It's Labor Day weekend and the kids are about to go back to school, the air is getting crisper and the end of summer is nigh. Most are preparing to hunker down at home -- to pick their favorite new TV shows, don some flannel and watch the leaves turn cherry red. But autumn is no time to stay at home. In fact, it's the best time of the year for budget-minded travelers to get away.
"Summer vacations have been taken, people are traveled out, it's hurricane season ... and yes, airlines have their best sales of the year," said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.
Hobica notes that you can find the best deals between Sept. 7 and mid-October, and then again between Columbus Day and Thanksgiving.
"Only the period from after New Year's to about Feb. 15 compares for low airfares," he said. Hobica added, however, that sales might not be as good as in past years because of airline consolidation.
As always, Tuesday and Wednesday are the cheapest days of the week to travel because most leisure travelers begin their trips on Friday and return Sunday, while business travelers leave Monday and return Thursday or Friday.
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Taylor Cole, director of public relations at Hotels.com, said hotels are also offering significant discounts for September and October. Hotels.com has both Florida and Texas on sale for 30 percent off with discounts on beach destinations that will remain balmy through the early fall, like Corpus Christi, Galveston, South Padre Island and Boca Raton. Several Texas locations, she said, now have discounts for travelers diverted from the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Isaac.
In addition to the low fares, Cole said she is seeing a lot of value add-ons.
"More hotels are offering free WiFi, free breakfast, waving resort fees or offering excursions," she noted. "Hotels are also offering more mobile-exclusive deals that will pop up on your phone when you're in close proximity.
"For those people that missed that opportunity to take a summer vacation, it really is a great time to take advantage of some of these deals," Cole added.
The cruise industry, too, is offering steep discounts in September and October, mostly because of hurricane season. Some 70 percent of tropical cyclones occur between August and October, but the chances of your vacation being a complete washout are relatively slim. Moreover, cruise ships rarely cancel sailings, choosing instead to reroute the voyage.
"Is it worth the risk? I would certainly get insurance and I wouldn't plan on getting married in port, but it's great if you are looking for a good value," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief at CruiseCritic.com. "In the Caribbean, it's just starting to cool down, so it's actually quite pleasant."
Spencer Brown said fall is her favorite time to travel.
"It's the difference between hot, humid and nasty weather and brilliant blue skies and lighter air. More than the metaphysical stuff, the prices go down. There are more deals and fewer lines."
The newest trend, she noted, is that cruise ships try to load on as many incentives as possible for fall travel. That goes for Alaska too, which Spencer Brown said is beautiful this time of year.
She found a seven-night Alaska cruise on Holland America leaving in mid-September for $399 -- the lowest price she's ever seen there. Another thing she recommends is transatlantic cruises. Several ships will migrate from Europe to the U.S. East Coast and Caribbean during October and November, charging very little for the voyage.
Be it airlines, hotels or cruise ships, the eight weeks after Labor Day are undeniably some of the best to stretch your dollar.
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