In the travel industry, there are three seasons:
- Peak season, when both demand and prices peak
- Off season, when excessive heat, cold or rain makes it miserable to travel
- Shoulder season, which provides the best value for a budget traveler
Spring and fall are "shoulder seasons" in most parts of the U.S. The weather is still nice (there is no snow and ice yet), but the summertime travel rush has slowed down. Children are back in school and the December holiday travel season is still far away.
The shoulder season is one of the best times of the year for a frugal traveler. The falling demand for hotels, museums, amusement parks and other tourist attractions often results in lower prices.
With that in mind, here are some tips for budget travelers who want to take advantage of shoulder-season deals and save money.
Play around with flight dates
Airfare is generally cheaper during the shoulder season. However, the decline in ticket prices is gradual and occasionally erratic as the season gets under way.
Play around with a variety of flight dates to determine how to snag the best deal. Websites like Skyscanner and Hipmunk recently have emerged as competitors to stalwarts like Kayak, Priceline, Expedia and Orbitz. It's worth your time to peruse them all.
Try alternative living arrangements
The hotel industry isn't alone in dropping prices during the shoulder season. Individuals who rent out their homes or condos through peer-to-peer vacation rental programs -- such as Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO -- also often drop asking prices.
Compare hotel prices with vacation-rental prices to see where you can uncover the steeper discounts.
Call tourist attractions
Some enterprises, like restaurants, cater to both locals and travelers. So, they can charge the same prices year-round.
Other businesses, such as amusement parks or canoeing outfitters, tend to cater to tourists and operate seasonally. These are the businesses where you're likely to score the best deals.
Before you make any assumptions, though, call ahead to see if they're offering discounts during the "off-peak" or shoulder seasons. Also, ask if they have reduced hours of operation; many of these businesses scale back employee hours during nonpeak times.
Paula Pant blogs at AffordAnything.com about building wealth and living life on your own terms. She's traveled to nearly 30 countries, owns six rental units that produce thousands in passive income, and runs her own digital marketing company. Follow Paula on Twitter @AffordAnything.