Surfing the shoulder seasons

With the holidays behind us and summer still several months away, we are seeing many travel providers offering specials to encourage us to travel. The “shoulder season” is upon us and can be a great time to go if you don't mind some minor inconveniences.

Big Ben at night
If you’re able to be flexible and are open to seeing your destination at times that may not be exactly optimal, the smaller crowds and the fewer dollars or Euros or yen you’ll be spending could make it more than worthwhile.

Precisely when a specific destination has its shoulder season varies a bit, so some research is necessary. 

In doing research into Iceland, I learned that its shoulder seasons are September-October, and March-April. By comparison, the spring shoulder season in Europe runs a bit longer, through mid-June.

For any destination, you’ll have to consider your personal travel style, as well as your likes and dislikes.

My wife and I don’t mind the cold or wet weather – one of our fondest memories is a January trip to London – so a trip to Canada's Okanagan Valley in October fit well with our travel style while others, including travel writer Rick Steves, recommend only traveling to Scandinavia during the height of summer.

Bundling up can bring bargains

Travelers willing to visit the U.K. in the spring, for example, can realize a significant savings on airfare over those who opt to visit during the summer. They’re also likely to find more preferential hotel rates.

When making your shoulder season travel plans, it’s also a good idea to determine the date your airlines changes its fare structure. When I traveled to Amsterdam in 2009, the helpful agent at American Airlines, on which I was using my accumulated AAdvantage® miles to fly, recommended waiting until after Oct. 15 when the “price” dropped. In the case of the spring shoulder season, one might save dollars or miles by traveling a bit earlier than originally planned so it can literally pay to consider several different travel dates.

As of this writing, a non-stop round trip on British Airways from Seattle (SEA) to London’s Heathrow airport (LHR) in early March, traveling mid-week, a round-trip coach ticket can be obtained for as low as approximately $940, while delaying the trip until early July would bump that price to $1,741 or more for the same ticket.

The entrance to the venerable
Savoy Hotel
Rates at London’s iconic Savoy hotel are commensurately lower during the shoulder season as well.  For the March trip, a room could be had for £420 per night, while rooms during the July time frame were £558 per night.

Because I’ve been investigating Iceland, I decided to compare round trip fares for the same dates and final destination on IcelandAir.

Why IcelandAir, of all carriers?

IcelandAir offers a unique feature: travelers bound from the U.S. or Canada to Europe can stop over in Reykjavik (KEF) for up to seven days for no additional airfare.  Of course, there will be the cost of lodging, but at least three advantages leap immediately to mind.

If you’re traveling from the west coast, a stopover in Reykjavik will break a lengthy flight into more manageable chunks. IcelandAir’s non-stop SEA-KEF flight is seven hours, 15 minutes, compared to British Airways’ SEA-LHR non-stop, which takes nine hours, 5 minutes. Granted, it only trims a couple of hours off total flight time but it will afford you the opportunity to visit another country and get another scar on your passport.

Round-trip fares with a three-night stopover in Reykjavik in March was $1,021, but for July travel the fare increases to $1,207.

Certainly shoulder season travel is the better bargain on either carrier, but with a $200 savings by taking IcelandAir, one could spend two nights in Iceland in the summer, spend very little more and see another country during its peak.

In addition, the airline is offering a class of service it calls “economy comfort special” which offers what the airline’s web site calls “Business class service, two-by-two seating, increased legroom, international electrical socket, business class check-in and lounge access, complimentary meals with wine and beer service.”

If, like me, you’re interested in Iceland, the Reykjavik visitors’ bureau, VisitReykjavik, has a list of things to see and do in Iceland during both the summer and winter months and has a list of places to stay, as do your favorite social networking travel web sites.

Wherever you’re going, travel safely and enjoy the experience!

Visit my main page at for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photos by Carl Dombek
Click on photos to view larger images