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What is shoulder season? Experts weigh in with tips to save on airfare, hotels in opposite seasons

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(NEW YORK) — There’s still plenty of time to plan more fun in the sun summer getaways, but if you haven’t yet booked travel for shoulder season — or winter holidays — experts are sharing why now may be the sweet spot time of year to scope out savings.

What is shoulder season? How to save on travel during off-peak months

Jesse Neugarten, founder and CEO of Dollar Flight Club, understands the importance of finding the best offers on airfare and told Good Morning America that travelers can find “significant savings” during shoulder season.

“It refers to the periods between peak and off-peak travel times when destinations are less crowded and travel costs are generally lower,” she said.

The upcoming shoulder season in Europe, for example, during early autumn — September to October — “offers favorable weather without the high prices and large crowds of peak season,” she said.

“Traveling during shoulder season allows you to take advantage of reduced airfare and accommodation rates due to decreased demand, leaving more money in your wallet,” Neugarten explained.

Her company has sent out deal alerts on both domestic and international travel during this time period “such as round-trip flights to Europe for under $400 and within the U.S. for as low as $250.”

Neugarten added that “prices are on average 15% cheaper when looking at U.S. to Europe routes during the off season, but can be up to 25% cheaper on particular routes.”

“Additionally, some regions experience a brief shoulder season in January, following the holiday season,” she said. “As tourists head home, hotels and airlines often reduce prices, encouraging travelers to take advantage of quieter winter getaways.”

Fellow industry expert Daniel Green echoed her sentiments, adding that travel dates set just after the very end of summer typically come with price drops, since hotels and airlines alike “can’t guarantee that the weather will be what you expect,” depending on the destination.

Green, the co-founder and chief technology officer at Faye Travel Insurance, told GMA to think of it “like booking a ski vacation the day the slopes are due to open, even though it may not be snowing yet.”

“Because you’re taking that risk that your ski vacation will be spent entirely in the lodge — or your beach vacation might be spent under the wrong type of umbrella — there’s less demand for flights and accommodation, so you can save,” he said.

Like many in the space, Green also encouraged people to utilize tools like Google Flights, which he said “will often show you the price for an entire month, so you can easily see if the week before you intended to fly is half the price.”

Save on travel by booking now for the opposite season

Scott Keyes, another proponent of tracking flight prices, has regularly emphasized the importance of booking trips for the opposite season if you want to save on airfare. He previously told Good Morning America about the “Goldilocks window,” which is the ideal time to book a flight because “it’s not too early or too late” for the price to be just right.

“If you book 11 months in advance, you don’t see many cheap flights, but also, if you wait until a week or two before, your likelihood of a cheap flight at that point is gonna be very low,” the Going.com founder said.

Tips for booking cheap flights for winter during summer

Neugarten’s first suggestion is to start early: “Begin your search several months in advance to catch early bird deals. We recommend at least three months prior.”

Next, be flexible. “Flexibility with travel dates and destinations increases your chances of finding cheaper flights,” she said. “Keep an open mind for new places you haven’t explored yet.”

Like Green and Keyes, Neugarten said travelers should “sign up for free fare alerts,” whether it’s with her company or by utilizing tools like Google Flights and Hopper “to receive insights on optimal booking times and notifications of price drops.”

“Consider nearby airports — sometimes flying into or out of a nearby airport can be significantly cheaper,” Neugarten said. “Don’t be afraid to drive a little further to a different airport. You might save hundreds on the flight.”

Once you’re ready to book, she suggested going directly through the airline, because carriers “occasionally offer exclusive deals on their websites that are not available through third-party booking sites.”

“Also, make sure to keep an eye on points and miles deals during shoulder season,” she added.

What’s the 21-day rule for airfare bookings?

Keyes also reminded travelers to follow his golden rule of air travel, back-timing when to book based on your departure date in order to align with an airline’s “advanced purchase requirement,” found in the fine print of the fare terms and conditions.

“Pull up a calendar and circle 21 days before your travel date,” he said. “That needs to be your sort of drop-dead date to get your flights booked by.”

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