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Saving money on spring break can be a challenge since nearly everyone is trying to skip town around the same time. Whether you plan to rent a car for a road trip, fly to a tropical beach or book a quiet vacation rental somewhere new, many parents with kids, college students and education workers have the exact same idea.
So, how can you pay less for this much-needed trip? That depends on the type of vacation you’re booking, how many people are in your group and how flexible you are with your plans. While there are some spring break travel deals out there, there are some other ways you can think about to save on your vacation — whether you’re just booking or looking to set a plan for while you’re on the trip.
Save on booking your spring break trip
First off, it’s smart to strive for savings when you’re deciding where you should stay and how you’re going to get there. Travel experts suggest booking as early as you can, which, at this point, means you should be ready to book soon.
Here are some other noteworthy ways to save on booking your spring break trip.
Be flexible with where you go
Sophie Anderson, the founder of the sustainable tourism blog The Wanderful Me, says your first order of business when it comes to spring break travel should involve comparison shopping. Choose a destination that’s traditionally cheaper than others, she says.
“Everyone in the United States seems to head to Daytona Beach, Cancun, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta or places in California for spring break,” Anderson says. “But I highly recommend looking farther away for a cheaper spring break vacation.”
For example, look to Hollywood, Florida, instead of Daytona Beach, or Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic, rather than Punta Cana. You may find lower prices if you’re willing to travel slightly off the beaten path, and if you’re willing to consider multiple destinations with similar features.
According to Google, the top trending destinations for 2023 spring break include San Juan, New Orleans, Punta Cana, Montego Bay and Fort Myers. To save on flights to these popular destinations — and others — Google recommends booking your flights sooner rather than later. In fact, Google found that between 2018 and 2022, the average flight prices were seen 38 days before departure for trips beginning in March or April.
A website like Google Flights can help you compare flight prices to multiple destinations all in one place. By using the service’s Explore tool, you can see what destinations are cheapest from your home airport on any given set of dates. If you’re after cheap flights, consider a membership service like Thrifty Traveler Premium to get cheap flights sent to your inbox every day.
Don’t necessarily travel Saturday to Saturday
Anderson also recommends avoiding flying on busy days during peak travel weeks like spring break. For example, see if you can depart on Friday afternoon instead of Saturday morning. Prices could be even lower if you fly Sunday to Sunday or Monday to Monday, but you’ll never know unless you check.
The same is true for hotels. Where weekend prices tend to be higher, you might score some savings for booking a shorter spring break getaway mid-week instead.
Compare prices on condos, hotels and resorts
Travel enthusiast Michelle Steinhardt of The Trav Nav says you should always use a hotel company’s best-rate guarantee to your advantage. Take the time to search third-party sites to see if the exact same reservation booked through sites like Expedia or Kayak costs less than booking directly with the hotel. Note, however, that the booking has to be exactly the same — as in, same dates, same room type and same cancellation policies.
“If the cost is lower with a third-party site, contact the hotel so the hotel can verify the lower price,” says Steinhardt. “Depending on the low-price guarantee, you can end up with the lower price, plus additional savings or reward points.”
Also, look into “bundling” your vacation to get a better deal. For example, you may pay less overall when you use an online travel agent like Expedia to book a vacation package that includes your hotel and flights for one price.
Look for extra fees
To save yourself some extra cash, watch out for extra fees on your bookings. These can include taxes that are added on at the end of your reservation, resort fees and booking fees. If you’re comparing vacation homes or condos on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo, also make sure you’re comparing the final booking price after accounting for owner fees, service fees and cleaning fees.
Plus, keep in mind fees like those for checked luggage. There are several ways you can avoid checked baggage fees, and it can make a big difference to your bottom line if you’re planning on bringing large luggage on your spring break flight.
Shop around for rental cars
If you need one, make sure you compare multiple options when looking for a rental car. For example, you can compare rental car prices on websites like Expedia and Priceline — and also through the rental car company itself. Then, when you’re ready to book, do so with the right rental car credit card to ensure you’ve got insurance should something go awry.
From there, you can set your rental car reservation up with a profile on AutoSlash, which tracks your rental period for lower prices among all the major car rental companies.
Jonathan Weinberg, the company’s CEO, says you can take advantage of this option and save money when you don’t pay for your rental car upfront. Instead, book a “pay later” option just to lock in the price.
From there, AutoSlash will continually check prices for your rental, and it’ll let you know if it finds a lower price. If it does, you can re-book and save money.
“It’s a surefire way to avoid overpaying for your rental,” Weinberg says.
