the quietest time of year and when resorts are trying to fill rooms.

The caveat: The weather. Summertime means toastier temperatures than back home, but that’s not a problem if you love the heat. Unfortunately, when the ocean warms up, the climate trouble begins. While hurricane season technically starts in May, it’s not until late-August to mid-October when the islands and coasts will see the most storm activity. Even if a storm doesn’t make landfall, rainy weather might put a damper on your vacation.

The chances of your vacation being ruined by a hurricane are pretty slim, but you can minimize your risk by sticking to islands that are less prone to hurricanes — like Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba — and making sure your resort has a hurricane guarantee so you can reschedule if needed. Travel insurance is also a must — just make sure it covers the weather. (See Tips for travel during hurricane season for more information.)

Another tactic: Try a cruise. Cruise ships can change course to avoid trouble areas, and industry experts are calling for another year of discounted fares as companies try to recover from the recession.

Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Admit it: Disney World is the perfect place to feel like a kid again (except for the part where you have to dig out your wallet). Despite its fairytale aura, it too was hit hard during the recession. Disney rolled out attractive deals in early 2009 to get people to come to their parks — and there are still deals to be had.

If you want even better deals — and fewer people to wait in line with — you’ll have to go when families with kids are otherwise occupied. September to early December and January are ideal times to beat the summer and March Break crowds because the kids are still in school. Many of Disney’s current promotions run to December 24.

The caveat: Taking the kids or grandkids won’t be possible unless you plan to take them out of school for a week. September is still the height of hurricane season for the Gulf Coast, but in the unlikely event a serious storm is headed that way, Disney’s Hurricane Policy will let you reschedule with the original deal intact.

New York City, New York

Shopping, Broadway, museums, historic landmarks… the high prices might be the only thing you won’t love about the Big Apple. If you’re looking to cut costs, experts recommend a winter vacation during the off-season January to March period. That’s when hotels will slash their rates, and it will be easier to score tickets to the theatre or reserve a table at a swanky restaurant.

The caveats: You’ve heard of wind-chill? Those icy winds coming off the Hudson River won’t make outdoor time comfortable. That weather will deter many travellers, but we Canadians are used to it, right? Besides, you can’t beat shopping in a snowstorm. Besides, with shopping, museums and art galleries there are plenty of things to do indoors.

If you want to try it, allow time and flexibility in your plans to accommodate weather delays, and pack your winter gear!

London, England

Even with a decent exchange rate the city is one of the most expensive in the world. However, experts note that the mid-October to mid-December and January to March periods are when local airlines discount their airfares and hotel rates drop too. Lower prices won’t turn London into a cheap destination, but they can take some of the “ouch” out of your budget.

The caveats: The rainy, cold weather won’t offer up much of a break from the winter weather we get over here. Plus, it will be dark because the sun sets before 4:00 pm.

Should that deter you? If you plan to spend most of your time indoors — think shopping, museums, the theatre, touring historic sites and dining out — then you might not miss the daylight or mind the less-than-ideal weather.

Paris, France

You can’t beat Paris for glamour and luxury — but the high life has a high price tag. If you’d rather save a little argent, plan your trip for the late-October through March season for the best hotel rates. Another bonus: fewer people and shorter line-ups at popular sites like the Louvre.

The caveat: Better pack an umbrella because it’s the rainy season, and be flexible in your itinerary as you’re likely to encounter shorter hours and closures. However, you’ll still get a break from heavy snowfalls, and you can take advantage of seasonal events and markets — like the Paris Autumn Festival and December’s Fééries d’Auteuil (featuring Christmas markets and concerts). After the holiday season, take advantage of winter sales for some serious shopping.

And, of course, those a few extra hours of darkness won’t be a problem in the famed City of Lights.

Rome, Italy

If you can’t take the heat, stay out of Rome during the summer. That’s when you’ll find soaring temperatures and humidity — and more tourists than locals. If you prefer more moderate temperatures and more moderate prices, most experts recommend April to June or late-September to October. The best prices can often be found during January and February — but you’ll want to avoid the expensive Christmas season.

The caveats: Those cheap months? Think rain — which can be problematic because there is so much to enjoy outdoors in this ancient city (like the Colosseum, the sculptures, the piazzas and the fountains). You might also miss the opportunity to enjoy a walking tour of the city — like tracing Robert Langdon’s footsteps from Angels and Demons. Like many other tourist haunts, many places have short hours and closures during the winter.

However, in the spring and fall the skies will be (mostly) clear and temperatures won’t be suffocating — but you’ll have to book early to get the deals.

In addition, many places like Hawaii and Las Vegas — which tend to be busy all year long — sometimes have deals waiting for those willing to hunt for them. (Just try to avoid festivals and conventions.) Some places that are heavily reliant on seasonal traffic — like ski resorts — offer off-season deals for those willing to go beyond the “usual” activities.


Know the limits. Don’t expect the best deals around popular travel times (like the December holiday season or Easter), or when there’s a popular event happening (like a major sporting event or Carnival). That’s when supply and demand will work against you.

Compare off-season with in-season. We’ve already seen prices return to normal following the recession, but some hard-hit areas may be offering attractive deals all year round. It doesn’t hurt to get an idea of regular prices versus discounts.

Look at less expensive destinations too. Deals on expensive destinations can still be costlier than trips to less-popular spots like parts of Asia, South America and Europe (like Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, for example).

Evaluate the deal. What’s included in the price? What isn’t? Is the trip good value? Ask a lot of questions, and get the details in writing. (See Deal or no deal? for more tips.)

Consider other money-saving strategies like making your own meals, renting an apartment and looking for free activities. Off-season is also a good time to negotiate prices. (Check out Make popular destinations less expensive for tips.)

Watch out for scams. Legitimate travel companies aren’t the only ones who want your money. Brush up on your scam-spotting skills to avoid the duds. (See Vacation scams: what you need to know for details.)

Will these tips turn pricey destinations into budget holidays? Maybe not — but they might just put a dream vacation within reach. Keep your eye on the calendar and your mind open to new opportunities.

Sources: TransitionsAbroad.com, Forbes Traveler, local tourist board websites.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ absolut_100

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