If you’re hoping to escape to the beach or a national park this summer but still haven’t booked your vacation, there are plenty of headlines telling you that you’re way behind the eight ball. With the vaccine rollout humming along, demand for travel is sky high and many top hotels, resorts and rental homes in outdoorsy locations are already booked for the season.

In those destinations, pent-up demand is pushing hotel rates higher as we head into summer. For the week ending May 20, the hotel industry data provider STR found that the average daily hotel rate (ADR) had reached a pandemic high, up 2.8% week-over-week.

In some beachy markets, hotel prices are even higher now than they were before the pandemic. For example, rates in Miami were at about $234 per night in mid May. That translates to a hefty 34.8% price jump compared to 2019. Meanwhile, Tampa hotel rates are up 10% to $138 per night, on average, according to STR. The hotel industry data company had previously found that rates in Cancun, Mexico were about $205 a night in early May. That’s up from $160 a night—or a 28% price jump—compared to 2019.

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Yet for savvy travelers looking for value, there are still plenty of opportunities to be found. The trick is to zero in on destinations where there is not only plenty of availability this summer but also where rates are lower than they were before the pandemic.

For savvy travelers looking for bang for their buck this summer, there are plenty of reasons to love New York City.

Restaurants and attractions are opening right now in the Big Apple — and Broadway theaters will be back in September. New York City hotel rooms were going for an average of $151 earlier this month — and STR expects rates to rise to an average of $163 a night for June through August. Even so, that’s a whopping 40% below the average nightly rate of $269 in summer 2019.

More good news: New York City is getting more hotel inventory, with several high-profile, large hotels reopening for the first time since early 2020. The Mandarin Oriental New York and Park Hyatt New York just started welcoming back guests in April; the Plaza Hotel just reopened May 20; and the Ritz-Carlton Central Park is slated to reopen on June 2.

And there’s a really nice bonus for summer visitors. Last week, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order eliminating the city’s 5.875% hotel room occupancy tax rate from June 1 through August 31. 

Where else can travelers find the huge opportunities for a money-saving city break this summer? Here’s a three-step strategy:

First, consider cities with lower-than-average occupancy rates. Overall, across all markets, the hotel occupancy rate is averaging 59.1%, about 15% below pre-pandemic levels. According to STR, seven markets reported weekly total room inventory (TRI) occupancy under 45%, including San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and Boston.

Next, look at very large hotels instead of boutique properties. Those enormous hotels have an awful lot of rooms to fill. Overall, weekday occupancy for large city hotels with 300 rooms or more remains extremely low, at just 31.5%.

Third, think beyond the weekends. In a typical city, occupancy rates will be lowest from Sunday to Thursday. Weekday occupancy for hotels — especially those that normally cater to business travelers — is at 45%, per STR’s data.

Keep in mind, one of the tried-and-true ways to find a travel bargain is to zig when everyone else zags. Consequently, this summer promises a fantastic opportunity to visit a big city for less than it would have cost two years ago. Or perhaps better yet, to upgrade your stay to a more luxurious hotel than you’d normally spring for.


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