NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Although August is a popular month for travel, it's not too late to snag an affordable last-minute summer vacation at the destination of your choice -- if you know where to look. With many schools and colleges starting back the second week in August, experts say deals will start popping up soon. Regardless of where you're planning to go, the way you buy your accommodations and when you book your travel make a big difference in how much you'll pay. If you're ready to book a late summer getaway, check out our list of the most important things to know for booking quickly and affordably. What kind of destination should I search for? You'll be hard-pressed to get a classic American seaside or lakeside vacation at this point, but you'll get great off-season deals, fewer crowds and gorgeous beaches in the Caribbean and Mexico, says Arabella Bowen, executive editorial director at Fodor's Travel. Travelers should also consider "hot" summer cities such as Miami and New Orleans or cities that are popular business travel destinations, such as Chicago and Toronto, which have frequent daily flights and a lot of weekend hotel rooms to fill. TheSuitest.com, a luxury hotel room search engine, reports that some of the cheapest destinations for hotels over Labor Day weekend are San Francisco, Orange County, Calif., Houston and Dallas, Orlando and Hawaii. California is also a great choice this time of year, says Sarah Gavin, director of PR and social media at Expedia ( EXPE), and anyone looking to go on a cruise from a nearby port is in luck. "San Diego is trending lower cost than usual, and it's a great destination for people who want to do Disney ( DIS) but don't want to stay near Disney," she says. "For folks who live near a cruise port, you'll find some amazing last-minute cruise deals out of Seattle, New Orleans and more." What's the best time to book between now and Labor Day? If you have specific destinations in mind, book as soon as possible, says Bowen, adding that fares typically increase three weeks out and long-weekend travel is very popular.
Things get very busy closer to departure dates, says Bob Diener, co-founder of Getaroom.com. Many hotels offer 14-day "advance purchase rates" and if you book at least two weeks out from your expected arrival date, you can take advantage of that.