Autumn Cools Prices for Flights and Hotels

Shoulder season is generally one of the cheapest times of the year to travel because of lower demand.
Sean Cudahy
By Sean Cudahy 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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After a summer that saw U.S. airports at their busiest ever, autumn’s calm is finally upon us. The slowdown started the six days after Labor Day, when TSA agents screened about 11% fewer passengers than they did on those same days one month earlier, in August.

And smaller crowds can help trigger more affordable prices because of the forces of supply and demand.

“In an effort to incentivize travelers to book trips in early fall, airlines will drop prices to encourage travelers to schedule one more trip before the busy holiday season begins,” says Hayley Berg, lead economist at booking app Hopper.

Her recent analysis found average domestic airfare in September and October is down 29% from this summer’s peak and down about 9% from this time last year.

Those price drops are consistent with the slowdown in inflation. According to the latest Consumer Price Index data, airfares this August were down 13% from August 2022.

With fewer tourists, the chance for cheaper flights and lodging, and generally pleasant weather, this season is a great time to plan a trip.

The question is, where are the best places to visit?

Top 2023 fall travel destinations

You’ll often hear September, October and early November described as “shoulder season” for travel — those calmer months between summer and the always-busy holidays.

Right now, there are deals for a last taste of summer at a beach or resort, a longer excursion overseas, or a visit to catch some of the season’s sights and festivities.

Airfare deals

Hopper found significant drops in airfare for September and October flights, compared to summer prices. Some of the popular destinations with fall savings, including:

  • 31% cheaper to popular European cities.

  • 16% cheaper to the Caribbean.

  • 19% to Mexico and Central America.

And it’s not just savings on international destinations. Another recent analysis by online travel agency Expedia found average ticket prices for airfare are down 20% or more compared to this summer for flights to some colder U.S. cities, such as Juneau, Alaska, Denver and Chicago.

What is the cheapest time to travel in fall 2023? The most affordable week to travel during the fall 2023 season is the week of Oct. 24, the analysis by Expedia revealed.

Hotel and vacation rental deals

In many popular cities, hotel and home rental rates are trending much lower than you would have found if you’d tried to book a stay in, say, July or August. Compared to this summer, average nightly rates are down about 10% in Orlando and by around 20% in San Diego, Hopper reports.

It’s a similar story for vacation rentals. Vacation rental site Vrbo reports savings of 25% or more versus this summer at some popular East Coast beach destinations, including Outer Banks, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Panama City Beach, Florida.

Most popular fall destinations in 2023

So, where are travelers looking this fall? Expedia is reporting higher-than-normal booking interest in two domestic destinations: the coastal city of Savannah, Georgia, and Yellowstone National Park, most of which is in Wyoming.

Beverly McLean, with the Virginia-based travel agency Covington Travel, highly recommends fall beach trips.

“It’s after the main tourist season. The restaurants are still open … but there’s a fraction of the number of people there, and the weather’s still lovely,” McLean says. “If you can catch it when all the elements are still in place, but the people aren’t, that’s a really good time to go.”

McLean points out that any national park — not just Yellowstone — is generally a great bet this time of year for the cooler weather and vibrant colors.

“You’ve got less people going, and generally, U.S. national parks are going to be a little bit cooler,” McLean says. “You might be getting up into fall foliage.”

Book soon, wherever you’re going

Of course, even amid thinner crowds, you’ll still want to take some precautions. Despite overall pleasant weather this time of year, if you’re planning a trip to Florida, the Gulf Coast or the Caribbean, there is a hurricane risk. You may want to consider purchasing a travel insurance policy so you can cancel and get your money back if a storm develops. And, whether you’re hoping to score a good deal on a trip during shoulder season or for the holidays that immediately follow, booking soon is critical.

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