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On the Spot: Heading to London and Paris in the off-season

Off-season travel to London and Paris can yield bargains and smaller crowds. But timing it right can be tricky.

March 11, 2012|By Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times

Question: When do London and Paris go into off-season fall/winter rates?

Stuart Fink

Los Angeles

Answer: This topic seemed easy at first, but in talking with several travel experts, I learned about exceptions to exceptions to exceptions.

To begin: Off-season is generally ("generally" being the operative word) whenever these conditions occur: Kids are in school (that's probably going to be late August-early September to mid-May to late June, unless your kids are on a year-round schedule or you live in some parts of the South), and the weather is less than optimal. The average high in London for January, February and March is 46, 47 and 52 degrees, respectively, and for October, November and December, 59, 52 and 48. For Paris, the highs for the first three months of the year average 46, 47 and 52, and the average highs for the last three are 59, 52 and 48.

That's enough to send a chill up your spine but to warm the budget-seeker's heart.

Except for maybe this year in London and at specific times in Paris.

Besides the Summer Olympics, July 27-Aug. 12, London will play a huge role in the June 2-5 celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's 60-year reign (www.thediamondjubilee.org) and will host the WorldPride London Festival, June 23-July 8 (www.pridelondon.org), and the Paralympics, Aug. 29-Sept. 9 (www.paralympic.org).

Whatever destination you're visiting, things generally will be less expensive in the off-season or even "shoulder season" — generally the two months bordering the off-season but not yet the peak season, although London and Paris, dear readers, are never inexpensive. The State Department's per diem for its employees is $499 and $528, respectively, meaning that's the limit on what it wants employees to spend on hotels, meals and incidentals.

Budget travelers can do it for less than that, of course. Marty Seslow, vice president of marketing for Gate 1 Travel, which offers packages for the budget-minded traveler, compared an independent eight-day London package that includes six nights' hotel, breakfast and taxes plus airfare for $1,577 in April and $2,143 in July. He found little to no hotel availability in August when we spoke about 10 days ago, so these prices/packages may not be available.

Things are not quite as complex in Paris this year, but travel agent James Densmore of CTS Travel reminds me that the spring (usually March) and fall (usually October) fashion weeks and corporate meetings in September and October can create hotel scarcity in the City of Light, which, like New York, doesn't boast an overabundance of rooms.

If you want to be a travel contrarian, you might consider August in Paris, says Doug Miller, senior vice president of new initiatives for LivingSocial.com. Excusez-moi, but isn't that high season? It is, Miller says, but much of Paris splits for vacation then. Your good fortune in Paris probably won't extend to the south of France, where many Parisians will be.

Besides that cold-weather business, off-season travel isn't without its difficulties. Vicky Voll, president and owner of the Glendale office of Travel Leaders, notes that air carriers may cut back on service and there may be fewer nonstops. Hours may be limited at attractions (or they could be closed), and you may not see the city at its finest. But for the most part, you're getting smaller crowds, a perhaps more genuine vibe and a discount on prices. If I were a betting traveler, that's a trifecta of advantages I'd put my money on.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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