Fall is my favorite time of year to travel. Why? Because it’s typically less crowded, prices come down from steep summer peaks, and the weather is fine just about everywhere. Business travelers always breathe a sigh of relief reclaiming their territory at airport security lines and hotel breakfast bars as hordes of family vacationers have gone home.
Fall is the perfect season for finding last-minute travel deals due to the seasonal dip in demand. But as this past summer came to a close, I began to think that autumn months would see an even deeper dip in demand due to all the angst and uncertainty over the election, Brexit, Zika and terrorism.
But it appears that travelers in the U.S. are as resilient as ever, and this fall remains busy (or busier) than last year. For example, with over 2,000 hotels in the U.S., Best Western Hotels & Resorts is expecting a robust fall travel season with advance bookings for September and October up 6.7 percent in the U.S. compared to this time last year. In Canada, advance bookings for autumn are up a strong 19 percent over this time last year, mostly due to increased interest by Americans attracted by the strength of the U.S. dollar there.
Gasoline prices: One key reason for continuing interest in travel during in the months ahead is the declining price of gasoline. Currently, the average price per gallon nationally is about $2.20—down from a high of about $2.35 in June. Gas remains least expensive in the Midwest and Gulf Coast states (less than $2 per gallon in some areas), but recently edged up in the southeast due to a major pipeline break which caused supply problems. As usual, prices along the West Coast are highest, where $3 per gallon is the norm. (See map above where green show least expensive and red is most expensive.)
Airfare: Increased competition and growth by ultra low-cost airlines such as Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant combined with lower fuel costs is keeping airfares in check. Fall is a great season for finding last-minute airfare deals as airlines are much more likely to offer unsold inventory at deep discounts during the fall. If you have the flexibility to fly at this time of year (meaning you don’t have kids in school) you’ll find plenty of good deals—some so good that they might tempt you to leave the car at home and take to the skies. The best way to find these deals is to follow airlines’ social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat—that’s because by the time the deals hit major media outlets, they’ve disappeared. If you like to fly in business class, now’s the time to start poking around for discounts that usually pop up for flights in late December– last year, we saw fares drop as low as $1,800 round trip!
Hotels: Due to strong demand, hotel prices should remain about the same or increase slightly this fall compared to the same time last year. Due to the seasonal dip in demand, leisure travelers will find some very good deals at this time of year compared to pricey summer months. Fall is also the peak of the convention season, which means that rates at big city center hotels (especially large coast cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York and Washington DC) tend to spike during the week when attendees are in town, but decline on weekends when hotels are relatively empty. Tip: During fall months, travel suppliers reach out to business travelers with special deals and incentives tied to their loyalty programs. For example, now through November 20, Best Western is offering a discount of up to 15% and 1,000 Bonus Rewards Points to those booking on bestwestern.com.
Conventions: Since fall is peak convention season, demand (and therefore prices) for hotels can vary dramatically from one week to the next. That’s because one week, there might be a huge citywide convention in town and the next, nothing. A good example of this is when we see the huge Oracle OpenWorld (Sept 18-21) or Dreamforce (Oct 4-7) conventions come to town- hotel rates soar, Uber/Lyft impose surge pricing, and it’s impossible to find restaurant reservations. Same thing happens in New York City for Fashion Week or the UN General Assembly. If you have the ability to postpone trips during peak weeks, you’ll save your money and your sanity.
London: Now would be a very good time to go. The weather has not turned cold and damp yet. Airfares have come down from summer peaks. A wobbly economy and recent devaluation of the British pound means that London (and the U.K. in general) is a relative bargain these days, especially for dollar-wielding Americans. (The dollar/pound exchange rate is hovering at around $1.30, down from around $1.60 last year.) Just remember to call this season autumn when you are there… not fall.
Cheapest Weeks: Bargain hunters will find the best fall travel deals during the first two weeks of November and December. If possible, schedule trips to coincide with these dips in demand. (The primary exception to this would be New York City, which is flooded with business travelers and holiday shoppers during the first two weeks of December.)
Thanksgiving- Thursday Nov. 24: As always, traveling around Thanksgiving can get crazy. But in recent years, airlines and travelers have pretty much learned the drill, and the only time we see major problems is when bad weather intervenes. As always, the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday and Monday after are most crowded. But recently airlines have found the Friday before Thanksgiving is now one of the busiest days, too. Plan accordingly.
Holiday bookings deadlines: My rule of thumb for making holiday bookings: If you have a very strict holiday schedule, you should have already made your Thanksgiving and Christmas travel reservations. If you have some wiggle room and want to shop around, Thanksgiving trips should be booked no later than the first week of October. Christmas/New Years trips can wait until about Halloween.
This post is sponsored by Best Western and originally appeared on its YouMustBeTrippin.com blog
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