Shoulder season steals on airfare and hotel rates

Airline counterAnyone who took a vacation this summer knows that airfares are rising, even as carriers stubbornly refuse to add any flights to their schedules to ease congestion on board.

But travelers can typically get the most bang for their buck during shoulder season -- that period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving -- when ticket prices and hotel rates drop markedly as kids return to school and parents knuckle down at the office.

Although price declines this fall aren't as dramatic as they were during last year's Indian summer -- when hotel rates hit historic lows in many cases--there are still great deals to be had for destinations around the world.

"Prices on flights are down 16% from the summer months," said Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group. "We're starting to see a nice trend from the perspective of a customer planning a trip during the shoulder season - -they will see much better deals on cars and flights."

The best places to visit right now include many popular tourist destinations in Florida, such as Orlando and Key West, as well as resort spots in San Diego and Phoenix, which have seen air fares drop since the summer months.

Tickets to popular fall vacation spots in the Caribbean and Europe still remain a bit pricey, but travelers can offset these fares with lower hotel rates, said Genevive Shaw Brown, senior editor at Travelocity.

Even though they're lower than summer prices, domestic airfares are still 10% higher than they were last year during shoulder season, with international airfares climbing by 17%, she said.

So, if you're planning to travel between now and Thanksgiving, the best way to ensure you get a bargain is to keep in mind what the average airfare is this fall and to "use that as a gauge to recognize a deal when you see one," Brown recommends.

Average airfares for domestic travel are $314 and for international trips, prices are hovering around $783, she said. For hotels, average rates are $141 a night in the U.S. and $181 internationally, according to Travelocity.

When traveling to certain regions, like Europe, travelers will need to pay more to cash in on a deal. For example, In Canada exchange rates are increasing. But this is causing hotels to empty out, decreasing rates.

"As we look at September and October bookings versus July and August, were seeing prices down significantly in Quebec and Vancouver," Bason said.

Hotel prices in Quebec are down by 15% this fall, for an average price per night of $107, according to Hotwire. Similarly, prices decreased 9% in Vancouver when comparing the fall season to summer months, for an average price per night of $111.

Other deals include stays in Orlando, where prices are down 5% to an average price per night of $52, and the Caribbean, where rates fell 4% to $105 per night, a survey by Hotwire showed.

Even if you're too busy to travel before the holidays, travel experts advise that you start thinking about booking tickets for Thanksgiving and Christmas now.

"There are fewer available seats, and more competition for lower-priced seats," Brown said. "People should book now if they want to get the best deals."

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