You can still save on spring break

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As coronavirus restrictions are lifted across the country and around the world, travelers are back on the road and in the skies – some for the first time since the pandemic began.

More than half of Americans plan to travel this spring, according to vacation management company Vacasa — and 37% say they plan to travel during the spring break season.

But they will find a different and more expensive travel landscape.

Travelers still in the planning stages or looking for last-minute trips should be prepared for full flights and more expensive hotels, especially in the most popular destinations. Data from travel booking website Hopper shows the average daily car rental rate topped $80; the national average for gasoline is now $4.25 a gallon, according to figures from AAA, the auto owners group. The average hotel was $166, for the week ending March 19 according to Hopper data, up more than $30 from the same period in 2021. And domestic airfare costs on average $448, a 50% increase from mid-January, according to figures from TripActions. , a travel management company. So, what’s a traveler with a spring break heart to do?

Experts say the deals are still there, but they require creativity and flexibility on the part of the traveler. Some vacationers may have to settle for the next best hotel or another travel destination – or postpone travel until the summer months.

Here are some strategies to help you get away cheaply.

BE FLEXIBLE

Experts recommend that potential vacationers looking for lower fares consider other destinations close to their top pick. Indeed, travelers already seem to be putting this advice into practice. Miami, for example, is usually a popular destination for travelers during spring break. Still, Craig Ewer, a Google spokesperson who studies travel trends, says high prices — hotels in the city cost an average of $318 a night this month, according to Trivago — are prompting travelers to look elsewhere. .

Google data revealed that Miami was not even among the top five Google searches for international and domestic air travel and hotels between December 2021 and March. This indicates that travelers are looking for alternative and less expensive destinations. But the Sunshine State remains popular: The most popular destinations by search included three Florida destinations — Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Key West — and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and Nassau, Bahamas. (Miami Beach on Monday declared a state of emergency and put the South Beach area under curfew after two shots injured five. The curfew, which lasts from 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. until March 28 , applies to part of the popular South Beach area with bars and restaurants.)

If Miami or Orlando aren’t on the list right now due to high prices, travelers might want to look further afield. In Central America, consider affordable alternatives like San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, which has grown in popularity in recent years and has seen a 37% drop in airfares from 2021 to 2022, or Panama City, Panama , which recorded an 11% decline, according to a January Hopper report.

Or you can wait: “If your heart is really set on somewhere sunny,” Ewer said, “it might be worth postponing your trip for a few weeks.

That kind of patience can come in handy for spring break travelers thinking about Hawaii, which as of March 26 is dropping its “Safe Travels Hawaii” coronavirus restrictions, which were among the strictest in the United States. The state is anticipating a wave of spring break travelers, many of whom will likely take advantage of lower fares and shorter flight times from West Coast states like California and Washington.

“We are absolutely seeing indications that people from the West Coast are becoming more interested in traveling to Hawaii,” Ewer said. But, he said, prices are higher than average for trips to the islands. Ewer said flexible travelers should avoid Hawaii for now and travel to the state in late April or May, when prices are expected to be lower.

RETHINKING CAR RENTAL

When Kara Harms, 30, a San Francisco-based lifestyle blogger, began reviewing spring break travel plans, she was stunned by the high prices and low availability of rental cars in the desired destinations.

“Car rental prices are incredibly high this spring, and there are fewer car options to begin with,” Harms wrote in an email. The cheapest option she found was almost $200 a day. Car rental companies infamously sold parts of their fleets at the height of the pandemic, leading to shortages when travel rebounded. Experts say that’s why some travelers still struggle to find a rental before their vacation.

Harms opted for an April trip to Vail, Colorado, and Austin, Texas, but said she rearranged her itinerary to avoid renting a vehicle for her vacation. “After the car rental sticker shock, we opted to shorten our trip by one day and limit our activities to the city to avoid having to rent a car,” she said. But even that didn’t solve all his problems.

“While in Austin, my group wants to take an overnight trip to nearby Texas Hill Country for wine tastings,” Harms said. “I’m in charge of booking a hotel, but my top five choices are full.”

Scott Keyes, founder of travel deals website Scott’s Cheap Flights, recommends potential spring break travelers looking for car rental deals lock in refundable reservations now and set a calendar reminder for check prices daily and cancel if prices drop in the future.

“The more time you give yourself, the more time car rental rates have to come down,” Keyes said.

PAY WITH POINTS

Travel experts say the window for booking the cheapest spring break air travel has already passed. Hopper data shows that prices for domestic flights — averaging $324 as of March 16 — are already higher than the same time in 2019.

This means travelers may want to consider other methods of booking travel during spring break, especially at the last minute. Travelers who accumulated points using their credit cards during the pandemic may want to use the points they earned or the airline miles they saved. However, keep in mind that many frequent flyer programs use dynamic reward pricing, including Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, and fares are typically higher closer to departure. That means travelers can best stick with loyalty programs that still use fixed reward charts, like Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan or Hyatt’s World of Hyatt. (While Hyatt still uses a rewards chart, the chain is also moving to peak and off-peak rates where the price of a reward stay can vary based on date and demand.)

Most travelers know that many of the cheapest cash-paid airfares require advance purchase. This means that travelers must book the ticket a certain number of days before the flight departs. One of the most common is a 21-day advance purchase requirement – which, if you’re planning to travel during Spring Break, means you need to have your ticket booked by mid-March to get the cheapest fare. expensive for mid April. Travel.

“If you wait until the 20th day before your trip to book your flights, that cheapest fare band is no longer available,” Keyes said.

TAKE THE TRAIN OR THE BUS

Travelers who find flights expensive or rental cars scarce may consider traveling by train or bus: Amtrak is offering up to 30% off its popular Acela route for tickets booked at least 14 days in advance. Acela operates between Washington and Boston, and includes stops in cities like Baltimore, New York and Providence, Rhode Island.

Finally, intercity buses are a cost-effective option and some bus companies are rethinking the passenger bus experience.

Start-up bus company The Jet, which offers service between Washington and New York – a route already awash with cheap bus fares from companies like Greyhound and Megabus – aims to recreate the feel of an airplane on a coach . The bus carries a maximum of 14 passengers and includes free beer and wine and an attendant on the bus. Tickets start at $99 one way, for major museums and attractions in both cities. For travelers looking for free outdoor activities, Washington’s cherry blossoms have just reached their peak.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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