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6 Tricks to a Cheap Columbus Day Getaway

It's not too late to plan an affordable escape for the long weekend.

U.S. News & World Report

6 Tricks to a Cheap Columbus Day Getaway

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Though hotel prices are up, flights costs are down.(iStockphoto)

Want to travel over the long weekend? Columbus Day is fast approaching, but there are still ways to organize a cost-effective getaway. And chances are, you'll snap up a better deal than you might find for Thanksgiving or Christmas at this time of year. Another enticement: While average hotel rates are up by 13 percent for the long holiday weekend, flight costs are down by about 11 percent compared to 2014, according to Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor at Orbitz.

So before bracing yourself for the hectic peak holiday travel season, embrace thinner crowds, shoulder season discounts and an extra day to unwind and recharge. Here are six ways to pull off a wallet-friendly trip for the three-day weekend.

Nab Hurricane and Shoulder Season Discounts

While it's important to consider the risks of traveling during hurricane season, you shouldn't rule it out, Tornatore says. Though inclement conditions threaten to spoil travel plans, the weather is moderate for much of the season and there are great hotel deals to be had across the Eastern Seaboard, she adds. For example, an Orbitz analysis shows the average nightly hotel rate for the long weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, at $94, she explains.

And if your heart is set on catching sight of gold- and crimson-colored leaves this fall, there are still ways to enjoy a leaf-peeping trip without breaking the bank, she says. Sure, planning a retreat in Vermont, Maine and upstate New York will inevitably be pricey at this time of year, but according to Tornatore, there are "great alternatives in other areas of the country." Traverse City, Michigan, and Charlottesville, Virginia, are enticing options for budget-minded travelers looking to soak up the fall colors, she says. Orbitz shows average nightly rates in Traverse City at $154 a night and winery hotels in Charlottesville averaging at around $142 per night for Columbus Day weekend, she adds.

Go Farther Afield, Away from Harvest Season Locales

A trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley is especially expensive during harvest season. According to Tornatore, though San Francisco-bound flights at this time of year decrease, hotel prices soar. In fact, Orbitz finds average hotel rates in San Francisco to be up by about 50 percent year over year, she says. And an index assembled by Bloomberg shows San Francisco's hotels are among the most expensive in the world, with the average rate for a hotel room increasing by 88 percent compared to the prior year as of June 2015. If you want a warm-weather getaway, you'll find better values in Arizona and mountain towns, she adds, noting hotel rates average around $130 a night in Phoenix and $137 in Tucson over the holiday weekend.

According to Josh Belkin, Hotels.com's vice president and general manager, North America, business-friendly locales also make great value destinations in fall. Houston, for example, offers an excellent food scene and a vibrant city culture, along with comfortable temperatures and colorful festivals, he explains. Another interesting market is Las Vegas, he adds. Before the prime convention and tourism season from December to February, you can find "pretty good values" at five-star hotels along the Las Vegas Strip, he says.

Look for Promo Codes and Value-Adds

An easy way to score discounted hotel rates is actively seeking out promo codes, Tornatore advises. "What I'd look for is promotion codes that you can use to get 15 to 20 percent off," she says, emphasizing that most flash sales provided by hotels and third-party booking sites typically do not impose blackout date restrictions. Orbitz currently lists a 5 percent discount code for hotel stays booked by Dec. 31, 2015 for travel by Mar. 31, 2016. Apart from promotions, when price-shopping, Tornatore recommends looking for properties that offer extras, such as complimentary Wi-Fi, breakfast and parking, which will help you offset add-ons that can translate to a steep final bill. And searching for package deals to trim costs is also a smart idea, she adds.

"One thing that customers are surprised by is when a hotel charges for Internet or breakfast," Belkin says. Rather than paying more than expected, he suggests using filters such as those available on sites like Hotels.com to customize your search based on your preferences in "just a couple clicks of a mouse" to avoid unanticipated fees once you arrive.

Hop Across the Pond

If you're toying with the idea of traveling to Europe for the weekend, now is "the time of year when people are going to nab the best deals," Tornatore says. Belkin agrees, pointing out that hotel prices across London, Paris and Rome are down year over year. According to the Hotels.com Hotel Price Index, a report tracking hotel room rates across the globe, average hotel prices for the first half of 2015 are down by 16 percent in Rome and 7 percent in London compared to the previous year.

Utilize Digital Resources

An easy way to score savings is relying on price-shopping sites and tools. When asked about the best ways to snag hotel deals and airfare steals for the long weekend, Belkin replied, "A lot of it is knowing how to make use of the best resources online." He suggests looking for money-saving coupons and secret, exclusive pricing available to subscribers and mobile app users. Sites such as Kayak.com, Hotels.com and Priceline.com showcase thousands of deals to be had on any given day, he explains. And subscribers to the Hotels.com email newsletter, for example, are alerted with "prices that customers are not going to find on price-comparison websites," he explains.

Travelers should also remember to rely on mobile devices, Tornatore says. "A lot of times sites will offer different discounts on their mobile apps," she says, highlighting that car rental deals and insider hotel promotions are available to consumers booking their hotel on Orbitz's mobile app.

Don't Wait

"I think we're close enough that we're not going to see rates change too much for hotels," Tornatore says. But she cautions against procrastinating any longer, especially in destinations where hotels are already at rock bottom with nightly rates around $100. And according to Belkin, while hotels will try to attract procrastinators with reduced rates to fill empty rooms at last minute, you should book now to guarantee availability. If you've delayed booking this year, another simple way to cut costs this Columbus Day is to "leave a day earlier or come back a day later," Tornatore advises, highlighting that not only can extending the length of your stay yield a big price difference, it can also help ensure availability at your desired hotel.

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