If you think travel will return to normal this fall, think again. The craziness you saw this summer – high prices, overbooked hotels and long lines – could be here for a while.
“There’s still pent-up demand for travel,” says Jessica O’Riley, a spokeswoman for Travel Iowa. Bookings in her state remain strong during the traditional shoulder season, with camping and cultural events high on her visitors’ lists.
How pent-up is the demand? New research suggests people are as enthusiastic as ever about travel, despite inflation, a weak economy and a lingering pandemic.
A recent survey on Americans’ travel intentions over winter and the early months of 2023 conducted by travel insurance company World Nomads showed that 67% of travelers will book vacations, noting there’s nothing in the current environment that would derail their plans. But there are limits, says Jon Whitby, the company’s general manager for marketing.
“Americans are still eager to travel,” he added. “But they are being more cost-conscious and focused on getting the best value for their money.”
So how do you book a fall vacation? Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming fall travel season, from when to book to where to go.
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Don’t wait to book your fall trip
High prices, oversold flights and an unstable security situation kept many travelers on the sidelines this summer. They were hoping things would calm down this fall. So now what?
“I think if you wait until everything is quiet and calm, you’ll probably be waiting forever,” said Kathleen Peddicord CEO of Live and Invest Overseas.
Is it worth waiting for the deals? Maybe, says Kyle Potter, executive editor of Thrifty Traveler. Airfares peaked in early summer and have started to fall, so it might make sense to wait for more deals. But it’s risky.
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“Many domestic fares are more expensive than at any point we can remember,” Potter added. “So it might be time to think bigger and head somewhere abroad. We’re increasingly finding some of the cheapest flight deals on international tickets.”
But airfare deals can be elusive. And remember, airlines are trying to make up for two lean years. If you find an inexpensive fare for a fall trip, don’t wait. Book as soon as possible. Because chances are, there are thousands of other travelers thinking the same thing. “If I can just wait a few more weeks, I’ll pay less.” You might – or you might not.
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Because it’s impossible to predict what will happen next, tourism insiders recommend that you book travel that gives you more options, just in case something goes wrong.
“I’d encourage you to book flexible reservations wherever possible,” said Kelly Catherine, director of sales at Hyatt Centric Old Town Alexandria. “And consider travel insurance.”
How useful is insurance? It depends on what kind you get. A pricier “cancel for any reason” policy would allow you to call off your vacation and receive a refund of anywhere from 50% to 75% of your prepaid nonrefundable expenses.
“Insurance will also help for any weather-related issues,” noted Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic. “Fall is prime hurricane season in the Caribbean.”
Some destinations won’t slow down
The hard truth for fall travelers is that travel may not slow in some places. For example, some urban destinations like Chicago or Los Angeles, which are on the rebound and rely on a mix of business and leisure travel, may not be worth the wait. Also, some activities are even more popular in the fall than in the summer. Chris Coleman, CEO of RV Talk, said October is his busiest month.
“November is far less crowded, especially toward the end of the month,” he adds. “And the foliage is typically still spectacular.”
His advice? Go camping in late October or early November, when the weather is still relatively mild. “Rent a cabin or book a hotel room, buy groceries, and spend time in a national park,” he says.
So, where’s everyone going?
If you’re a contrarian, you’ll probably want to avoid the popular places. And those are? In Europe, countries like Italy, France, Greece and Spain will see more American visitors this fall than ever, says Angie Licea, president of the Global Travel Collection. Up-and-comers like Portugal and Croatia are also high on her clients’ lists. “We are going to see lots of tourists in Europe through Thanksgiving, maybe even until the end of the year,” she adds.
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In North America, Mexico is in high demand. The ABC islands – Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao – are also sought-after places to visit this year. They are located outside the hurricane belt, making them ideal fall destinations.
In the U.S., Western states like Colorado, Wyoming and Montana are sought-after places to visit this autumn, according to Licea.
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The experts were wrong about fall travel
Remember how the pros told us to wait until fall to travel? But this year, that advice was wrong. Bookings remain strong, and prices for some travel products are stubbornly high as the fall travel season starts.
It’s hard to predict when things might go back to normal. The soonest we could see a return to normal would be early 2023. A worsening economy could even bring some deals in late 2022. But if anyone tells you they know, don’t listen. No one knows.
Pro tips for your fall vacation
► If you see a deal, book now
“Don’t delay,” advised Laura Burdett- Munn, managing director of luxury tour operator Journeysmiths. “There is still availability, but I think it is unlikely that we will see many last-minute deals appearing.”
► Add a one-day cushion – just in case
If you’re taking a tour or cruising, you’ll want to borrow a page from your summer playbook. Add a one-day cushion between your departure and when your cruise or tour begins. “Adding a one-night cushion for any travel delays will ensure a flight delay doesn’t disrupt your travel plans,” explained Melissa Da Silva, president of Trafalgar.
► Have a Plan B
The new COVID subvariants could severely disrupt travel this fall, warned Ross Caldwell Thompson, CEO of Covac Global, a medical evacuation membership program. His advice: Have a Plan B to get there and back if an airline cancels your flight. “This could include the use of trains, buses or private hire vehicles,” he said.