The temperature isn’t the only thing falling in autumn. Travelers will see a sharp rate drop from summer’s peak prices on everything from airfare to accommodations to car rentals. You’ll also find shorter lines and fewer crowds pretty much anywhere you go.
Plan your fall getaway with these bargain-travel tips.
1. Get domestic deals.
Autumn is the perfect time to enjoy the stunning beauty and wildlife in U.S. national parks—without the crowds. Take in the dramatic fall hues at Shenandoah, the grizzly bears at Yellowstone or the azure waters of Crater Lake under the snow-capped Cascade Mountains. An $80 annual pass gets you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including all 408 national parks. Or, if you visit on Sept. 28 or Nov. 11, admission to all parks is free.
For urban exploration, Washington, D.C., offers more than 100 free monuments, museums and attractions—from the Lincoln Memorial and the Library of Congress to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and free daily performances at The Kennedy Center. Free fall festivals include September’s WalkingTown DC, with more than 50 guided tours highlighting the arts, culture and history of the nation’s capital.
2. Find beach bargains.
Sun seekers will crowd the beaches of Hawaii and Mexico come winter, but fall deals will help you soak up the sunshine in peace. Alaska Airlines offers last-minute prices to get you surfing in Maui or sipping mai tais at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. In Mexico, fall travel means discounts as high as 30% on all-inclusive luxury resorts such as the Valentin Imperial Maya and Villa La Estancia Beach Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta.
Don’t dismiss Costa Rica, which many avoid in fall because of the rainy season that runs from May to October. Travelers can enjoy a typically drier climate by visiting the gorgeous beaches of Guanacaste on the Pacific Ocean and Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast, where giant sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach during this season. Fall travelers to Costa Rica will find lower prices on airfare, accommodations and car rentals.
3. Travel Europe for less.
A European tour is a must for every serious traveler, and fall is an excellent time to go. Imagine Oktoberfest in Munich or hiking on the Swiss Bernese Overland Trails. How about enjoying the crowd-free museums, cafes and boulevards of Madrid, Paris and Rome? Start saving by flying into a less expensive airport such as Ireland’s Dublin Airport, which can cost as little as $500 round-trip. Travelers with flexible schedules can take advantage of online-only ticket sales by signing up for email alerts from airlines and travel websites such as AirfareWatchdog and Kayak.
On the ground, rail passes offer a great bargain on train travel through multiple countries as well as reduced (and sometimes free) rates on ferries, cruises and hotels. Prices on lodging will be lower than in summer, and you’ll find bargains on everything from private homes on Airbnb to high-end hotels on lastminute.com.
4. Take advantage of a stronger dollar abroad.
As of summer 2015, the American dollar is enjoying a surge in Canada, Australia and Russia (as well as all countries using the euro), so bargain hunters will be rewarded for trips to those nations now. For especially big savings, consider a trip to Japan—historically very expensive—where the U.S. dollar is holding strong. (Compare 123 yen to the dollar in 2015 with 79 yen to the dollar in 2012.) Fall is the season to enjoy Japan’s glorious display of maple and ginkgo leaves, starting in the north at Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido and moving south with the season. Visit the iconic Kinkakuji Buddhist temple of Kyoto (one of 1,600 in the area) and other nearby World Heritage sites. Celebrate the cooler temperatures with a soak in the onsens (or hot springs) of Dogo, or experience one of the country’s unique fall fire festivals. As in Europe, Japan’s rail pass can help you save money when traveling within the country by train.