5 reasons why ‘shoulder season’ is the best time to travel

In many ways, travel in 2021 has been more difficult than in 2020. While the demand for travel has returned, sufficient reception staff have often failed to do so, resulting in long waits in the markets. airports, hotel check-in counters and restaurants.

The eye-catching travel deals seen in 2020 have mostly faded away, giving way to price increases like soaring rental car prices. Despite social distancing recommendations, travelers often found themselves in larger crowds than ever before. Crowds rushing around airline customer service counters to book canceled flights left people barely six inches apart – let alone six feet.

This year might bring similar challenges for travelers, but here’s a good way to get around most of them: traveling during “shoulder season”.

The definition of shoulder season varies by destination, but it typically means the period of time between peak and off-season for an area. This period of time can last for months or just a few weeks. For example, if a location’s high season is summer and its off-season is winter, then the shoulder season would be spring and fall. Alternatively, a location may experience peak travel during a holiday weekend, but demand will decrease on the weekend before or after – these times can also be considered shoulder season.

Here are five reasons why shoulder season is the best time to travel, especially during the pandemic.


Air tickets were on average 23% cheaper when booked for shoulder season compared to travel during peak season. That’s according to a NerdWallet analysis conducted in December 2021 of more than 100 plane tickets taken on the most popular routes in the United States across eight major airlines.

The same routes were compared for flights booked for high season days versus intermediate days, where high season flights were those booked for the Monday before or after a major holiday. In contrast, shoulder season flights were those made two weeks before or after that date.

The difference was most marked around Christmas: flights were on average 50% cheaper when booked for Monday January 10 compared to Monday December 27.


These higher flight prices are usually a result of supply and demand, which means that the demand is higher during peak season.

Increased interest leads to more competition at every level, whether it’s for a hotel room at the price you want or the ability to buy tickets for that concert. And that only scratches the surface. Restaurants are more likely to be full, planes to fly with fewer empty seats and longer wait times, and the likelihood of a free upgrade decreases.

Book during shoulder season and you will be competing with fewer people for your best experiences.


While the demand is high during the peak season, sometimes the demand drops so low during the off season that the places you want to visit are not even open. Organizers of boat trips could embark for the winter, and charming ski resort cafes could close for the summer.

For example, in January in Zion National Park, Utah, about 16% of the number of visitors that come during peak season in July is on average, and most tourists will struggle. Ice forces some trails to close, some roads become inaccessible to drivers, and the museum and services such as shuttles are not available.

Instead, consider a trip during the shoulder season of September, when crowds are only about 85% of the park’s peak but most amenities are available. In addition, you will enjoy mild weather and the appearance of fall colors.

All over the world, hotels often take the offseason to do renovations, so the swimming pool can become closed. Airlines usually reduce their routes, so you will have less flexibility in what day or time you can fly.

But the shoulder season is less likely to bring such challenges. Travel before the summer crowds arrive and you might be pleasantly surprised by a newly renovated hotel room. Head for the mountains just after the winter holidays to enjoy the still snowy slopes without so many skiers.


The shoulder season is unlikely to bring the sweltering heat or storms that accompany an area’s offseason. And in some cases, the weather during shoulder season is actually better than peak season.

Summer in Florida theme parks is often humid and muggy – and that’s before adding the crowds of out-of-school kids. During shoulder season, you could forgo the sunny summer days on the beach, but you’ll usually have moderate weather, not to mention a less sweaty smile in this photo with your favorite character.

The offseason in the Rocky Mountains may not involve the romance of white powder snow surrounding a cozy cabin. But, you can pack light and leave the parka at home.


Tourist hot spots typically want crowds year round, so they often host events, concerts, and other festivities that don’t happen at times when the crowds would be large anyway.

Food festivals in theme parks are among the most common delicacies of the shoulder season. Southern California’s theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm, typically hosts its annual Boysenberry Festival from March through April. Hawaii comes alive in the fall with festivals spanning multiple islands, including the Waikik i Ho’olaule’a, which is a giant block party on Oahu, and the Kauai Mokihana Festival, a week-long celebration of culture. Hawaiian.


This article was provided to The Associated Press by the NerdWallet personal finance website. Sally French is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: sfrench@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SAFmedia.


NerdWallet: Start booking your trips back: get your rental car first https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-start-booking-your-trips-backward


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