5 Ways to Still Save Big on Spring Break Travel
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The Fiscal Times
March 3, 2014

Still looking for the ultimate spring break experience but afraid you missed your chance to nail a bargain? Don’t fret, late bookers. With a little flexibility and the help of a few travel websites, you could still be on your way to your dream destination.

The bad news is that airfare has already gone through the roof. If you’re planning to travel during the peak weeks of March 16 and March 23, expect to pay a 35 percent premium on your ticket, according to travel site Hopper.com.

Related:  17 Great Travel Apps for Your Vacation

Most of today’s planes are flying at or near capacity, thanks to recent airline consolidation. “At the beginning of the year, fares for spring break didn’t look nearly as bad as they were for Christmas and Thanksgiving, but now they’re high,” says Jeff Klee, chief executive of CheapAir.com, which helps track how prices rise and fall over time.

Here’s how to get find the best possible deal on spring break travel:

Choose your destination wisely. For later bookers, some destinations may be cheaper to fly to than others. These include Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Orlando in Florida; Myrtle Beach in South Carolina; and Las Vegas and Phoenix.

For the third year in a row, South Florida is the number one spring break destination, followed by Orlando, and Phoenix, according to Travelocity.

Related: 7 Secrets to Scoring Cheap Airline Tickets While domestic fares have increased ahead of spring break, most international travel prices are flat, although it depends on your destination. “Guadalajara is a bit cheaper during spring break this year, but St. Thomas is one of the cities with the highest premium,” Klee says.

Another way to save is to ditch the warm weather and head to a big city instead. Flights to New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, or even London or Paris don’t fluctuate as much during this time.  

Be flexible with travel times. The more flexible you are, the sweeter the deal. It’s usually cheaper to fly between Monday through Wednesday, rather than Thursday through Saturday. A Friday departure on average will add 22 percent to a ticket price, while a Saturday departure adds 18 percent, according to Hopper.com.

Looking for airports that may be a little further from your home or your destination could net you a better price. Average airfare at Long Beach Airport, for example, is less than half the cost of airfare at Los Angeles International; and average airfare in White Plains, N.Y., is about half than at John F. Kennedy Airport, according to Cheapflights.com.

Related: 5 Tips for Booking Cheap Off-Season Travel

You’ll also likely find better fares in the early morning and on red-eye flights. Flying from or to a small airport or on a connecting flight also usually costs less. You might also save money by buying two one-way tickets as opposed to a round trip, although that typically applies only to North America destinations. Use the booking tools Kayak.com and Google Flights to compare prices on one-way versus roundtrip tickets.

Look for a package deal. Bundling your flight and hotel can typically save you money, from several hundred dollars for a four-day trip to as much as $1,000 for a week. You may be able to save even more by looking for an all-inclusive package. “It might be a bigger upfront cost, but at least you’re more aware of your total cost for the trip,” says Mattias Larsson of DefinitiveDeals.com, a website for online coupons and deals.

A recent deal at Cheapcarribean.com offered an all-inclusive package for four nights in Los Cabos with airfare for $599, a trip that would normally cost up to $1,500. “Such second-tier websites have some really good deals and aren’t that well known,” says Larsson[mm1] .  “Some are more focused and specialized and have closer connections to hotels on the ground.” But such deals sell out very quickly.

Skip the hotel. Another way to save money is by renting a condo or home through a site like VRBO.com. You won’t get all the amenities of a hotel – but  you can cook your meals instead of going to pricey restaurants and typically get much more space. You can also lodge groups of five or six people (or more) in a condo rather than splitting into three hotel rooms.

Plan ahead for next year. For those who would like to get a head start on next year’s spring break travel,  it’s best to start planning in early January. But there is such a thing as booking too early. More than three months in advance may be too soon, according to travel experts.

Being knowledgeable about flight costs is key. “The most important thing is to be an informed shopper,” says Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper.com. “Know ahead of time what price to expect and what prices other people got in different weeks.”

Each year Travelocity publishes a “price to beat” as a benchmark for measuring busy travel times. This year, its price to beat for domestic airfare is $442. For international airfare, the price to beat is $806.

Several websites can help you keep an eye on fares. Tools like Bing Price Predictor, Airfarewatchdog.com, and farecompare.com alert you to deals as they arise. Yapta.com does all of that, too, and, for certain airlines, if the price drops below what you paid, it will also detail how you can get a refund for the difference. Many airlines also have their own deal-alert tools, so those are worth a look as well. 

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Marine Cole has been covering finance and business for a decade and has written for publications that include The Wall Street Journal, Crain's New York Business, and AdvertisingAge.