Look online — there are travel deals everywhere.
CheapTickets.com is offering a $100 discount on packages to several beach destinations like Puerto Rico, Hawaii and California. Orbitz.com is offering 40 percent off international flights to the Caribbean, Italy and Spain. At Expedia.com, there are 50 percent discounts on hotels across the country.
It must be autumn. This time of year is when travel providers are looking to compensate for the decline in travel that inevitably follows summer's peak. The Travel Industry Association says that 38 percent of trips are taken during the summer; the number drops sharply to 23 percent in fall. The discounts are also used as a way of spurring tourism in destinations where the crowds dissipate after the high season.
Consumers who shop for travel specifically during the off-season can reap the benefits, says Lorraine Sanders, an expert and blogger for the travel Web site Kayak.com.
"When you look at all the possible resources," she says, "you'll find savings you didn't realize were there."
Sanders recommends that consumers stay abreast of the latest sales by subscribing to weekly newsletters distributed by travel providers, which often list last-minute discounts. Another strategy is to request fare alerts via e-email from an airline that services certain destinations.
The best bets
Useful as these techniques many be, however, they won't help much for travel to destinations where prices remain high throughout the fall, like New York and Chicago. For the biggest savings, consumers should look to beach spots in the U.S. and the Caribbean, where cooler temperatures mean fewer crowds.
Hotel rates in these regions are expected to drop as much as 40 percent, according to a recent forecast by CheapTickets.com. In Miami, hotel rates will likely shrink by 33 percent to an average daily rate of $110. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau also maintains a list of hotel and resort deals, which includes complimentary nights and food and gas credits.
On Mexico's Riviera Maya, where tourists can lounge on sandy beaches and visit archaeological ruins at an ancient Mayan city nearby, a hotel room will cost an average of $219, a savings of 23 percent over peak-season prices.
"You can get unbelievable bargains in these destinations," says Heather Leisman, senior director of merchandising for CheapTickets.
The only caveat of visiting destinations on the Gulf Coast or Caribbean this time of year is that they can easily be interrupted by a hurricane. If that risk outweighs the benefit, less-expensive getaways in Europe are a great alternative.
Think outside the continent
The Azores Islands, a Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, offer hurricane-wary travelers the chance to enjoy a warm-weather island vacation after summer passes. Paying European prices to golf and sail may not seem like a bargain, but getting to the Azores can be. Regional air carrier Azores Express is offering a fall package that includes round-trip airfare from Boston and six nights of lodging at one of six country inns, starting at $979 per person.
Iceland also isn't a conventional pick for a fall vacation, but it offers an affordable, off-the-beaten-path experience in Europe. With the krona dropping in value against the euro and discounted airfares from Iceland Air going for as little as $478 from New York, it's an ideal destination for those who enjoy hiking, kayaking and sport fishing.
If Europe seems a bit too far and the planning too involved, Kathy Krawiec, assistant director of AAA New York, suggests that travelers look into cruises. Not only do cruises offer predictability in pricing, purchasing an all-inclusive package and departing from a nearby port — instead of flying to one — can save consumers hundreds of dollars on top of the seasonal discounts.
The other advantage of cruises is there's no shortage of options. For a multi-day tour of Canada and New England departing from New York City, Norwegian has cut prices to $249 per person. If warm and sunny is more appealing than cool Northeast weather, Carnival is offering three-day trips from Florida to the Bahamas starting at $199 per person.
With so many options, it might be hard to choose. But Lorraine Sanders of Kayak warns against hesitating. "If you're not on top of things," she says, "those fares will be gone quickly."