Editors' pick: Originally published Feb. 9.
There's always a cheaper time to visit a popular destination, even if that destination is one of the most expensive.
Rick Seaney, chief executive of travel advice and pricing site FareCompare.com, notes that we just passed a spot on the calendar between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day known as the travel season's "dark weeks." Folks who haven't managed to accrue enough vacation days early in the year or who are wiped out by holiday travel are steering clear of the airports, leaving a lot of empty seats and
in their absence until things pick up again around spring break.
Roughly 52 million passengers took trips aboard U.S. airlines last January, according to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation statistics. That's up almost 3 million passengers from January 2015, but still well below the 57.9 million passengers who caught holiday flights a month earlier in December and not close to the 66.1 million who fly during peak season in July. The only month when folks travel less is February, with a scant 51 million passengers putting up with foul weather and delays during that month.
The folks at travel site Hopper have been charting average airfares throughout the season and, despite dark weeks in early December, just before holiday travel, average airfare in the U.S. still hovered between $215 and $220. January is where the holiday travel price hikes comes to an end.
"The good news is that the best flight prices of the year are right around the corner," says Hopper data scientist Patrick Surry. "Historically, flight prices bottom just after the holidays in January at $211 round-trip."
There are spots like this all over the calendar. Prices also dip in early summer, just before schools let out, but rarely get better than what you see in late August and the September weeks following Labor Day. Seaney notes fall bargain travel season kicked off on August 23 last year and sent prices plummeting. With kids headed back to school, college freshmen weeks into their first semester and parents finally finished with back-to-school shopping, Seaney says demand for hotel rooms and flights dives on that first day, recovers somewhat for Labor Day and slides into deep autumn discounts.
"As for airfare prices, they can drop as much as a third or more over summer airfare," Seaney says. "For my money, autumn is the best time of the year for a vacation: it packs the one-two punch of great weather and great airfare prices."
Hopper noted that projected airfare peaked at an average of $252 in June, but steadily slid to $213 by October before perking back up around Thanksgiving. Hopper notes that the price of jet fuel, though more than 40% above its low point at the end of 2015, is still cheaper than it's been since 2009, giving airlines some room for discounts. Overall, prices are already down about 8% compared to the same time last year, and 15% compared to two years ago as airlines have played along.
The quality of off-season deals depends largely on the destination. With help from the folks at TripAdvisor Rentals, we flushed out some of the swankiest locations in the hemisphere and found ten that offer travelers steep discounts for arriving at unpopular times:
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.