Sure, an escape to the beach or cooler mountain air or the arctic air-conditioning of a museum comes not a moment too soon when summer really starts to heat up.
But if you can wait until the season winds down, the rewards can be significant – both in terms of savings and experience. And after the summer the world has had – with record heat, uncomfortably warm ocean water, devastating wildfires, epic crowds and high prices – the relative calm of traveling in September and October will be right on time for many travelers.
Is fall a better time to travel than summer?
“Yes, absolutely,” says Hayley Berg, lead economist for travel app Hopper.
If you can shift any kind of travel – whether domestic or international, once-in-a-lifetime trips or weekend getaways – into September and October, you’re going to pay less than peak summer trips, she said. And if you have something extravagant in mind, all the better to wait until fall.
“I always say if you want to go on what we call ‘bucket-list trips’ – so a honeymoon, a big family vacation, any travel where you’re interested or willing to make a really big investment – now is the time to book and take that trip because you’ll get so much more for your budget,” Berg said.
And getting more for your money is not the only benefit. It’s still warm in many sought-after destinations – but not scorching hot. It’s less crowded, too, which is positive in more ways than one.
“Overcrowding is a real issue during peak seasons,” says travel adviser Jim Bendt, who owns Pique Travel Design in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. “By traveling during a low or shoulder season, you not only benefit from fewer crowds, but you can feel good about helping local communities benefit from a sustained economic impact and less strain on the places you visit.”
Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of the summer and the beginning of a great time to do some next-level traveling – if you have the flexibility.
Here’s the latest from Hopper about where airfare pricing stands for early fall travel as well as travel experts’ suggestions of places that are better in fall than summer – whether because of price, weather, lack of crowds, seasonal offerings or some combination of those factors.
Big airfare price drops
Flying domestically in the United States in the next couple of months will be a lot more affordable than it was this summer.
Average domestic airfare for fall is down 29% from the average price in peak summer (June, July and August), according to Hopper data. Fall fares this year are down 9% from last fall and 10% from pre-pandemic fall 2019 prices.
Average fall fares to Los Angeles this year are down 40% from summer, Hopper data shows, with fares to Orlando plunging by 32%. That translates to $179 for Los Angeles and $137 for Orlando.
International fares are dropping, too, from summer’s sky-high levels. Average fares to Europe are down 31% from summer, according to Hopper. That translates to nearly $330 off each ticket, making the case for Berg’s suggestion to take big price-tag trips in autumn.
“If you multiply that across two people or a family of four, plus accommodations and so on, it’s thousands in savings. And at a time when families are definitely tightening their belts, a little bit concerned about inflation, wages, layoffs, you name it, I think that’s pretty invaluable. So if you can take one of those big, big trips in September and October, I say book it now.”
While international fares are coming down from their summer highs, tickets from the United States to some regions (particularly on long-haul routes) are still considerably more expensive than they were before the pandemic. Berg said Europe fares are still about 18% higher right now than pre-pandemic, and Asia is about 57% higher.
Asia remains “extremely expensive,” but price drops for fall have been steeper than usual, Berg said. Case in point: Fall 2023 tickets to Shanghai are about $1,523, which is $902, or 37%, cheaper than summer.
US hotel rates are down slightly from peak summer rates – by about 5% on average, according to Hopper, although some destinations have seen steeper rate drops and others are seeing increases due to events or an uptick in business travel.
For example, rates in Orlando are down 10% from earlier this summer and rates to San Diego have dropped 20% in the last month, while hotel rates in Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. are up 14% compared to earlier this summer.
US rental car rates are also down about 5%.
The benefits beyond price
Many popular destinations that were scorching hot in July – the planet’s hottest month on record – will finally be cooling off. Parts of Italy, Spain and Greece had temperatures blowing past the 100 degree Fahrenheit (about 38 C) mark this summer. Early September temperatures in Catania, Sicily, are the in the 80s (upper 20s C).
In addition to lower temperatures, “you can also find that rates are significantly lower as well,” said travel adviser Ashley Les, founder of Postcards from …, who’s based in Lisbon, Portugal. The cost of stays in many popular summer resort areas starts to dip as the crowds from Europe and abroad return to work and school.
“Typically the cheapest months of the year to take a trip are January, September and October because they happen to be the three months that most people are not traveling,” said Berg.
