Spring: It's that magical time of year when the cost of travel to key destinations stays affordable, while warmer, temperate weather breezes in.
There may not be a better time to visit certain places, whether you're eyeing excursions to vibrant European cities, charming U.S. towns, or sun-soaked islands. Ready to give winter an icy kiss goodbye? Bring in the warm weather with a budget-friendly shoulder-season trip to one of the following five destinations.
We love colorful, medieval Tallinn—the capital city of Estonia, one of Europe's tiniest countries. And we particularly adore Tallinn during spring, when pleasant weather arrives and a packed calendar of events, from the Tallinn Flower Festival to Tallinn Music Week to Tallinn Day, makes a springtime visit all the more special.
Tallinn is a relatively affordable European destination year-round (accommodations average about $94 per night, according to Hotels.com's Hotel Price Index). However, flights to Tallinn are often expensive, especially during high season. The good news is that you can find lower fares during the spring. Compare round-trip flights to Tallinn from New York's JFK Airport: According to a search on Kayak, prices start at $734 in April, while August flights start at $849.
Another cost-effective way to get to Tallinn and the surrounding region is by sea. The coastal city is a popular stop on many Baltic and Scandinavian sailings, for which travelers can find pocketbook-friendly prices during the spring season. A 12-night cruise on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, which calls in Tallinn, starts at $1,249 per person for sailings in May. Comparatively, prices jump to $1,649 in July and $1,899 in August—an increase of 52 percent.
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One of the most cost-effective ways to see large swaths of the European continent is by train. And this year, country-hopping Europhiles can finally factor Istanbul onto their rail itineraries. T.C.D.D., the Turkish railway, has joined Eurail, thus setting the stage for the inclusion of Istanbul (as well as other Turkish cities and towns) on the ever-popular, budget-friendly Eurail Global Passes and Select Passes.
Although Eurail passes cost the same no matter what time of year you use them, hotel accommodations and airfare surely do not. Room rates in Istanbul tend to go up in June, so plan your trip in April or early May to find the best deals. A deluxe double room at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, for example, starts at €530 in mid-April. In June, the cost jumps to €560.
Likewise, airfare for travel from the U.S. to Istanbul usually bumps up in summer after a period of affordability during spring. A quick search on Bing Travel unearthed flights from New York to Istanbul for as low as $657 round trip in April on Turkish Airlines, compared with a low price of $958 round trip for travel in late June on Aeroflot.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Brazil's biggest metropolis is on our radar this spring for several reasons. First, US Airways is launching new Sao Paulo service from the carrier's biggest U.S. hub, Charlotte, this spring, making it easier for U.S. travelers to get to Sao Paulo. Additionally, the city's improving its infrastructure by leaps and bounds and setting up free public Wi-Fi, which should be in place by mid-2013.
The 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics taking place in Brazil (the latter in Rio de Janeiro) will no doubt attract hoards to the country. So when should you go? This spring, before the spectating crowds tumble in. Plus, you'll find refreshing shoulder-season prices for airfare to Sao Paulo in coming months. According to a test search for airfare out of Charlotte on Kayak, round-trip flights to Sao Paulo throughout much of the year (in fall, summer, and winter) generally cost around $1,300 and up. But we spotted flights in May starting at $953.
Travelers seeking Gilded Age glamor (Downton Abbey fans take note) should consider a trip to the Ocean State, where grand mansions sit beside the sea and opulent hotels evoke a bygone era. While a stroll past the mansions on Newport's storied Cliff Walk is free, accommodations in some of Rhode Island's best historical hotels will typically cost a tiny fortune during the summer high season. But budget-minded travelers who want to live a baron's life for a night or two will find relatively more affordable accommodations during spring.
Stay at the Vanderbilt Grace, a Newport mansion built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt at the turn of the century, for $350 per night in April; compare this with starting summer rates, which jump to $520 per night in June, July, and August. You'll save hundreds by planning a luxurious spring stay. We think pennywise Vanderbilt patriarch Cornelius would approve.
Also, summer rates at the famous Ocean House, about an hour's drive from Newport, start at about $800 for a standard queen room. In mid-April, however, a traveler can snag a weekday stay in the same room type starting at $425 a night—a pretty penny, yes, but it's almost half the cost of the summer rate for the same luxurious digs. The historical Ocean House, which recently underwent a $140 million renovation, overlooks a private beach and is Rhode Island's only AAA Five-Diamond hotel.
Bermuda's high season starts in spring—generally in April, when the weather is right for beach-bumming. But if you go early enough, you can cash in on some fine spring deals, including cheaper accommodations, especially through late March and the beginning of April.
The Bermuda Department of Tourism regularly runs some pretty enticing deals during the low and shoulder seasons, like this free-night offer, which is valid through the end of March. Complete a stay of three to five nights at select hotels and get an additional night on the house.
We're also seeing lower room prices at properties like the Rosedon Hotel, where March rates begin at $312 but jump to $374 in May, and the Pompano Beach Club, with starting room rates at $370 in April versus $480 in June. The earlier you book your spring stay, the more likely it is you'll save some dough, so keep your dates flexible if you can.