Last Updated: February 24, 2022
Despite rising costs for travel and lodgings, it’s still possible to take an amazing spring break vacation without breaking the bank.
After years of uncertainty and travel restrictions, millions of Americans are ready to take spring break trips this year. In fact, about 56 percent of Americans are planning to hit the road this spring, with 37 percent traveling during spring break specifically. However, while many are gearing up for their getaways, prices are soaring across the country, and hotels, gas, and airline tickets aren’t exceptions.
Despite this, it’s still possible to explore, relax, or party on your spring break trip without breaking the bank – and we’ve put all of our best travel savings tips into one place to help you turn your dream vacation into reality.
Spring Break Savings Tips:
- Book sooner rather than later
- Tips and tricks for using Google Flights
- Maximize theSouthwest Airlines low fare calendar
- Think beyond your preferred destination when comparing flights and prices
- Travel as a group so you can split expenses and qualify for more discounts
- Go all-inclusive
- Build flexibility into your trip, and expect the unexpected
- Cook/prep meals instead of eating out all of the time
- Pay with a credit card if possible
- Get passes, tickets, and drinks packages in advance, or see if you can bundle with your resort/hotel
- Drive instead of fly (especially if you’re near a cruise port)
- Pair your destination with budget-friendly transportation
- Check out Savings.com travel deals
- Chat with locals about the best spots for inexpensive, fun activities, drinks, and food
- Focus on free activities such as beaches and hikes
- Avoid “too good to be free"
- Beware of scams
- Top spring break destinations, inexpensive alternatives,Disney value resorts, cruises, and other savings tips
Book sooner rather than later
2022 is not a good year to wait for last-minute deals. Flights and accommodations have filled up fast, and what’s left could get significantly costlier. Already, airfare costs 20 percent more and lodging is about 22 percent more from 2021.
Many travel experts say there is a “sweet spot" for booking flights. For instance, Scott Keyes with Scott’s Cheap Flights points to a one-to-three-month window for domestic flights and two to eight months for international flights. Since spring break is rapidly approaching, now is the time to begin searching if you have not already.
Google Flights, the Southwest low fare calendar, and your favorite online travel agency are all good starting places. Stick with Google Flights if you want to find the best deals without having to search on multiple sites.
Tips and tricks for using Google Flights
Google Flights finds the lowest fares much of the time. The program pulls pricing data and other info directly from airline carriers and some third-party travel agencies. Once you find your desired itinerary on Google Flights, you can then book flights directly with the air carriers or travel agencies. Here are a few tips:
- Consider booking directly with airlines you find on Google Flights even if you come across a third-party travel agency flight that is a few dollars cheaper. Direct booking means quicker resolutions if problems or delays arise. If you’re worried about weather or COVID-19 disrupting your plans, direct booking is worth a few extra dollars.
- Use the desktop version of Google Flights if possible. You can access the info on your smartphone, but the desktop experience is better.
- