While you might think that summer is the most popular time to travel, fall travel is also primetime for many people to hop a flight, get behind the wheel, or otherwise head off on an adventure.
After all, not everyone is tied to school schedules that dictate spring break and summer vacations. People looking for less oppressively hot weather, those without kids, or travelers looking for fewer crowds might choose to travel in the autumn. Any fall foliage adds to the allure.
Another reason to travel after August: Prices can be lower in fall for everything from flights to lodging because there is typically less demand. But it’s important to note that there can be a wide range in overall costs, depending on a number of factors, including the destination, exact dates, kind of trip (camping vs. classy hotel), and when you book the travel.
That last factor can play a significant role in the cost of fall travel, so here’s a closer look, including:
• When to book flights for fall
• When to book hotels for fall travel
• How far in advance to book a rental car
• When to book a fall cruise
Things to Keep in Mind
Fall travel encompasses a wide variety of trips. Here is some intel that can help you assess pricing and when to book:
• Autumn can be the peak time for some types of getaways. For instance, New England for leaf peeping can be one of the best places to travel in fall. But it could be off-peak or shoulder season for other locations. Beach vacations or ski resorts aren’t likely to make the list of best fall travel destinations.
• Understanding peak vs. off-peak gives you insight into supply and demand for travel. When demand is high, prices tend to go up. But when it’s low (that is, fewer people are booking flights or hotel rooms), prices tend to drop. This knowledge can help you decide where to travel in the fall and plan an affordable vacation.
• You’ll also want to be aware of any special events that might be going on at your location. For instance, if you are dreaming of a fall getaway in Paris, you’ll want to avoid the days when the fashion shows are in full swing, sending costs soaring. People from all over the world flood into the city for these shows, meaning an affordable hotel room can be hard to find.
• Using credit card miles or cash back can also be a part of paying for your trip. If you’re using miles, check for how the time of year may impact points needed. There might also be blackout dates to avoid.
Recommended: Where to Keep a Travel Fund
When to Book Flights for Fall
Knowing the right time to book flights for fall travel can depend on how you’re planning on paying for your flights. If you apply for a credit card to earn airline miles or credit card rewards, you’ll want to leave enough time to collect the miles from your welcome bonus and still have time to book your flights. Otherwise, it can depend on whether you are booking domestic or international flights.
Just as with summer travel, you’ll want to start watching flight prices a few months before your planned travel dates. Consider using a travel booking site (you may hear them referred to as online travel agencies, or OTAs), such as Expedia or Booking.com. Look for ones that offer comparisons to past results. That can give you an idea how the price today stacks up vs. historical price trends. If the current price is below historical averages, consider booking your flights right away. Otherwise, check back in a week or two. You may also find some sites that use predictive data analysis to say prices are likely to rise or fall, which can be very helpful info.
Booking international flights can be a bit more complicated, because there are often a lot more moving parts on an international vacation. Hotels, activities and excursions, and other transport can be harder to arrange when you’re traveling overseas. Booking your fall travel at least a couple of months in advance can be a wise move. You can often snag a good price by booking early, and nailing down your ticket can help the other plans fall into place.
Also, if you need to get a visa for your international trip, you probably want to make sure that your flights are locked down several months before your trip. You may need your travel documentation to get that visa approval.
A budget-boosting move: When booking international travel, you are likely going to rack up a good number of miles and dollars. Being part of an airline points program or using an airline credit card can be a smart way to earn rewards.
Of course, there’s no harm in using your usual plastic and collecting those credit card rewards to redeem as you see fit. Perhaps you’ll get enough cash back to have an amazing meal as you travel, whether you’re headed for South Carolina or Singapore.
Booking Hotels for Fall: Advance vs Last-Minute
When booking hotels for fall travel, you may wonder whether you’ll score a better deal by doing so way in advance or last-minute. Some points to consider:
• Both techniques can have their upsides. An early reservation may allow you to lock in a low rate before demand grows, sending prices upward. However, if a hotel has rooms lingering unbooked, it might discount them at the last moment in the hopes of filling them up.
• Many hotels offer rates that have very lenient cancellation policies. So one way to make a hotel reservation can be in the form of book now, pay later travel.
You might save money on hotels by making a cancellable reservation at your preferred hotel. Then, regularly check on the rates for your hotel and other nearby hotels. If the price goes down, you can cancel your first reservation and make a new one at the lower rate. This strategy can combine the benefits of booking in advance and booking at the last minute. You can keep an eye on pricing and search for a better deal until your departure date, yet you still know there’s a room reserved for you if you don’t find a better price.
How Far in Advance to Book Rental Cars for Fall
If you will be renting a car on your trip, you can use the same strategy as outlined above. Most rental car companies allow you to make your reservation and then pay for it if and when you arrive on site. You can make an initial reservation and then monitor it over time to see if the price drops.
Bonus tip: When booking a rental car for fall travel, your credit card may offer car rental insurance. Check into that detail. If your card does carry this perk, you may be able to save money by declining the rental company’s insurance.
Recommended: How Does Credit Card Travel Insurance Work?
When to Book a Fall Cruise
It can be cheaper to book a fall cruise many months or even years before the date of the cruise. Cruise companies can offer lower prices on cruises with a long lead time, in the hopes of filling their ships. As the date of embarkation gets closer, it’s common for cruise prices to increase.
In general, you’ll find the best prices for cruising around the Caribbean, up to Alaska, or elsewhere if you book during the industry’s sale season, which tends to be November through March. That’s when holiday (Black Friday and Cyber Monday) and “wave season” discounts are usually offered.
However, it’s also common for cruise companies and travel sites that specialize in cruising to offer last-minute deals. So if you have the flexibility to travel at the last minute (maybe you’re sitting on some unused vacation days at work and have a slow week coming up), you can often score a great deal. Using a travel credit card can also help you earn rewards that you can use for cruising.
Best Time to Book Tours, Sites, and Activities for Fall
Are there specific tours or activities that are “must dos” for your fall vacation? A sightseeing Jeep ride or an exhibition at a museum that requires a timed ticket? By all means, you should book them in advance as soon as you know when and where you’ll be traveling. That way, you don’t have to worry about them selling out.
For other activities, you can consider waiting to see if there are any coupons or deals that come available. Also consider that many credit card companies have travel portals that allow you to pay for activities with credit card rewards. This can be a way to save money on your fall vacation while still packing in cool attractions and experiences.
There isn’t a single best time to book fall travel — instead, the best timing will depend on a variety of factors, such as where you want to go, how you are traveling, and your comfort level with “fly by the seat of your pants,” unplanned travel.
Generally speaking, booking further in advance can get you good deals and provide you with the best choice. You can also take advantage of “book now, pay later” refundable or cancellable reservations for hotels, rental cars, and activities. Once those are secured, if the price drops, you can save money by canceling and rebooking at the lower rate.
Whether you want to travel more or get a better ROI for your travel dollar, SoFi can help. SoFi Travel is a new service exclusively for SoFi members that lets you budget, plan, and book your next trip in a convenient one-stop shop. SoFi takes the guessing game out of how much you can afford for that honeymoon, family vacation, or quick getaway — and we help you save too.
Photo credit: iStock/AleksandarNakic
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