When to go can be as important as where

Still, though—pretty nice.
Still, though—pretty nice.
Image: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
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The difference between a reasonably priced trip and a budget-busting act of extortion can sometimes be a matter of days. Travel site Trivago has collected data on how the average hotel-room price in major cities changed month-by-month last year, and it shows just how different prices can be depending on when you travel.(High and low average hotel room rates are listed in bold.)

A room in Rio de Janeiro averages only $61 a night in October, but that figure jumps 62%, to $99, if you go in March. The spread in Rome is similarly wide: An average price of $84 in February, but a 60% jump to $134 in September.

In some cases, a  single month is all it takes to go from blowout to bargain. September is when rates are at their peak in Paris, averaging $193 a night, but go in August and rates bottom out at $134 (the same as February’s average). Tokyo is the same way: Rates peak during the month of December, but then drop 17% to the annual low of $132 in January. Even in New York, which has the highest average room rate of all cities in September, at $270, is 23% cheaper in the sauna that is August (just be sure bring two sets of clothes for each day).

You can also think of these averages as indicators for other aspects of your trip. A lower average rate will likely correspond to fewer crowds, which means more easily available dinner reservations, shorter lines at museums, and better theater tickets. The hotel staff, under less stress than during peak times, may be a little more accommodating; the bartender may have a heavier pour. This will be true for non-hotel options as well: If Hilton and Hyatt and Westin are dropping their prices, you can be sure Airbnb rates will be lower as well.

On the other hand, there are reasons those peak rates are as high as they are: the weather is just right at that time of year; the restaurants are humming with patrons; the cultural institutions are under full sail, etc. However, if you can be flexible with not only your schedule, but also your mindset, bargains await. Sure, Paris in February may be colder and grayer than Paris in September, but it’s still Paris.