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Hawaii has a bad rap as a perennially expensive vacation destination. But the recession has made many a hotelier lower its room rates and has seen airfares drop by one-third or more since last year. Sweeten the deal by traveling between September, early December, the traditional low season.
updated 2/24/2010 9:44:31 AM ET 2010-02-24T14:44:31

If you want to visit Hawaii, Aspen, New York, Paris or Napa, you can bring a large billfold. Or you can time your visit to the periods during the year when these places are at their most affordable.

International travel was estimated last month to have declined by 4 percent in 2009 to 880 million travelers, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. This year the UNWTO predicts industry growth of between 3 and 4 percent.

The best time to travel varies from destination to destination. That can mean shoulder season or off season, or finding that window in high season when rates take a dip, if only for a couple of weeks. And it's worth the effort, because the savings can range from 20 to 50 percent off high-season prices. They may not be truly "cheap" at that point, but they often become affordable.

Take London. Though visitors will likely feel sticker shock regardless of how low the pound falls, both airfares and hotel rates fall between Oct. 15 and March 31, with the exception being the Christmas-through-New Year's holiday period.

The caveats here: weather and daylight. Wet, rainy and cold weather is to be expected, and the lack of daylight might turn off some travelers. In mid-winter the sun sets in London at 3:45 p.m. But if you accept that museums, the theater and restaurants are where you'll spend the lion's share of your waking hours, you probably won't mind it so much.

Then there's Hawaii. How do you deal with a place where room rates seem uniformly high throughout the year? You go now, while recession continues to leave thousands of empty hotel rooms throughout the state. If you're willing, postpone travel between September and early December, which has long been the low season for the Aloha State.

May represents the sweet spot for Caribbean travel. By then prices could have dropped as much as 50 percent from winter highs, the weather is still terrific and the spring break crowds are gone. The weather gets warmer in June, but it can still be a terrific time to go. While July and August are quite hot, they might still be preferable to the weather in the U.S. at the same time. September through November are the quietest time in the islands.

Of course there is one caution to heed in the Caribbean, and that's hurricane season, which extends from June through November. You should have travel insurance and stay at a hotel that has a hurricane policy (with refunds clearly spelled out). It's worth noting that hurricanes rarely if ever strike the southernmost islands in the Caribbean, such as Aruba, Barbados and Trinidad.

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Though hotels are offering discounts and incentives in a bid to lure tourists, London is still a city capable of delivering deep wallet shock. The solution is to travel when the daylight wanes. November through March is when hotels offer their rooms at the lowest rates. It's also when Virgin Atlantic and British Airways trot out their lowest fares.
Then there's New York. While the recession has cut the average hotel rate in the Big Apple, you still need all the help you can get. January through March is the best time to get a deal in New York, but dress warmly — those winds off the Hudson help keep temperatures in the city around the freezing mark.

Want to go skiing in a tony Western resort like Aspen, Colo., without dipping into your kids' college funds? Then go in early December. Rates at such luxury hotels as the Limelight Lodge were $219 a night for a mid-December stay in a basic room. In February that same room had jumped to $439 per night. Other dates worth looking at are the entire month of January, except Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, and dates after mid-March, when many U.S. schools are on break.

Balmy breezes and empty beaches make Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket best during May and June. Before the private jet set — and the likes of President Obama — arrive for a little R&R on these storied and pricey islands every summer and fall, most hotels offer weekend deals to entice mainlanders all of stripes. You'll especially see a lot of midweek deals. You can stroll these island beaches during May and June, but swimming is only for those with iron constitutions — the waters don't really begin to warm up until July.

Of course some places are not governed by season — in Moscow and Tokyo, for instance, rates are pretty much stuck in the stratosphere. But if you pay close attention to the calendar, you'll see that most places will give you a break.

© 2012 Forbes.com


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