9 Ways to Save Money on a Spring Break Trip

Pros share their secrets for planning a memorable getaway on a tight budget.

U.S. News & World Report

9 Ways to Save Money on a Spring Break Trip

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at sunset.
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Spring for an international trip.

If you have the option to plan a weeklong vacation, you'll find some enticing last-minute deals to Europe and Mexico. "The dollar is stronger against the euro and pound than it’s been in recent history, so if you’re feeling adventurous, why not visit London or Paris? Both cities are offering flights for around $400 round trip from either coast in March and April, and hotels in the spring are much more affordable than the summer," Klee says. That's a cheaper rate than flying from New York to Cancun, he adds.
Girl friends on a summer vacation road trip
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Hit the road.

"With low gas prices all over the U.S. right now and analysts predicting they'll stay low in the coming weeks, now is the ideal time to take a road trip," Marcelia says. While gas prices usually rise in spring, you can still save big by driving instead of flying. It's a particularly smart move if you're traveling a short distance, Klee adds. For longer routes, factor in both time and money, he says. Also make sure to rely on savings apps like GasBuddy to estimate the cost of your trip by punching in a few details and strategically choosing where to fill up.
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A man stands on a boulder and cactus in the Sandia desert mountains of central New Mexico near Albuquerque.
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Get off the beaten track.

"For great deals, it's always a good idea to target a slightly off-the-beaten-path location like Myrtle Beach [South Carolina] or Albuquerque [New Mexico]," says Geena Marcelia, associate manager of brand marketing and travel editor at Hotwire. Ditch popular destinations like Cancun by visiting a less-trodden warmer locale like San Diego, she advises. Another way to save: Plan a big-city escape (think: New York City or Chicago) to take advantage of discounted pricing in business centers, Tornatore says. "While the rates are typically high during the week when they are full of professionals, you'll often find great deals on the weekends as most tourists look to stay near the well-known areas for theater and shopping," she explains.
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Bookmark these insider tricks to cut costs without cutting corners on your next big trip.

With spring break fast approaching – a time when college students across the country swap textbooks and test-cramming for swimsuits and selfies – chances are, you're longing for a relaxing escape from party-heavy locales. But organizing a stress-free and budget-friendly retreat away from the fray isn't a simple feat. That's why U.S. News got the inside scoop from travel experts to bring you clever, time-tested hacks for trimming costs on your spring trip, whether you want a grown-up getaway, nontraditional escape or a family-friendly respite. Read on to save more and spend less on your spring vacation.

Stay flexible.

To score cheap plane tickets, consider booking connecting flights at off-peak times, advises Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. "If you're willing to take a longer connection or forgo a nonstop flight, you will definitely save money at this stage of the game," he explains. During the prime spring break travel season, from late March to early April, airfares will soar, he adds, so it's best to buy now while you still have room for spontaneity. To optimize savings, also consider flying with different carriers in each direction, he adds. "For example, you might fly Virgin America on the outbound and United on the return for maximum savings," Klee explains.

Pick an off-peak travel time.

Rather than traveling with hordes of college students, dodge crowds (and sky-high airfares) by picking less popular routes and travel days. Instead, consider booking a midweek flight, Klee says. "Skip the weekend to save on airfare and, in many cases, accommodation as well," he says. And if you've procrastinated on booking your tickets and you have your heart set on a popular warm-weather destination, don't wait to buy your tickets, he says. "Hoping that airfares will go down to sunny spots in March and April is not a good gamble. Be ready to buy when you’re searching for flights, and snag a good deal when you see it," he cautions.

Fly to or from an alternative airport.

"Even though there may be an airport on your doorstep, don't rule out the possibility that it may be cheaper to fly from one slightly farther away," says Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor at Orbitz.com. Picking an alternative airport can shave hundreds off your trip, even after you factor in the cost of taking a bus or train to get to the alternative airport, she adds. For instance, Tampa International Airport offers a compelling alternative – plus competitive pricing – to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, she explains. Comparing airfares for flights into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (rather than Miami) and Long Beach Airport (instead of Los Angeles International Airport) can also translate to big savings.

Get off the beaten track.

"For great deals, it's always a good idea to target a slightly off-the-beaten-path location like Myrtle Beach [South Carolina] or Albuquerque [New Mexico]," says Geena Marcelia, associate manager of brand marketing and travel editor at Hotwire. Ditch popular destinations like Cancun by visiting a less-trodden warmer locale like San Diego, she advises. Another way to save: Plan a big-city escape (think: New York City or Chicago) to take advantage of discounted pricing in business centers, Tornatore says. "While the rates are typically high during the week when they are full of professionals, you'll often find great deals on the weekends as most tourists look to stay near the well-known areas for theater and shopping," she explains.

Spring for an international trip.

If you have the option to plan a weeklong vacation, you'll find some enticing last-minute deals to Europe and Mexico. "The dollar is stronger against the euro and pound than it’s been in recent history, so if you’re feeling adventurous, why not visit London or Paris? Both cities are offering flights for around $400 round trip from either coast in March and April, and hotels in the spring are much more affordable than the summer," Klee says. That's a cheaper rate than flying from New York to Cancun, he adds.

Hit the road.

"With low gas prices all over the U.S. right now and analysts predicting they'll stay low in the coming weeks, now is the ideal time to take a road trip," Marcelia says. While gas prices usually rise in spring, you can still save big by driving instead of flying. It's a particularly smart move if you're traveling a short distance, Klee adds. For longer routes, factor in both time and money, he says. Also make sure to rely on savings apps like GasBuddy to estimate the cost of your trip by punching in a few details and strategically choosing where to fill up.

Book a package deal.

If you've procrastinated making plans yet still want to pull off a cheap spring getaway, consider bundling your plane tickets, lodging and car rental with an online travel agency such as Expedia or Priceline, Tornatore says. "At the 11th hour, when fares may spike elsewhere, these bundles may cost less than purchasing the flight alone," she explains. While prices will climb closer to your departure date, you can still nab sales with a little creativity, and "most airlines do offer last-minute vacation packages," Klee says. According to Klee, the key is staying open-minded and considering under-the-radar locales to clinch a bargain.

Don't book your seats together.

When booking flights with a large group it may be tempting to reserve seats together, but you can trim costs by purchasing plane tickets separately, Klee says. When you and eight friends or relatives try to book tickets at once, you reduce your chances of booking "at the same low-fare category," he explains. As a result, your search will "bump you up the ticket tier that has eight tickets available, and that may mean you miss out on lower-cost tickets," he says. Instead, search for tickets on your own. "If your priority is saving money, you should take a hard pass on sitting together on the plane," he says.

Consider a low-cost carrier.

In addition to securing low, bare-bones ticket options with ultra-discount carriers such as Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines, you can leverage savings by planning ahead and traveling light, Klee says. "If you can skip paying for seat assignments and checked bags, you can score cheaper flights," he explains. With the low-cost airline Spirit, for example, passengers must pay a hefty price for carry-ons (starting at $30 per bag over 41 pounds), a $10 fee for printing boarding passes and $3 for bottled water, so make sure to bring snacks and pack strategically. "When you’re going somewhere warm, all you need is a swimsuit wardrobe and sunscreen anyway," Klee adds.
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