In the travel sphere one often hears mention of the “off season” or “high season” or “shoulder season”. Those terms refer to periods of the year when a destination is either especially busy and expensive or relatively cheap when hotel occupancy numbers are low. Sometimes you can also find a sort of micro-season when a few days buck the trend of that period. I wrote a post on the blog last month about great hotel rates in Chicago over the first week of July. Another such phenomenon exists for New York City and Washington, DC in late November.
When Is It?
In New York, it’s the 3 nights before the Wednesday preceding American Thanksgiving which falls on the last Thursday of November. So that’s the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights.
From Wednesday night on, hotel rates are much higher. Thanksgiving is a very popular time to visit the city with all the festivities like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the lighting of the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. For the following nights you either cough up the higher rate, book a stay on points, catch a plane home…or head south.
Thanksgiving in Washington is quite different. Many people go home for the holiday and home is elsewhere in the country. Offices are closed so business travel is limited. There are tourists around but not like you see in New York. Hotel rates are low from the Friday of the previous week to the Sunday night after the holiday. Weekend nights always tend to be cheaper in Washington but these weekday rates are well below the norm.
Hotel Rate Examples
I’ll preface this with a quick reminder that hotel rates are constantly changing so these are just a snapshot of my search today. I have done this NYC & DC trip twice and the rates were at their lowest about 3 weeks out so I locked in a cancellable reservation well in advance and then stalked the websites to re-book later.
Below are sample cancellable rates at two hotels that I thought to be well located with very good reviews. I have not stayed at either of these myself but they appear to be great value at these rates aside from any loyalty program considerations.
New York City (Nov. 24 – 27)
Hyatt Place New York Midtown South
Member Rate (includes breakfast)
$183 CAD per night tax included
Washington (Nov. 27 – 30)
Homewood Suites by Hilton Washington DC Convention Center
Honors Discount Rate
1 King Studio
$166 CAD per night tax included
To see the dramatic rate drops, check the flexible date search on the Hilton or Marriott websites. As far as I know, most other chains don’t display rate calendars in this way. You may end up booking with another chain but to get a sense of rates over a period of time, it’s helpful to go to Hilton or Marriott first and check a few individual properties for rate trends. For example, the average lowest cancellable rate at the Hilton Washington DC National Mall from Nov. 22 – Dec. 2 is $118 + tax USD for a 1 king room. The same room over the previous 3 weeks has an average cancellable rate of $375 + tax USD.
Because there are so many hotels of each chain in these cities, it can be a great opportunity to do some “hotel hopping” to accumulate stays if there is a promotion with a sufficient incentive to do so. Changing hotels can be a hassle but if you’re just moving over a couple of blocks it might not be too onerous and the reward could be worth it.
There is a non-stop flight Halifax to Newark on United in November. Otherwise you’ll need to connect in Montreal, Ottawa or Toronto. There are no non-stops from Halifax to Washington. The lowest fare for an open-jaw flight into New York (EWR) on Nov. 24 and back from Washington (DCA) Nov. 30 is currently $359 on Air Canada connecting in Montreal each way. If you want that non-stop on the outbound, the price jumps to $528 booked through United. When searching on Google Flights use the codes that include all airports in each city (NYC and WAS).
Flights On Miles
If you’re redeeming Air Miles the base level for these cities is 1500 miles but that United flight will be elusive. You’ll likely have to connect if you want to use Air Miles.
If you use the 15,000 Aeroplan short-haul option you’ll be limited to connecting in Montreal because you can only fly Air Canada. Same with Washington. If you connect in Ontario or fly any United segments it will bump you to 25,000 Aeroplan miles – the number required for a North American itinerary. If you did book a 25,000 mile redemption, however, you would be able to add a New York City – Washington flight as you are allowed one stopover.
Both Aeroplan and Air Miles have the same tedious restrictive feature of only allowing you to search one airport at a time. That means you’ll have to check each option separately (EWR, LGA or JFK for New York and DCA, IAD and BWI for Washington). On Air Miles I’ve found it’s best to do one-way searches when checking availability initially and then do the search as a multi-city/open-jaw. For Washington, Reagan National (DCA) is the most convenient airport.
I checked Air Miles on an account with Gold status (so no extra availability from Onyx). There were not enough miles in the account to make the booking for my search (2 people) so I had to use the little workaround I’ve mentioned previously – click the back button. I did not see availability at the base level coming back on Saturday, Nov. 30th but there was availability for Sunday, Dec. 1st. So it was 1500 miles to fly Halifax to Newark and then Reagan National back to Halifax. Taxes and fees were around $160. Considering the current low airfare, you might want to save your miles for a higher value redemption if you were booking today.
How To Get From New York City to Washington, DC
You can fly, ride the rails or hop a bus. The easiest logistically is to take the train because you can travel from city centre to city centre. There are two options: the Amtrak Acela Express or Amtrak’s Northeast Regional which is slower but cheaper. Both times we did this trip we chose the bus because by the time we were ready to book, the train tickets were quite pricey in comparison. We chose Vamoose because they have a stop across the Potomac River in Rosslyn, Virginia where our hotel was located. It was a comfortable coach bus and we had no complaints. Click here for an interesting comparison of the various transportation methods between these cities.
What About The Weather?
Although November is technically in the autumn, it can feel more like winter. In New York City there could be wintery weather but it’s more likely to be comfortably brisk and a good time to explore Manhattan. Washington, being further south, is even more likely to have reasonable temps in late November. I have been to the city 3 times in late November. Once it was quite cold. Another time people were eating outside.
What To See And Do?
New York City has an endless number of sightseeing and entertainment options so I’ll just share a couple of highlights.
The Christmas decorations in the department store windows are really impressive and it’s definitely worth setting aside some time to walk along and view them all. There are a number of websites that will fill you in on all the details. Another NYC Christmas go-to is the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular show. Do a bit of research ahead of time to find promos for cheap tickets on deal websites like TravelZoo. There are also nice Christmas markets set up in a number of locations around the city that are fun to browse.
Washington has various festive goings-on happening as well. Our stays have been focused primarily on two frugal endeavours: visiting free museums and shopping at Black Friday sales. The Smithsonian museums, of which there are many, do not charge admission. Many of them also offer free guided tours.
Often when people mention Black Friday thoughts emerge of crazed shopper chaos. However, in my experience, either nobody in Washington got the memo or they are all elsewhere eating turkey. Black Friday actually begins Thursday evening and my mother and I have been in the downtown Macy’s in the first hour of the sale when there was only one other person shopping in the ladies wear section. Wal-Mart for the iPad was much busier but extremely organized. Black Friday shopping there means waiting in the designated line for the item and then waiting again to check-out. My first experience involved an extended wide-ranging discussion with the person ahead of me in line who happened to be a 7 year old with a million questions about random topics. It was quite gruelling. Fortunately, the second time was easier because we had a great conversation with someone who worked at the Library of Congress.
This is a great chance to experience two major cities for a low price. Or if you’re interested in a splurge and want to stay at an upscale hotel then this is a good time to score a reasonable rate. They are terrific places to visit in combination because they are both very interesting for a tourist and also quite different. If you can’t land a decent airfare, they present an opportunity to use Air Miles or Aeroplan miles for good short-haul value.