With most products, the best time to buy is when the price is the cheapest. For travel, that’s not always the case: hotels and flights tend to be less expensive during undesirable times to visit, and more expensive during the times you’d really like to go.
Sure, you can get a good deal on a Phoenix hotel in July, but the average daily high temperature during that month is 106 degrees Fahrenheit. And yes, it’s a lot cheaper to visit world class skiing destinations like Vail, Colorado in October, but there probably won’t be any snow. Finding a great deal on a hotel or flight doesn’t matter much if you can’t enjoy the best of what these cities have to offer.
With travel, it’s not a matter of going when things are cheapest, it’s about getting a great price close to the ideal time to visit any given destination. This can be a tricky task—so to help you navigate, we used Hipmunk hotel and flight pricing data, as well as weather data, to identify the best time to get a deal at some of the most popular vacation spots in the U.S.
So, when should you travel? According to our data, the answer is almost peak season. Let’s take a look at what exactly that means.
For our analysis, we examined one year (2015) of Hipmunk hotel and flight pricing data for some of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States. Additionally, by poring through weather data and research about attractions in various cities, we determined the peak travel season for each destination.
In the table below, we list the best times to travel to these locations, based on value and proximity to peak season. As a metric, we use the average price of a flight plus the average price of a three-night stay at a hotel. We’ve highlighted, in blue, the best months to go.
As expected, ski meccas like Vail (Colorado), Aspen (Colorado), and Truckee (Lake Tahoe, California) are their most expensive in the winter. By visiting these destinations in March—not peak season, but a time when there is usually still a good amount of snow—you can save $500-$700 in flight and hotel expenses.
In cities like New Orleans (Louisiana), Indianapolis (Indiana), and Baltimore (Maryland), spring is the ideal time to go. But summer months aren’t overwhelmingly hot in these places (averages hover between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit), and better deals can be had during June, July, and August.
Overall, August appears to be the month with the best combination of value and seasonality. In many cities, the weather is still nice, but the high prices of summer travel have begun to taper a bit. Conversely, February is the worst time to travel: prices aren’t that much lower than average, and the weather isn’t ideal.
While weather dramatically affects prices in some cities, it is a bit of a non-factor in others.
Seattle (Washington) and Portland (Oregon), for instance, are paradises in the summer, and prices are higher. By visiting in late spring or early fall, you can save a couple hundred bucks and still avoid the worst of the northwestern rain season. In cities like Phoenix (Arizona), Houston (Texas), and Austin (Texas), where summer temperatures soar into the triple digits, prices in July and August are cheaper—but it’s better to visit when temperatures are lower, even if the rates are tad bit higher.
On the other hand, places that have pretty consistently amazing weather throughout the year, like Honolulu (Hawaii), are also consistently pricey: a three-day vacation stay there rarely dips below $1,200.
So far, we’ve only looked at combined prices (that is, the average total of a flight and three nights at a hotel). There is a wide variance, however, in how these costs break down by city: some are more expensive to fly to, and for others, the bulk of the cost is in the cost of accommodations.
Let’s start by taking a look at nightly hotel rates by city:
In many places, money can be saved on nightly hotel rates simply by going one month earlier or later. In Lahaina (Hawaii), the average rate in June is $361 per night, as opposed to $299 per night in July. Similarly, a stay in Napa (California) is $40 less expensive per night in June than in July. By more closely analyzing month-by-month hotel rates, you can save money and still travel to a destination during a favorable season.
The priciest hotels on this entire list are those in Vail and Aspen during peak ski season. By going to these places in March, as we previously mentioned, you can save more than $150 per night on hotels alone.
Next, let’s dive into the month-by-month flight data:
In many cities on this list, January is a good time to fly. In the airline industry, the post-New Year’s period (the first few weeks of January) is affectionately known as a “Dead Zone.” Generally, during this time, there are fewer tourists and domestic travel lulls as people settle back into work after the holidays.
A few exceptional deals stick out to us here in other months though — chiefly, Lahaina in November ($121, compared to an average of $300 in other months), and Los Angeles (California) in August ($315 versus a $360 average in other months). Interestingly, Anchorage (Alaska) is also more than $200 cheaper in July than in the winter months.
So, whether you’re planning a summer getaway or a trip to a winter wonderland, we hope these indexes help you save money while still allowing you to experience the best of what your destination has to offer. Plus, now you can email Hello@Hipmunk.com and let our AI travel
assistant Hipmunk do your flight and hotel searching for you.
*Methodology: Hipmunk analyzed its average 2015 domestic flight, hotel, as well as weather data to determine the best month(s) to visit popular U.S. destinations.
Kelly frequently provides data-driven insights on airfare and accommodation trends, and her analyses are frequently featured in outlets such as New York Times, LA Times, USA Today, TIME, and more.
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