How to Save Money Traveling During the Shoulder Season

Planning a trip on a limited budget? RelayRides blogger and frugal traveler, Eric Rosenberg, shares how to get great travel deals during the shoulder season.

Two years ago, I took an off-season trip to Europe and saved thousands of dollars compared to peak-season visitors. It’s no secret that traveling in the United States or around the world can be very expensive, but traveling during “shoulder season,” will bring you big savings and a great experience.

When is Shoulder Season?

Shoulder season is travel industry slang for the time in between the peak and the low season. The lowest travel times of the year typically correlate to bad weather and fewer activities. Shoulder season, nestled in between the peak and the off-season, can bring you both great weather and fun activities, but at a lower cost than peak-season travel.

Shoulder season can be different times of the year for different destinations. Typically, for most of the US shoulder season lasts from April to mid-June and again from September to October, but the season varies by city/region. At those times, you miss summer vacationers, winter breakers, and spring break partiers wherever you visit.

Shoulder Season Flight Deals

One of the biggest expenses for any trip is flights. Traveling at peak season, you will be hard pressed to find a great flight deal. You might find something if you look hard enough, but there’s no guarantee you will find discount flights.

When you travel during shoulder season, flights can easily run half of what they do at peak times. One friend found $850 tickets to visit Mexico during spring break season. Those same tickets were $450 just two months later in May.

Sites like FareCompare and bing Travel will help you predict what flight costs will do based on past seasonality, and a little Google searching will show what prices are if you book today with variable dates.

You might be able to save even more if you collect enough miles and points with your favorite travel credit card.

Shoulder Season Hotel Deals

After flights, hotels are the other big fixed expense for travel. Unless you want to stay in hostels (been there, done that!), you often find yourself spending hundreds a night for a decent hotel at peak season.

That $400 hotel room over summer vacation might cost $100 during shoulder season. A multi-night stay that might have cost thousands of dollars will only cost a few hundred if you time it right.

Search for shoulder season hotel deals on sites like Hotwire, Priceline, or I’m also a big fan of Kayak when starting a travel search to find great deals.

Shoulder Season Activity Deals

No one wants to arrive at their vacation destination with nothing to do. When I travel, my I love to explore cities and surrounding natural beauty. I love visiting beaches, caves, and downtowns alike to get a full sightseeing experience.

Sightseeing tours and adventure activities can add up fast, often topping $100 for a few hours of fun. However, should season offers coupons, discounts, and deals for many tourist activities.

Before traveling, check out sites like Trip Advisor or pick up a Lonely Planet guide book to chart out the best activities and find what you want to do. I have used Lonely Planet books to guide myself through locations like New York City, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, and Costa Rica. I’ve never once regretted buying their awesome guides.

After you find the activities you want to do, look back to Trip Advisor and a web search for coupons, discounts, and deals. Many vendors offer seasonal discounts or coupons that are not available to peak season visitors.

Have Fun and Save!

The most important part of your travels are to enjoy yourself. Have fun, relax, and make great memories wherever your travels take you. If you are traveling within the United States and need to get around, be sure to look at Relay Rides for your car rental needs. You’ll likely find just the ride you’re looking for right at the airport.

For longer stays, Relay Rides can save you even more. A quick search showed me that Prabhakar’s Honda Accord car is available at SFO for $20 a day, $100 per week, or $320 per month. Comparing that to $261 per week for an “economy” car at a major rental company, it is easy to see how much you can save.