If you’re like me, you avoid crowds at all costs. You grocery shop on a weekday afternoon when most people are at work. You’re the last person to be found in line at a food festival, or on a wait list for a champagne brunch.
And when it comes to vacation, you prefer to travel in the off-season. The beaches aren’t crowded by fellow tourists. You can gorge with abandon at the near-empty food hall on the cruise ship. And because the destination isn’t catering to visitors, you might enjoy a more authentic experience.
Plus, traveling during the slower periods tends to be far more affordable. Depending on the destination, you could net a huge discount. Here’s how you can save while sojourning during non-peak times of the year, and make the most of your visit:
Take Advantage of Frequent Flyer Programs
There are a handful of frequent flyer programs that feature deals on off-peak flights, explains Holly Johnson, co-founder of Club Thrifty. For example, some programs allow you to fly round-trip to Europe from the U.S. for 45,000 miles from November through March. Take advantage of frequent flyer programs that let you pay less for airfare during the slower seasons. (Note that there are blackout dates over the holidays.) If you were to trek to Europe any other time of year, expect to pony up 60,000 miles for a round-trip flight.
You might also look at different travel hubs and see which destinations are cheapest to visit at certain times of the year. You might find that you can cover a surprising amount of ground by bunching together inexpensive destinations that are in the same vicinity.
Snag a Last-Minute Deal
In the mood for a bit of spontaneity? If you can swing it, check out last-minute fares for even deeper savings. Or, if you’re already on vacation and can afford to extend your travels, look into deals in neighboring locales. While you are ponying up a bit more cash, it could make for an amazing trip and be cheaper than taking several smaller trips throughout the year.
Shop for Cash Sales
Instead of redeeming valuable credit card travel points, Johnson suggests hunting for cash sales. If you can save more by paying for cash instead of using points, consider holding on to your airline miles for another trip. “Off-peak travel season to almost anywhere is a good time to snag a flight for far cheaper than you think,” says Johnson.
For instance, Johnson, who is a year-round traveler, booked a flight for her sister from Indianapolis to Paris this winter. To her extreme surprise, she found that cash fares were less than $600 round-trip for most of the month. Poke around on different comparison sites for discounted airline and hotel rates, and see what kind of savings you can snag.
Comparison Shop for Your Hotel
“Most accommodations are competing on price during the off-peak season, so they might offer sales or severely discounted rates,” says Johnson, who traveled off-peak to Croatia this past fall, where the cash rate at their luxury hotel was a little over $100 per night. While Croatia is typically inexpensive, the same hotel normally costs $300 to $500 per night during summer. Before you book, compare rates at hotels versus Airbnb.
If you have some wiggle room in your travel dates, set your search options for dates to be flexible. That way you can gauge when you can nab the lowest rates. When I’m traveling during the off-season, I always give myself a window of time to hunt for deals.
Be Mindful of Cut-Off Dates
My friend Michael, while traveling in Iceland, discovered the hard way how cut-off dates can affect the costs for tourists. When he missed his flight and had to buy a ticket for the next day, he ended up having to pay nearly twice as much for the plane ticket. That’s because the day his flight was moved to was the start of the travel season.
You’ll want to check when the official off-season and peak seasons are for the place you’re vacationing to. In the event that your travel dates straddle the two, you might be looking at drastically different rates for flights, hotels, and the cost of admission for attractions.
Do your research to understand the trade-offs. While you are snagging a better deal on flights and accommodations, and restaurants are more likely to be receptive to your special requests, there are some downsides.
For one, the weather conditions might not be as ideal. So if you’re jetting off to a place that’s in the midst of hurricane season, the odds of enjoying a scenic tour on a boat are pretty slim. Buses might be operating on a more limited schedule, and roads to natural wonders might be closed. And when mapping out points of interest for you and your travel companions, make sure that these attractions aren’t closed for the season.
Get Creative in How You Spend Your Time
On the flip side, skip the tourist attractions and get clued into what the locals enjoy doing. In turn, you might enjoy a richer, more authentic experience. For example, if you’re traveling to Europe during the winter months, you might not be able to take a dip in a lake, but you can enjoy a festive Christmas market.
By nature, vacationing during the slower times of year can net you a significant discount. By hunting around for the best deals, mapping out your adventures beforehand, and understanding the trade-offs of travel in the off-season, you can have a trip to remember without breaking the bank.
Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer. Her work has appeared in Investopedia, Magnify Money and The Bold Italic, and she’s been featured in Money, Kiplinger, Forbes and Woman’s Day. She runs Cheapsters.org, a blog to help freelancers and artists with their money, and to balance their passion projects and careers.