Photo: Courtesy Of Los Cabos Tourism/Ben Horton Photography
TravelSkills on SFGate is brought to you by Visa
Let’s take a walk through the 2019 calendar and I’ll show you when and where to find cheap travel deals—and when you should sit back and let everyone else pay those painfully high prices.
When everyone goes home after New Year’s, travel demand plummets and we fall into the so-called “dead weeks” — the slowest (and cheapest) time of year for bargain hunters.
Now through early March is a fine time to find excellent last-minute deals. Or if you were smart enough to book trips back in the fall when airlines posted big winter fare sales- with some doozies like sub $300 roundtrip fares to Hawaii, or Asia roundtrips for less than $500.
We’ve written a lot about Hawaii lately, which has seen a flood of great airfares as airlines jockey for market dominance in the face of the imminent arrival of Southwest Airlines, which is now expected to start flights later this winter or spring. As usual, to snag the cheapest fares to the islands, you must fly mid-week in both directions. (Here’s how to fly in first class to Hawaii for less than $1,000)
Sunseekers should also keep an eye on flights from the Bay Area to Mexico beaches like Puerto Vallarta and Cabo, which have been cheap for the last few months– in the $299 round trip range. They could go even lower as Mexico begins to feel competitive pressure from all the cheap fares to Hawaii.
Flights from California to Florida have been remarkably cheap lately, too, with the cheapest fares to Orlando and Ft Lauderdale as low as $200 roundtrip. And don’t forget about Tahiti– with both United and French Bee now serving Papeete from SFO, fares have tumbled.
Keep an eye out for bargains by signing up for our free bi-weekly travel news emails and also set up fare alerts on sites like Google Flights, SkyScanner and Kayak.
Exceptions to cheap travel prices during the winter would be long weekends like Martin Luther King (Jan 18-22) Valentines/Presidents Day (Feb 14-19)– both weekends are crowded and expensive at ski resorts as well as beaches. Since Valentines is on a Thursday this year, travel demand will be somewhat spread out, with most lovers opting for the long Presidents day weekend afterward (which means you’ll get a better deal if you book the weekend before.)
If you are between jobs, retired, or with no kids in school and have the flexibility to travel from January through early March, you’ll see jaw dropping low prices….and also lots of good last minute deals on sites like Hotwire.com or or apps like Hotel Tonight.
One great example of this: Due to low demand, January 4-14 is “New York Hotel Week” with rates as low as $100 for rooms that normally go for two or three times that much. More details here. There are plenty of other hotel deals to be had beyond this promotion, so shop around. Need some NYC inspiration or suggestions? Read my latest Trip Report and slideshow about a whirlwind trip last month.
This is spring break and you need to be on alert for high prices and surprise crowds at airports, especially if you live in or near a college town or if you are headed to a warm weather destination like Florida, Mexico or the Caribbean. Find out when the university nearest you has spring break and stay home that weekend– or at least get to the airport early! (Here’s a helpful guide to spring break dates around the country.)
Late March is usually the busiest time of year for collegiate Spring break, and April is more popular with families traveling around Easter, which falls very late this year, on Sunday, April 21. This is good news for bargain hunters because the spring break season will be nice and spread out. When Easter falls earlier in April or in March, families and the collegiate crowd tend to butt heads and force prices up due to a shorter, high-demand spring break season.
Listen up! KCBS interview Chris about this post- you can listen in here:
The downside of a late Easter is that there will be a much shorter “shoulder season” when demand dips along with prices. Shoulder season this year will run a short 6-7 weeks from late April until mid-June when peak summer pricing and crowds kick in.
Shoulder season is not as cheap as the dead weeks, but it’s not anywhere near the painful peak of what you’ll pay from mid-June until mid-August. Springtime is probably the very best time of year to travel to Europe because the weather is getting warmer and summer crowds have not arrived.
With low fare carriers like Norwegian Air, and new entrants like TAP Air Portugal and Air Italy forcing all airlines to lower fares, spring is a nice, cheap time to visit Europe. Flowers are blooming and locals are in a much better mood! Read our posts about TAP Air Portugal here and Air Italy here.
The bad news for Bay Area travelers interested in cheap Europe flights is that WOW Air recently announced it will no longer serve California. We’ll have to wait and see how that affects fares.
Photo: Frank Augstein, Associated Press
Who knows where the British Pound exchange rate might be by this summer due to Brexit uncertainty.
Who knows where the British Pound exchange rate might be by this…
The “peak of the peak” summer season does not start until mid-June, so you’ll find significantly lower prices in early June compared to later in the month. (Just beware of price spikes around Memorial Day weekend, May 24-28.) Prices begin to soar in mid-June, especially on and around July the 4th and stay high until mid- to late August. Fridays and Saturdays in late July and early August are typically the busiest days of the year at major hub airports– even busier than Thanksgiving!
The good news for Europe-bound travelers this year is that the US dollar is standing up well to the euro (now around $1.14). In the UK, the pound is running at about $1.24 now, but with Brexit uncertainty, who knows where the rate might be by this summer.
Note that with kids going back to school so much earlier these days, you’ll start to see airfare deals pop in mid to late August. They’ll soar again for Labor Day weekend (Aug 30-Sept 3), and then tumble after that.
What’s best about shoulder season is that there are TWO of them! The second one starts in September and lasts all the way to Thanksgiving.
Fall is a slow (and very cheap) time for cruising because kids are back in school and people are fearful of hurricanes. But the reality is that modern cruise ships are fast enough to navigate around storms, so it’s not much of a problem. (Did you hear that Carnival is going to base a ship at the Port of San Francisco in 2020? Read all about that here.
Leisure travelers should keep in mind that fall is convention season in many major US cities, so mid-week rates at big city hotels can soar to freakish levels, and then crash on weekends when conventioneers leave town. (This is especially true in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Seattle.)
As we all know, travel prices start to rise again during the week before Thanksgiving, but travel patterns have been changing lately. Traditionally, the one of the busiest days of Thanksgiving holiday is the Wednesday before. But in recent years the FRIDAY before Thanksgiving was busier at most major airports—this means that more people are taking the whole week off.
A late Thanksgiving (Thursday, Nov 28 this year) means that the dead weeks will begin later than usual, leading to a shorter window for December “dead week” deals. But it also means a longer, cheaper early November, one of the cheapest times of year to travel…especially if you are interested in cruise.
And with Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Wednesday this year, we will have a nice spread out holiday season (much like this year’s) running from about Dec 19 through January 6, 2020. What’s best about a spread out season is that there are fewer “peak” days for crowds and high prices.
What’s the best day you snagged this year? Where do you plan to go in 2019? Please leave your travel plans in the comments.
Read all recent TravelSkills posts here
Get twice-per-week updates from TravelSkills via email! Sign up here
Chris McGinnis is the founder of TravelSkills.com. The author is solely responsible for the content above, and it is used here by permission. You can reach Chris at email@example.com or on Twitter @cjmcginnis.