This might come as a shock, but you don’t actually have to go anywhere in the summer. The entire season might seem like an ongoing vacation—and loved ones may disappear for weeks on end—but none of that means that you have to participate. While consensus argues that the warmer months are the time for adventure, I’d argue that it’s easier on your wallet, and more relaxing, to cut loose sometime in the fall.
“Fall is my favorite season to travel,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Unlike summer, when flights tend to be the most expensive they get all year, flights in September onward regularly go on deep discount.”
Since it’s no secret that summertime traditionally equals more time off, most airlines and nearly every main attraction also contend with another issue: crowds. Lines snake even further around the Louvre, just as the sands of South Beach disappear under a wider array of colorful umbrellas. When everyone is looking for an escape, it becomes even harder to find it.
“Whereas museums and beaches are often crowded with tourists in the summer, come fall they can be virtually empty,” Scott says. “And with manageable weather before winter sets in, fall is an underrated time of year to travel.”
Below, Keyes shares his advice on how to score deals on last-minute travel and recommended destinations for fall. Perhaps this season will soon become your favorite time of year to get away.
1. Flexibility is your friend.
This advice is paramount to Keyes, who says that the best travel deals can be found by those who don’t have a set plan. Create a list of places to potentially visit, and a range of possible dates, and you’ll be better prepared to pounce on a discount.
Where to go if you can be flexible for fall travel?
“Colorado is great because of the beautiful aspen trees and great outdoorsy weather, or opt for Washington state with all the apples coming into season, but go before the rain truly starts in late fall.” Keyes says. “Washington DC is also lovely city to visit in the fall because, like the crowds, the summer heat has left. There's beautiful foliage throughout the city, including the National Mall and the National Arboretum, and the free museums are far less packed.”
According to Keyes, airlines used to slash prices for unsold seats right before a flight—but this isn’t the case anymore.
“Nowadays, airlines actually jack up prices on unsold seats knowing that it's mostly business travelers booking in that last week,” he says. “They don't care about the price because it's their company paying, not them.”
To keep from footing this expense on your dime, Keyes praises planning ahead. Aim to book a trip at least two weeks in advance, and give yourself even more time for international destinations.
Where to go if you have time to plan for fall travel? “Japan is beautiful, because the leaves start turning and the country has better parks than anywhere else I've been,” he says. “Otherwise, Vermont and the New England area is at its best come fall. There are great hikes in the Green Mountain National Forest with peak foliage views, and prices are far lower than in the summer or during ski season.”
“Airfare isn't static: Cheap flights are constantly popping up and disappearing within days, if not hours,” says Keyes, whose business provides alerts for travelers’ pre-selected destinations. Sites like Google Flights and Kayak also allow users to set price alerts.
If you want to search for deals on your own, Keyes says that it’s best to have one browser window open to main airline carriers, and then a separate one open to Southwest. “Southwest’s fares don't show up on any flight search engines,” he says.
Where to go that’s under the radar? “Pittsburgh is a hidden gem, especially in the fall when the air turns crisp, and exploring places like Frick Park take on an added charm,” Keyes says.
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