Dreaming about finally seeing Bora Bora, Santorini, or Capri? Want to hike amid the splendor of the Austrian, Swiss, or French Alps? What about an African safari or a long weekend in New York City that won’t break the bank? Here are 10 famously expensive destinations and when to visit to get the best value.
The Greek Islands
When: March, April, October
Why: If sipping wine with postcard views of Santorini's whitewashed buildings and blue-domed churches, or exploring the ruins of the 3,500-year-old Palace at Knossos on Crete are on your bucket list, stick to your budget by visiting the Greek Islands at the very beginning or end of the high season. Hotel rates at resorts in the Greek Islands—including Mykonos, Kos, Rhodes, and Corfu—are typically 30-50 percent less during shoulder season. Cruises are a great value, too.
When: March, early April, October, November
Why: This small island, located just off Italy’s Amalfi Coast, is so popular that hotel rates soar from Easter until late September. Visiting cruise ships and day trippers from Naples and Sorrento also create crowds on what is one of the world’s most beautiful islands—so beautiful, in fact, that the Roman emperors vacationed here. Book in early spring or mid-to-late fall and you can score a room in a charming guest house for about $100 a night and sometimes one in a lavish five-star for under $400. April and October cruises that call on Naples, Sorrento, or Capri can also be affordable.
New York City
When: January, February, March, July, August (and sometimes mid-November)
Why: Many factors influence hotel rates in New York, which consistently ranks among the Top 10 most expensive cities to visit: holidays, sporting events, fashion weeks, international trade shows, and the U.N. General Assembly. But weather is perhaps the biggest factor, making dreary, blustery winter months and hot, humid summer months the best ones for bargain hunters. Weekends (when business travelers are home) are often cheaper than weekdays, too.
When: May, October
Why: Three things draw tourists to the Alps in France, Austria, and Switzerland: skiing, hiking, and admiring the majestic beauty of the region’s mountains and lakes. Ski season is November to April and hikers and tourists descend from June to September. So that leaves May and October as the two sweet spots where travelers on a budget can find a great deal—especially on three- and four-star lodging. You may encounter changeable weather and even some snow, though, so pack layers.
When: May, June, July, August, September (plus April and October)
Why: Taking a guided safari is never cheap, but to get the best rates you’ll have to avoid the peak season, which in South Africa is the warmer period from November to February (which is, howver, the best time to visit Cape Town). The low season from May to September brings cooler temperatures, drier conditions (ideal for game viewing), and lower rates; April and October are the shoulder months, when lower prices and warmer weather coexist.
When: January, February, March, April, November, December
Why: The vines are barren, so the landscape’s not as pretty. And the weather will be cooler (55-70 degrees) and rainier (6-8 days a month). But hotel rates in the celebrated wine region’s main towns—Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga—fall by as much as 30-50 percent from peak season. Meanwhile, the wine is still there for the tasting and Napa’s chefs are still hard at work whipping up seasonal, regional cuisine.
When: December, January, February, March
Why: It’s “summer,” or low season, in French Polynesia when the region experiences higher temperatures, humidity, and more rain—and prices can dip 20-40 percent. Nevertheless, hotel rates on Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and the other islands in this South Pacific nation are still apt to create sticker shock, with the region’s famed overwater bungalows being the priciest. To save, book a standard room or garden bungalow, look for package deals that bundle airfare, hotel, and some meals and activities, or consider a cruise that visits 4-5 islands.
When: April, May, September, October
Why: Skiing, snowboarding, and [people watching / being seen / taking in the scene] are the main activities in this posh Colorado enclave from November to March, while hiking, mountain biking, and festivals draw summer visitors from June to August. Visit in April, and you may be able to get in a bit of spring skiing at a discount, but late spring and early fall offer the best rates on rooms—often at 60-70 percent off peak season.
When: April, October, November
Why: Home to Saint-Tropez, Nice, Cannes, and Monte Carlo, the Côte d'Azur is one of the most celebrated summer playgrounds of the rich and famous—and hotel prices reflect that. To see what all the fuss is about, visit in May—before the crowds for the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix arrive—or after September when the weather cools. Spring and fall cruises along the French Riviera also offer great value.
When: November, early December, May, June, July
Why: What summer is to Saint-Tropez, winter is to St. Bart, the small and chic Caribbean island where French is spoken and celebrity spotting is a regular pastime. St. Barth is still recovering from Hurricane Irma, which damaged most of the island’s five-star resorts (a few have re-opened, with more due later this year), but you can expect low-season rates to be about 30-40 percent discounted, with rooms at some exclusive properties available for under $400 a night.