By Jason Notte
July is almost over, but the best summer vacation deals are still out there if you’re willing to look.
The folks at travel site Hopper note that with few exceptions, the last two weeks in August are a great window for summer travel. Even with domestic airfare prices down 10% this summer, those waning summer weeks can knock $80 to $100 off the price of a flight to New York, San Francisco, Orlando or Miami. Leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and you can knock another $40 off the ticket price.
Rick Seaney, founder and chief executive of travel site FareCompare, notes that airfare in late August can drop 10% to 22% from the peak summer travel dates. Why? Because much of the nation just spent its entire summer traveling and is worn out. Many of those who do have the energy left to take another trip will have to expend it taking their kids back to college or shopping for school clothes and supplies. That means you could wait out the travel industry and take advantage of the off-peak pricing of post-Labor Day September through early November, even if the weather is humid and hot.
With help from the folks at Hopper and TripAdvisor, we were able to narrow down the list of late-summer destinations to the following 10. They’re inexpensive, but we’d still advise booking sooner rather than later:
10. Orlando, Fla.
Even the purported vacation capital of the world has an off-season. In Orlando, the Disney, Universal and Sea World folks are forced to go into discount mode with August high temperatures around 92 degrees and August rainfall that averages more than seven inches.
Oh, and it’s still Florida in the middle of hurricane season, which means you’re rolling the dice and really hoping that storms veer off into the Gulf or make landfall on top of some poor suckers to the north. Still, TripAdvisor puts the average cost of a three-day trip for two at around $1,500, which is a steal compared with the $2,100 folks pay to visit Seattle during those same two weeks. However, with just a $43 average discount from peak airfare prices, we don’t blame folks for avoiding the storms and seeing orcas in their natural habitat.
9. Washington, D.C.
The Mid-Atlantic region in late August is a fetid swamp of wearable weather that tests the patience of tourists and the moisture tolerance of their less-than-breathable fabrics.
Your average high temperature falls around 86 but can flirt with 100. It’s the accompanying 69% relative humidity that sends tourists darting into the nearest Smithsonian museum for relief, though. For your trouble, however, the $1,490 that TripAdvisor says the average couple would spend touring the monuments and sweltering on the National Mall is still $500 less than those facing similar conditions while walking Boston’s Freedom Trail.
Just up the Northeast Corridor from the nation’s capital is yet another cradle of our nation’s history that gets shoved into a sauna in late August.
Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Constitution Center, the Franklin Institute, the Museum of Art, Reading Terminal Market – all are great spots for travelers looking for a little taste of Philly’s history and flavor. All, however, are indoors. When it’s an average of 85 degrees outside and the humidity is a 71% coating of permasweat, even watching bins full of pennies on the floor of the Philadelphia Mint can seem riveting when there’s air conditioning involved. At less than $1,450, a couple’s three-night stay here is about $500 less than it would be in New York, just a few hours up the road. However, while you can take an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building without breaking a sweat, we wouldn’t recommend running like Rocky up the Museum of Art’s steps in Philly at this time of year unless one of your favorite summer activities is heatstroke.
7. Las Vegas
Post-recession Las Vegas is a bargain for much of the year. However, despite the city’s vast air-conditioned spaces and ubiquitous pool parties, travelers still need some incentive to drop themselves in the middle of a desert in August.
The average (average!) high in Vegas in late August is 102 degrees. Even with just 25% humidity, that’s a lot to bear. Still, TripAdvisor ranked Las Vegas this year’s No. 1 summer destination largely because airlines and hotels make it so inexpensive during the hot season. The average summer trip to Vegas – including a seven-night hotel stay, round-trip airfare and three restaurant meals a day – comes to $2,000 per person. That’s $100 less than a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and roughly $1,200 less than a similar trip to New York. Meanwhile, the average hotel price of $156 per night is the lowest on our list, while the average airfare during the final weeks of August is about $55 less than you’d pay in June. You’ll be gambling on the weather, but the bargain price of this trip is a sure thing.
