The world is reopening. With vaccination rates for Americans and Europeans steadily rising, so is confidence among travelers. Plus, travel is easier to navigate as restrictions ease. This summer, those factors led tourists back to the road and the skies in droves. But summer travel can be stressful, with flight delays, surge pricing and higher fuel costs. If you have flexibility in your schedule, booking a trip this fall is a better option. You’ll encounter fewer crowds, and pandemic restrictions are likely to loosen up even more.
Even better, prices are usually cheaper in shoulder season. Airfares are expected to drop, and hotel rates are generally lower at summer’s end and into the fall. If you can be flexible with your dates, such as traveling on weekdays or extending your stay, you can often find even lower prices. And with a rental car shortage, you’ll have a better shot of booking a vehicle at a cheaper rate (or finding one at all) if you go this fall.
We rounded up some good bets for autumn travel, including leaf-peeping trips, cruising the coast of Alaska and touring Italy. We also let you know what to expect as you travel in these still uncertain times.
You can find sweet deals on flights toward the end of August and heading into the fall. Airfares for fall are expected to drop up to 5% overall compared with summer fares, says Adit Damadaran, an economist for the travel site Hopper. And summer fares are already lower than usual, as travel gradually ramps up.
Plus, “Airlines are stepping up and adding extra routes, especially in September and November,” says Willis Orlando, product operations specialist for Scott’s Cheap Flights. As airlines add more routes, the increased competition for flights to some destinations—including Iceland and Hawaii—is driving down airfares. We recently found round-trip airfares to Iceland for fall as low as $329 (from many U.S. cities). You could book round-trip airfare to Hawaii from Chicago in early September for as low as $236. Book as early as you can, and keep an eye out for airlines running deals and promotions as more openings occur, Orlando says.
Use a flight search tool such as Google Flights or SkyScanner to help you determine the best timing or even the best destination. At SkyScanner.com you can search by cheapest time frame, cheapest destination or both. Sites such as Scott’s Cheap Flights and Sherman’s Travel feature flight deals. For example, Sherman’s Travel recently featured round-trip tickets to Bermuda in December for $400 per person.
Much of the booking flexibility introduced during the height of the pandemic is gone. All the major airlines have stopped offering free flight changes for basic economy flights. But if you book a ticket for a main cabin or higher-class seat and change your flight, you won’t pay a change fee. The major U.S. airlines have also been extending the dates for vouchers from canceled flights throughout the pandemic. If you have a voucher, check with the airline to see when it expires.
Note that federal law dictates that you wear a mask in all U.S. airports. That policy is set to expire on September 14, but it may be extended.
The reintroduction of international travel has been staggered and unpredictable. Some places have shown more eagerness than others to dismantle their barriers to entry and are welcoming tourists with varying COVID safety protocols. For example, Mexico began a slow region-by-region reopening in June 2020 and lifted many coronavirus restrictions. Several Caribbean destinations also opened to American tourism ahead of the curve. And Iceland allowed travelers to return in April 2021.
The European Union is expected to lift its restrictions on American tourists this summer, and then it will be up to the 27 member states whether to add their own restrictions. But much of Europe already took steps to invite American tourists for summer travel, with Greece, Italy, Spain and France making some of the earliest announcements. Greece and Italy started welcoming vaccinated and COVID-negative tourists, including those from the U.S., in May, while Spain and France reopened to vaccinated travelers in June.
In early June, the U.S. State Department said that it was taking 58 countries and territories out of the Level 4, or “Do Not Travel,” category and designating them as Level 3, or “Reconsider Travel,” destinations. Countries no longer designated “Do Not Travel” include Canada and Mexico, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Spain and Switzerland.
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