Traveling is a great way to explore new destinations and create lifelong memories. However, the rising costs of travel have made it increasingly challenging for many people to pursue their wanderlust. In a recent survey by Intrepid Travel, it was revealed that nearly one in five Americans plans to travel less in 2024 due to financial constraints. But there is a silver lining: the concept of “shoulder season” travel is gaining popularity, allowing travelers to experience the best of both worlds – affordable trips and optimal weather conditions. In this article, we will dive deep into the phenomenon of shoulder season travel and explore the potential savings it offers.

Once considered one of travel’s best-kept secrets, shoulder season travel has now become a bustling time of the year for many destinations. Rather than traveling during peak season, which is often characterized by higher prices and larger crowds, savvy travelers are opting to book their vacations between high and low seasons. This strategic approach allows them to enjoy more affordable prices, smaller crowds, and better weather conditions.

The shift towards shoulder season travel is so prominent that it is reshaping long-established seasonal travel patterns. Zicasso’s Luxury Travel Report highlights that high seasons are lasting longer, with more travelers venturing out during what used to be considered shoulder seasons. Additionally, many places are transforming into year-round destinations, blurring the line between high and low seasons.

Thapanee Kiatphaibool, the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, emphasized this change by stating, “We have no more low season.” Similar trends are also observed in parts of the Caribbean, Mexico, and other popular tourist destinations. As a result, the traditional concept of a low season is gradually fading away, and so are the potential savings associated with it.

The increasing demand for travel, even during the off-season, has led to higher prices. James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel, acknowledges that the boundary between high and shoulder season is blurring, consequently eroding the potential for significant savings. To shed light on where deals still exist, CNBC Travel conducted an analysis of hotel rates in five popular destinations.

Rates were compared between peak and shoulder season for entry-level rooms for two travelers, taking into account most taxes. The findings reveal that price hikes during peak periods extend beyond hotels; guides, trains, and museum tickets also experience an increase in prices. While restaurant prices remain relatively stable, securing reservations at high-end establishments can be challenging, even for hotel concierges.

Despite the diminishing savings, diligent travelers can still find opportunities to save by venturing into shoulder season travel. Let’s explore some popular destinations and the potential savings they offer:

The Maldives: Paradise with a Price

The Maldives experiences warm weather year-round, with seasons based on rainfall rather than temperatures. Peak season in this tropical paradise lasts from December to April, with November and April considered shoulder months. CNBC’s analysis reveals that traveling to the Maldives right before the rainy season can result in significant savings on hotel charges alone, potentially saving travelers hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Italy: A Diverse Destination

Italy’s popularity has led to an expansion of its peak season, making it trickier to identify true shoulder months. According to Italy Explained, spring (March and April) is considered the last true shoulder season, offering potential price breaks. Rome’s River Palace Hotel bucked the trend with a lower rate in June compared to March, thanks to a 60-day advance booking promotion. However, without the discount, the nightly room rate skyrocketed to $281.

Dubai: A City of Extremes

Dubai experiences scorching summer temperatures, resulting in lower international arrivals from June to August. The city’s shoulder season, lasting from April, May, September, and October, offers a more pleasant climate for travelers. While rate variations between peak and shoulder season were minimal, summers were notably cheaper, and May had lower rates compared to April. The Queen Elizabeth 2 ship, Dubai’s “only floating hotel,” followed a seasonal pattern, with rates dropping in March, hitting rock bottom during summer, and rising again in October.

New York City: The City That Never Sleeps

New York City has two distinct peak seasons: summer (June to August) and the period between Thanksgiving and New Year. In CNBC’s analysis, it was found that shoulder season rates in New York City exceeded peak season prices, but only during the summer. Year-end rates, when visitors flock to the city for holiday festivities, were considerably higher than rates during other times of the year.

While the concept of shoulder season travel is no longer a well-kept secret, it still offers opportunities for savvy travelers to save on their next trip. By strategically planning their vacations between high and low seasons, travelers can enjoy more affordable prices, fewer crowds, and favorable weather conditions. Although the line between shoulder and high season is becoming increasingly blurred, diligent travelers can still find potential savings in various destinations around the world. So, why not start planning your next adventure during shoulder season and make the most of your travel budget?


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