Just about anywhere near the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season is going to be uncomfortable at best and dicey at worst. Houston is no exception.
Houston’s climate is described as “humid subtropical,” which the average 94 degree temperatures and 75% humidity will make abundantly clear in August. Fortunately, Space Center Houston and its moon rocks, the Downtown Aquarium, and the Museum of Natural Science are all indoors. However, if you want to get out to the zoo, Waterwall Park, Sam Houston Park, Chinatown or myriad other attractions, you’ll have to brave the elements. At little more than $1,320 for a three-day trip for two, however, Houston’s about $500 less than a trip to hot and somewhat less humid Los Angeles.
You’re going to a place nicknamed “Hotlanta” in August: There’s a reason you’re getting a discount.
Inland Georgia can be rough around this time of year. The average temperature is 88 degrees and the average humidity is above 70%. It makes an air-conditioned Coca-Cola museum seem like a work of marketing genius, with the neighboring Georgia Aquarium and fountain-laden Centennial Olympic Park built as a giant cooling center. But how do you get to the city’s otherwise disparate attractions? At an average of $17.70, Atlanta’s taxis offer the cheapest rides on our list.
If you step off the plane and head right to the Mall of America, you’re doing this wrong.
The average temperature here in August is 80 degrees, and, yes, the humidity sits around 67%. However, with 12 lakes in the city itself – including the Chain of Lakes in the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway – there are plenty of outdoor options for cooling off. There are falls and rivers, but Minneapolis is also a city with a thriving bike culture. It’s the town that invented the Rollerblade. It’s a place where folks are largely outdoors this time of year because they know what’s coming: The snow can start falling as early as October and not let up until about April. During November “daylight” hours, the sun only appears about 39% of the time.
A three-day stay here averages less than $1,300, which is about $350 less than a trip to Chicago. If you’re thinking about hitting this city during a season that doesn’t require boots and a parka, now is the time.
We’re not going to say there aren’t a whole lot of downsides to staying in Miami around this time of year. The average high temperature is in the 90s, the average humidity is greater than 75% and the average nine-inch rainfall for the month makes it likely that your trip will be marked with more than a few passing showers.
That said, you’re never going to get a better deal here. Hotels average less than $180 a night during this sweltering low season, while airfare is roughly $100 less than it is at its summer peak in late June. But if you’re looking for beaches, clubs, music, and the occasional Cuban sandwich, you’re never going to get a better bargain on all of it than you will when you pay for much of it in sweat.
2. New Orleans
A decade after Hurricane Katrina made landfall here on Aug. 29, 2005, there are still a whole lot of folks understandably nervous about being in town during hurricane season.
However, New Orleans still depends on tourism as a large portion of its economy, and it is willing to ease the burden on travelers willing to take the risk. The average $1,250 three-day stay here may not be the absolute cheapest available, but it’s close. The average $59 dinner for two is the least expensive on this list. The average $64-a-day cost of wandering the French Quarter, seeing a show at Preservation Hall, visiting the Audubon Zoo or strolling the St. Louis Cemetery is third only to Minneapolis’s attractions $52 and those of the next city on this list.
Dallas? Yep, Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys’ first preseason game at AT&T Stadium is August 29, which may be a tourist’s best bet at snagging a ticket there at a reasonable price — considering the only other home preseason game is against in-state rival Houston. Granted, it isn’t exactly stacked with tourist attractions beyond the Cowboys: The parks and museums are lovely, the barbecue and Deep Ellum beers are fantastic, there’s an aquarium and Reunion Tower certainly is… noticeable.
However, Dallas seems aware that it isn’t exactly a tourist mecca and adjusts accordingly. The average daily price of taking in the various attractions is less than $40. The average taxi ride is less than $19. The average hotel room is less than $220. Not only is the average price of a three-day stay here less than $1,200, but it’s more than $550 less than a similar stay in similarly attraction-deprived Portland, Ore. – which has the audacity to charge an average of $346 a night for a hotel room. Dallas may not have much, but if you’re into football and barbecue but have to keep to a budget, a late summer sojourn may be in order.
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