The secret to getting a great off-season deal comes down to two things: doing your homework and asking the right questions.
Unfortunately, a few years ago I forgot to do both. When I arrived for an off-season lodge stay and mentioned how beautiful the property was, a staff member told me apologetically that it was about to look even better as builders were arriving the next day to begin major renovations on the suites. After she brought me another drink (I was beginning to think that I might need it) things went from bad to worse.
Not only was there a suite on either side of my room but I was supposed to receive an upgrade to one as part of my Winter Escape package. I wasn't planning on spending my holiday with Bob the Builder and his friends and even at around half the normal rate, I was still paying plenty for my holiday. That "great low-season" deal I had snapped up no longer seemed quite so wonderful but there was no one to blame for this debacle but myself.
I should have remembered that hotels often do major maintenance and renovations during low season when disruptions inconvenience the minimum number of guests. Doing work during the off season also ensures that facilities are at their best when things get busy. Low-season deals are a bit of a gamble and unfortunately, on this occasion, Lady Luck wasn't on my side.
So if you see a fantastic off-season deal, never leave things to chance as you can often stack the odds in your favour. Give the hotel a call and ask if there's a reason why the deal is so cheap as you know how the old saying goes. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
That said, sometimes it comes down to the type of holiday you're after. For example, major room renovations aren't necessarily a problem if you're planning on spending your days on the slopes or out seeing the sights. That gorgeous room you picked up for a bargain is yours to enjoy noise-free after the workers have gone home.
Asking if some weeks are better than others can be helpful as well. A hotel receptionist once told me what renovations were being done and which days would be the quietest. We chose our dates wisely and had a great stay.
Hotels aren't the only ones you should be questioning. Sometimes the most important person to ask is yourself. It's easy to be seduced by a cheap low-season deal, but this can be a mistake if it's not the right trip for you. When a friend told me she had booked a walking tour that involved tents, I couldn't help laughing and even she saw the joke. This is a woman who cheerfully admits her idea of camping is three-star.
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Although the price was right, the weather certainly wasn't and her first camping trip was also her last. This is another thing to consider when you're looking at low-season or "shoulder season" deals. Sometimes the rates are cheaper because the time of year isn't ideal for making the most of where you're going.
However, visiting some destinations in low season can be a bonus. Whereas most travellers flock to Northland in summer, there is much to be said for visiting the "winterless North" in the colder months. Accommodation is cheaper, the weather is better than elsewhere in New Zealand and those famous beaches are quieter.