You may feel like you’re missing out when your friends post beach pictures on the Fourth of July or snap ski videos over the holidays, but waiting just a few weeks to schedule your own trip during the so-called “fringe” or shoulder season has some serious advantages.
Traveling just before or after the peak season means you’ll enjoy similar weather while enjoying other big perks without the huge price tag.
Why Fringe Seasons Are the Best Times to Travel
It’s hard to get a deal on vacation when demand is at its highest. Enter the fringe season, before and after peak travel times, when fares and rates drop significantly.
Hotels and flights are less likely to sell out during the fringe season, so you’ll have more success finding promotions and landing awesome travel deals. Plus, if you’re staying in a smaller hotel or a vacation rental, the owner may be more open to negotiating a rate.
Of course, the timing of the fringe season varies by destination. You’ll get the best deals traveling to Europe, for example, in May and September, just before and after the big summer crowds arrive. Those visiting South Florida, however, should shoot for November or April, before or after the snowbirds flock down.
Cost Comparison: Peak Travel Time vs. Fringe Season
Let’s compare two vacations to Los Angeles — one during peak season in August, and one just a few weeks later in September. September weather in L.A. is still warm enough to accommodate beach days. But by August many families have returned home to prepare for school and summer vacationers are back to work, so the city is quieter—and cheaper. Here’s how the savings stack up:
Average roundtrip airfare (New York – Los Angeles): $388
Average 3-night hotel stay: $684
Booking the trip in September versus August can save more than $300 per person. Save even more by looking for deals on sites like AirBnB, GiltCity or JetSetter. Plus, if you’re using rewards points or redeeming miles to pay for your trip, they’ll go further if you don’t use them during peak season.
And it goes without saying that if you’re planning a family vacation, then these benefits get amplified.
4 More Off-Season Travel Advantages
Saving money isn’t the only perk of traveling during shoulder seasons. Here are four other big advantages:
It’s less crowded.
Thinner crowds make for a more enjoyable vacation, whether it means more space to spread out your blanket on the beach or the ability to make your way through busy city streets without needing to dodge hoards of other tourists. You’ll also face shorter lines for attractions or activities.
You’ll have your pick of restaurants and hotels.
Top-reviewed restaurants and of-the-moment hotels often book months in advance for peak season stays, but traveling during the fringe season means less competition for the best deals on spots with limited capacity. This also means you can spend less time planning and be more spontaneous on your trip.
Service is better.
When tourist destinations are most crowded, the people who work there can be at their most frazzled. You’ll likely find kinder waiters, friendlier tour guides, and more patient merchants during the shoulder season. Locals also tend to be nicer to tourists when they haven’t been asked for directions 15 times already that day.
You’ll be able to do more.
Since you’re spending less on airfare, hotels, and maybe even restaurants, you’ll have more money to splurge on activities and souvenirs. Plus, you can travel on a budget without waiting in line.
If you’re looking for a way to stretch your vacation budget, a fringe vacation is one of the best ways to maximize value. In addition to finding lower prices, you’ll likely have a better experience thanks to fewer crowds, more options and personalized attention.