Wait for it.
If you're looking for a price break on airfares or hotel rates, you've probably heard that advice. The fall season is a terrific opportunity to find a travel deal.
But will that advice work this fall?
"The further ahead you look, the greater the uncertainty," says John Niser, director of the International School of Hospitality and Tourism at Fairleigh Dickinson University. "That's more true than ever this fall."
He says now, during early fall, bargain hunters are looking for fall travel deals, but are hesitant to book. That's keeping travelers from planning too far ahead – and creating new discount opportunities.
So, what to do? It turns out many of this year's travel bargains are in the same geographic location, more or less. You can find lower prices using a combination of smart timing and tried-and-true strategies, according to experts.
But this year, there are a few new pitfalls you'll have to sidestep.
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Where are the deals?
The cheapest places for fall travel aren't necessarily the usual suspects. Sure, there's perennial deal magnet Orlando in first place among domestic destinations, with an average round-trip airfare of just $196. Tampa and Jacksonville, Florida, make the list, too. But there's also Minneapolis, Detroit and Houston. That's according to analysis by travel booking app Hopper (see chart below for the complete list).
Priceline's data shows similar trends for the fall. The least expensive places to fly include Fort Lauderdale, Florida; New York; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Miami.
Florida dominates the list of cheap destinations, with three of the top five cities. For hotels, you can find fall bargains in Kissimmee, Florida (near Orlando), as well as Myrtle Beach; Salt Lake City; and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Bottom line: Aim for Florida this fall, and you can't miss.
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How to find the deals
The deals aren't hiding, but you may need to adjust your strategies to the reality of a wobbly pandemic recovery.
If you're looking for car-rental savings, you'll find the lowest prices on the "opaque" sites like Priceline and Hotwire. The sites often don't tell you the name of the car rental company until you've booked a nonrefundable reservation, but you can save lots of money.
“We've seen heavily-discounted rates for major car rental companies on those sites," says Michael Meyer, president of Rate Highway, a pricing systems provider to car rental companies.
Don't forget the tried-and-true methods for finding a deal. Hospitality consultant Jeff David, who runs the Fitler Club in Philadelphia, says you should book your hotel at least one month in advance while the market is still rebounding. And consider signing up for member-only discounts through a program like AAA Hot Deals.
"Usually, it's the deepest discount out there," he says.
Also, be a contrarian by booking hotels most leisure travelers wouldn't consider. For example, if you're thinking of visiting Boston this autumn, consider the Holiday Inn Express Boston-Waltham. Midweek room rates are about 40% lower than they were back in 2019 because it's primarily a business-travel hotel.
"We're waiting for business travel to come back," says the hotel's managing partner, Keith Gilbert. "Fall is a great time to visit New England."
Don't overlook hotels with higher-end amenities. For instance, you wouldn't think of the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C., as a budget hotel. But it's offering between 5% and 20% off Kimpton’s best flexible rate this fall when you book at least seven days in advance. (If you're an IHG Rewards member, you can save more.) You can cancel or modify your reservation more than seven days before you arrive with no penalty. Even the Fitler Club is offering discounted rooms this fall that include full club benefits.
Avoid these mistakes when you're looking for a fall travel deal
Don't wait too long to book, experts say.
That's especially true for vacation rentals. November and December reservation volume in the U.S. is 157% higher than the same period in 2020 and already 80% higher than in 2019, according to the vacation rental platform Guesty.
"If you’re planning on booking a vacation rental on Airbnb or other platforms, book now or risk having significantly less inventory to choose from at higher prices," says Guesty spokeswoman Lauren Gumport.
Where you go is also important, too. As always, careful research will help you find the best deals.
The reason? Luxury agents don't usually cater to the bargain crowd.
"Digging to find deals can take a bit of time, but it’s worth it once you get a great deal that also gives you fun and exciting perks," he adds.
At the same time, you don't want to book too far ahead. With COVID-19 still an issue, you can't predict what will happen as fall turns to winter.
But one thing we do know: The traditional holiday travel season will bring higher prices – and even more uncertainty. How high and how much uncertainty? We don't know that yet.
How do you get the best deal?
Essential tips for your fall trip:
Book your flights for midweek. The cheapest days to fly this fall are midweek, departing on a Tuesday or Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday or Wednesday, according to Hopper economist Adit Damodaran. "The day you return matters a bit more, with midweek departures saving you around $20 round-trip and midweek returns saving you around $30 round-trip, on average," he says.
Buy everything together. Consider bundling your hotel, flights, and car rentals in one transaction, says Ben Harrell, chief marketing officer at Priceline. "A common mistake travelers make is booking these trip components separately," he adds. "Those who need both flights and accommodations can often find better deals, potentially saving hundreds of dollars, by booking them together."
Consider "cancel for any reason" travel insurance. Time and again, experts say that travel insurance could save you money if you run into trouble. If you have to cancel because of a quarantine or closure, you could lose part or all of your trip. Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of the travel insurance marketplace VisitorsCoverage.com, says he's seen a rise in the purchase of "cancel for any reason" policies. "It lets you cancel your travel plans for any reason and still recoup some prepaid expenses," he says.
The cheapest airfare and hotel rates
Nightly hotel rate
Total trip cost for 1 round-trip ticket and 1 night at hotel
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Greensboro, North Carolina
Newark, New Jersey
Most affordable destinations for fall
For travel up to Oct. 31:
Based on Avg. Round-Trip Ticket Prices:
Fort Lauderdale ($183)
New York LGA ($216)
Myrtle Beach ($220)
Based on Hotel Avg. Daily Rates:
Myrtle Beach ($130)
Salt Lake City ($138)
Pigeon Forge ($141)
Niagara Falls ($144)
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fall travel: Where to find the best deals