Choose a place to stay that helps you save while you’re there
Keri Baugh, the founder of Bon Voyage With Kids, says you should try to choose a place to stay that promotes saving money. For example, she recommends families stay in vacation rentals or hotels that have kitchenettes like Marriott Residence Inn properties. That way, you can at least have breakfast in your room to score some savings.
“You can also have other meals in the room, especially if you bring some of your own road trip food,” says Baugh. “Or have groceries delivered through Instacart. This helps cut down on costs from eating out, although that is part of the fun of traveling, too.”
Travel advisor Courtney Jackson of Wishful Escapes also says to consider all-inclusive resorts, which bundle your food, drinks — often including alcohol — and plenty of entertainment in the nightly rate. While you might pay more upfront for your vacation booking, not having to cover meals, drinks and activities can lead to considerable savings.
Use a travel agent to book a cruise
If you’ve got your eyes set on cruising this spring break, use a travel agent to help you score the lowest price with the benefit of personalized advice.
Not only that, but travel agents can sometimes help you access perks like onboard credits and cabin upgrades for free.
Tina Robinson-Quirke of TRQ Travel, a travel agent who specializes in cruises, says that now is an excellent time to find stellar promotions for cruises, including free drink packages, free excursions, specialty dining and more.
Be choosy with Disney stays
We all know that Disney vacations can be expensive, but there are ways to save when you visit any Disney park.
Leah Johnson, a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacation packages, says to first make sure you’re considering all the different Disney resorts before you book a stay at any park. There are value resorts, including ones that have family suites that sleep up to six. She also notes that many Disney properties have a mini kitchen to help you save on food if you’re willing to prepare some meals on your own.
If you’re willing to stay just off the resorts, Johnson says there are many “Good Neighbor” hotels at lower price points than Disney resorts. These properties meet Disney standards for quality and service and are extremely close to Disney parks, she says. They can even provide transportation to the parks, as well as a guest services desk to help with planning your day.
Use travel rewards and cash back
Travel expert Greg Johnson of Club Thrifty also says to see if you have any extra travel rewards you can use for flights, hotels and more. For example, check to see if you have unused airline miles you can use for flights or seat upgrades, or see if you have extra hotel points you can use for a few free nights.
If you have a Chase credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can also see about booking excursions for your vacation, such as snorkeling trips or sunset cruises. Of course, these points can be used to book hotels, rental cars, flights and even cruises online. Chase Ultimate Rewards are also redeemable for statement credits at a rate of one cent per point, so you can even use your rewards to cover gas for your rental car, groceries or dinners out during spring break.
Currently, the Chase Sapphire Preferred comes with a sign-up bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. The card is one of our favorites for those looking for a great, beginner-level card with lucrative travel rewards options.
Saving while you’re on spring break
While most spring break savings can be found when you’re actually booking your trip, you’ll want to make sure you have a plan when you get to your destination. After all, it’s easy to enjoy vacation a little too much only to return home to a credit card bill of epic proportions. Here are some tips to help you pay less for spring break after you arrive.
Have a budget plan in mind
Laura Ratliff, former senior editorial director for the travel site TripSavvy, says to take steps to plan a vacation budget before you go. However, be realistic about how much you might want to spend on activities where you’re visiting, as well as dining out and souvenirs.
“Don’t forget to account for at least one little splurge, whether it be a beloved souvenir, dinner at a trendy restaurant or a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she says. “Knowing that you’re treating yourself at least once on your trip will make sticking to your budget easier.”
Find free things to do
Ratliff also says to look for free activities, which may be easier with some types of trips than others. If you’re on a cruise ship, for example, skip the casino in favor of free nightly shows and sunbathing next to the pool. If you’re at a resort, check the property calendar to see what the staff has planned that you may be able to participate in — or watch — for free. Many spring break resorts offer free extras like movie nights by the pool, karaoke parties or trivia nights.
Ratliff also says it can pay to get out and explore. For example, research local hiking trails for great views, or visit a farmers market and try local fruits and vegetables for a quick snack. Or, spend some time in a local park listening to live music.
Be strategic with food spending
Steinhardt also points out that food can be a real budget-breaker — especially if you consider dining out to be part of the travel experience.
However, you can always be picky about which meals to eat out for, or you can combine meals for greater savings. For example, you can eat brunch and dinner rather than breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can also choose to dine out just at lunch instead of dinner some days, which is often much cheaper.
In the meantime, you can maximize your savings if you stay at a hotel where breakfast is included in the nightly rate. In that case, you might only pay for dinner and a snack each day by eating a little later instead of three meals every day.
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