With all the hype about promo-codes and last minute online deals out there, it can be hard to know exactly when to take that much needed vacation. Just a brief trek online will overwhelm even the most seasoned web person. So, if you don’t have a travel agent, and you’re unable to spend hours and days on the computer to find that super, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime deal, here’s a bit of basic information that will at least help set your vacation schedule with your boss.
All travel research sites have their limitations, and most are swayed by the various destinations they are “analyzing,” but there are a few whose searches and data are a bit broader. The newest is Bing Travel, which is excellent for domestic travel, but unfortunately it is gravely limited determining the best time to travel abroad in advance. The best site for broadly comparing and analyzing travel choices is still Sidestep, which now includes Kayak.
The Experiment: What could an average American find online? Through Sidestep, three European destinations were compared: London, Paris and Rome, from three American cities: New York, Houston and Los Angeles. Peak season was determined to be the month of August, and low season was set from November to March. Flights and hotels were assessed. Twenty-five airlines were evaluated along with Airfare.com, Expedia.com, Priceline.com, Travelocity.com and Vayama.com. From time to time, a rare deal presented itself, but this was only timing and luck, so these results were not included in the outcomes.
Peak Season Although Bloomberg stated early this year that airlines were only going to increase their rates by 13% during peak season, our experiment showed that airfare could be anywhere from 15-60% higher in peak season, clear above Bloomberg predictions. The biggest percentage increases in peak season were tickets leaving from Houston to Paris and London.
The most expensive tickets to Europe in high season were all out of Los Angeles, considering the distance traveled, and fuel costs, this is only logical. The cheapest flights in peak season were out of New York City to London and Paris.
Smaller, independent hotel prices in London rises around 85% in peak season compared to 90% in Rome and 40%. In the higher priced hotels, prices could be three to five times greater, particularly in London and Rome. (Note: only three-star and four-star hotels were considered.)
Low Season During low season, flights were significantly lower. The highest prices for flights were out of Los Angeles, again due to fuel and distance, and cheapest out of NYC. Airfare from Los Angeles to all three cities ranged from $795 to $1216; out of Houston, $$628 to $973; out of New York, $584 to $867.
Hotel stay was also significantly lower. Remarkably the greatest range in hotel prices was in Paris. Prices in all three cities ranged from $37 to $1023 a night, although most were topping out at about $500 a night. London had the least expensive hotel stays compared to Paris and Rome.
No Matter the Season Whether you are booking travel in low or high season, there are a few final thoughts to consider in order to save money. Booking rooms in independent hotels, over hotels within a chain were much cheaper across the board, and can be found just as easily online. Higher priced chains varied per city. In Rome, hotels within the Preferred Hotel Group were the most expensive. In London, Hyatt Hotels were significantly elevated, and in Paris, the Starwood and Sol Melia Hotels topped in prices.
Best Travel Deal Found The cheapest flight and hotel combinations were found in the month of March in Paris using SideStep.
Traveling during the off season does not mean that you will always find the same touristic amenities you would find in high season, but if you are willing to be a traveler and not a tourist, blending into a local community and allowing yourself to truly getaway and be lost in another place in another country, the off season in Europe is truly worth a thought. And, if your boss wants you to choose your vacation time way in advance, tell him or her: March. Whether you are in London, Paris or Rome, you are sure to find a cozy spot for a pint, a cognac or a caffé.