(Photo Credit: Virginia Tourism)
Friends and family will inevitably ask me, "When is the best time to visit _____?"
And with a few exceptions, the answer is almost always the same: You should go in September.
If you have school-age children, this is tough advice -- but for empty nesters, those without kids or if the little ones aren't in school yet, September offers up savings of up to 50 percent compared with summer highs.
What makes the ninth month No. 1 for travelers on a budget? The combination of lingering summer weather, a sharp drop-off in leisure travel, lower flight prices and smaller crowds at just about every tourist hot spot makes September the month with the most.
Here are 10 destinations and tips to take advantage of the September sweet spot:
- Ditch the Road Trip: During the summer, Americans hit the road en masse. Part of the reason why -- airfare to just about anywhere climbs sky high in July and August. Well, flight prices start to drop across the board in September as summer premiums give way to fall fare sales. Expect to pay 25%-50% less for a flight in late summer and early fall compared with mid-summer peaks.
- Hit the Beach: Popular beach towns and lakeside resorts generally see travel drop off considerably after Labor Day weekend -- especially during the week. Take advantage and enjoy a late-season beach trip in destinations such as Cape Cod, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, the Outer Banks, Key West and Florida's Gulf Coast.
- Check Out Orlando: What happens when a destination's target demographic is unavailable? Deals -- and lots of them. Although discounts at Disney are rare, savvy travelers will find that September may be the best month to go see Mickey. With kids back in school across the country, hotels and activities in Orlando drop prices to attract business. If you don't have a Back-to-School night on the calendar, perhaps it's time to plan a trip back to your own childhood.
- Seek Out Summer Hot Spots: After a scorching summer in the Southwest and in Florida, the weather starts to cool off in September. You'll find that rates at top resorts in Miami, Palm Springs and Scottsdale won't be at their summer lows, but then again, the temps aren't at their summer highs either. Many of these resorts also have top-rated spas and restaurants that are also looking for business. Get in before the winter rush sends prices sky high.
- Aloha Hawaii: What's the best way to make summer last forever? Go somewhere that summer never ends. The reason you'll find some of the year's best deals on Hawaii resorts, flights and vacations? It's a simple demand equation -- less travelers are visiting the Aloha State between Labor Day and Christmas.
- Find Some Island Time: If Hawaii is too far away, don't give up on the dream of your toes in the sand and an umbrella drink in hand. Hurricane season is the main reason why prices drop on Caribbean vacations and all-inclusive resorts. Use a bit of the 50% savings on travel insurance for peace of mind, and then seek out a spot under the nearest palm tree.
- Reach New Heights: Before rates jump up to ski season highs, resorts in Colorado, Utah, Vermont, New Hampshire, Whistler and Mont Tremblant are offering up "shoulder season" discounts. The added perk? Gorgeous mountain vistas that turn colorful at the end of September as foliage season arrives. Columbus Day weekend in particular can be pricey for leaf peepers, but traveling during the week can leave you with plenty of green after seeing the fall colors.
- Hop the Pond: You can wait for winter to find the rock-bottom fares to Europe, but for the best combo of walking weather, smaller crowds and affordable airfare, now is the time to go. If you're seeing this too late to plan a 2014 European vacation, then you have 12 months to plan next year's September trip.
- Reap a Fruitful Harvest: The earthquake that shook Napa came right before "crush season", when hotel prices in the Valley traditionally jump. Wine Trails in Virginia, the Pacific Northwest and Niagara are other spots to sip the fruits of the season's harvest for significantly less than prime California destinations.
- Avoid Big Cities: Finally, it's good to know where the deals won't be. As business travel picks up again after the summer lull, major cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco also see spikes in occupancy rates. Expect hotel rooms to be upwards of $300 or $400 per night in these cities, after summer rates that were under $200.
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