There’s also the benefit to locals of spending money in destinations outside of peak times.
Alex Bentley, head of product for Audley Travel, a tour operator with headquarters in the UK, mentioned that places such as Nepal, South Africa and Indonesia are worth considering for fall vacations.
“There are not as many visitors, which can help make a client’s budget go further. Visitors can still enjoy decent weather, there are numerous incredible sights and locations to explore, and a visit helps extend the season generating much valued tourist dollars outside of the peak travel times,” Bentley said.
Destination ideas from the experts
Here are eight ideas for the lucky travelers who can get away this autumn:
Italy’s Piedmont Region
“This summer, the number of travelers visiting Italy broke all records. But if you really want to feel like a local, visit the Piedmont region in October and November to enjoy the wine harvest,” Bendt suggested.
It’s also white truffle season, which Stanley Tucci checked out in “Searching for Italy.” The mountainous Piedmont region of northern Italy lives up to its gourmet reputation.
Yellowstone National Park in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming
Bendt says September is the best month to visit Yellowstone National Park, which welcomed more than 3 million visitors last year. Among the most visited US national parks, the summer frenzy dies down here in the fall.
“Gone are the long lines of cars, and the wildlife viewing can be spectacular as you hear the echoes of elks bugling during the rut,” Bendt said.
San Francisco, the Carmel Valley and Big Sur are at their best in September and October, Bendt said.
“The ‘June Gloom’ and foggy summer months have cleared out, and it’s the best weather of the year to enjoy the city and nature of the northern coast,” he said.
“June Gloom” joins terms such as “No-Sky July” and “Fogust” to describe dreary weather typical during the summer months.
Fall is also harvest time in Napa, which has its pros and cons, says Les. “You can be an active part of the Napa Valley harvest that you can’t get any other time of year. Hotel rates are significantly higher, but the weather is more pleasant,” she said.
North Fork, New York
New York offers a US wine country experience that’s less well-known than Napa or Sonoma.
“There are several other areas in the United States that have some great wineries, and one of them is North Fork, a 30-mile-long peninsula on the East End of Long Island in New York,” said Marilyn Clark, owner of Lighthouse Travel in Huntington Beach, California.
You can get the harvest, fall colors and water views all in the same spot. For crops beyond grapes, Clark recommends a stop at Harbes Family Farm for apples and pumpkins, plus hayrides.
Les is based in Lisbon, where she says water temperatures are best in early fall, and visitors will miss the worst summer crowds and heat.
The hilly, sun-splashed city is a short ride away from a number of charming beach towns, including the seaside resorts of Estoril and Cascais.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Warm water, minus the crowds, is also a draw on the Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands stretching 175 miles along North Carolina’s coast.
“If visitors are there at the right time, they can participate in the Outer Banks Marathon [November 12] or enjoy events such as the Outer Banks Seafood Festival [October 21] and the Bluegrass Island Music Festival [October 19-21],” Clark said.
Clark, who is a Hawaii specialist, says she usually visits the state in the fall after the summer crowds have gone, when there’s more availability at hotels, restaurants and attractions and prices are lower. Which island to visit depends on your interests, and she generally advises clients to stay on an island’s leeward side.
“Even though I usually recommend staying on a side of the island where it is less likely to rain [leeward], one of the big draws in the fall is visiting the lush, verdant side of the island [windward] and seeing all the waterfalls when they are really flowing. Since Hawai’i is known as the ‘Rainbow Capital of the World,’ fall is a great time to see them as well,” she said.
Clark noted that most of Maui, which just suffered devastating fires, is open.
West Maui is closed to visitors, according to an August 31 update posted on the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority’s website. The organization encourages travelers to visit other parts of Maui and the rest of the Hawaiian islands and to be “especially mindful and respectful in our island home.”
In South Africa, October – springtime in the Southern Hemisphere – is one of the best months to combine regions, according to Audley Travel’s Alex Bentley.
It’s ahead of the peak season, November to February, and visitors can enjoy whale watching and wildlife viewing in opposite corners of the country.
“Temperatures begin to heat up across the country, but the rains have yet to fall in the north, meaning that safari areas like the Kruger are still dry. This makes wildlife easier to spot as animals gather around vital water sources,” Bentley said. “Along the coast, humpback and southern right whales have yet to migrate south, so clients can have the chance to see them breaching offshore.”