Image: Grand Wailea Resort, in Wailea, Maui, Hawaii
Marco Garcia  /  AP
A view of the sun setting poolside from the Grand Wailea Resort, in Wailea, Maui, Hawaii.
updated 8/27/2007 6:23:33 PM ET 2007-08-27T22:23:33

This summer has been the most brutal high season for travelers in recent memory, but I'm still relearning the hard way that, come the end of August, it's a whole new world out there. We're currently planning a last-minute trip to Southern California, and I have to admit for someone who not so long ago wrote "Finding Hotel Rooms: No Vacancy? No Problem", I had a heckuva time finding a decent flight and an affordable place to stay during the penultimate weekend of August.

The only seats available on our preferred outbound flight were in first class, so we burned up a bunch of miles so as not to drop four figures on the flight — and I had to do some major detective work to find a place to stay, ending up as far afield as craigslist.

It became clear, however, that if we could wait a few weeks, an empty aircraft cabin as well as an affordable oceanfront cabin could be ours for a fraction of the cost. This is because fall is a great time for travelers, particularly forward-looking folks who are already thinking about autumn opportunities in the middle of August. If you can get your toes out of the sand long enough to think a few weeks and months into the future, here are five money-saving opportunities for your fall travel.

Opportunity #1: Travel when they ain't
I have written extensively about the concept of the travel "Dead Week"; these are the three or four one- to two-week stretches each year when the volume of travelers, particularly leisure travelers, goes way down — and prices reliably go with them.

Typically September's Dead Week is the first weekend after Labor Day, but this year will be a little tricky, in my estimation; with Labor Day falling on September 3, some summer stalwarts may linger into the first few days of September, and the airports and hotels might take a little longer to clear out. By the following week, business travelers with no-nonsense itineraries will be back on the road. However, if you plot your attack carefully by trying alternate airports and outlying hotels (think Carlsbad if traveling to San Diego, Paia if traveling to Maui, San Clemente if traveling to L.A. — you see the trend), you could do very well.

Opportunity #2: 'Tis the off-season
When it comes to coastal communities and the cottages, B&B's and resort hotels that serve them, September 30 is D-Day for summer and summer prices. Research almost any vacation rental or package deal, and you'll notice that come October 1, prices fall by as much as 30-40 percent or more. This is particularly true of luxury resorts and other extremely well-situated properties; beachfront is cheap once summer is over, whether officially or unofficially.

The water may not be as warm, but beaches are often even more alluring in the fall; I'll take a temperate autumn afternoon in soft light and a long-sleeve over a sunscreen-slathered summer swelter any day. Long lines at attractions and restaurants are often long gone; beaches are uncrowded; the weather invites long walks, bike rides and open windows without air conditioning; and the kids are away so the adults may play.

Opportunity #3: Cross the equator
Late fall in the Northern Hemisphere corresponds to late spring in the Southern Hemisphere. How does Ipanema in April sound to you? Melbourne in May? Rio de Janeiro in June? If you look now, you can find fares to New Zealand as low as $800 or so, and some flights to Australia are even lower. If you like to travel far afield on fewer dollars, this is the time to do it.

Opportunity #4: Theme parks and weekday package deals
Every weekend, outdoor theme parks will try to squeeze every last dollar from the fading summer months, but by September their bread and butter customers are waiting on buses and school bells, not waiting in line for thrill rides. Many families and even school trip organizers will make the best of optimal weather on autumn weekends, but weekdays can almost look like ghost towns even at some of the most popular attractions. Many offer discounts and coupons for weekday visits.

Lodging will follow the same trend; a vast majority of hotels near these types of destinations offer greatly reduced weekday rates. Check rates from Monday through Thursday night for your best chances; in some cases even Sunday nights will be discounted.

Opportunity #5: Dead Week redux
The lull that occurs after the Thanksgiving travel blitz and before the year-end holiday season starts is one of the best opportunities for travelers who don't mind the marginal weather you'll find in most popular destinations. For many fair weather travelers, beach destinations are too cold, ski destinations are too warm and many big cities are just plain dreary — but if that doesn't bother you, you'll have them all to yourself.

I have traveled to many very popular destinations during this stretch — New York, Paris, London, Seattle, Hawaii (though most of Hawaii admittedly has very few dreary days) and more, and have had some of my most memorable visits during this time. A holiday groove is already taking hold in many places (everyone has noticed that the Christmas holiday season starts before Thanksgiving these days), a perfect complement to the lack of crowds. In particular, I recommend romantic getaways during this time; when very tolerable weather combines with a nascent holiday mood, it's almost failsafe.

If Europe was too rich for your blood this summer, it may be within reach this fall. This is among the best times of the entire year to travel to Europe; hotels in the very best locations have increased availability, and it is much easier to find a good deal. Also, you are more likely to find a good airfare than you will for several weeks on either side of the December Dead Week.

That takes us to the shortest day of the year and the ensuing holiday season; it will be 2008 until you see a lot more deals unless you're traveling to Manitoba or Maine. Have a great fall!


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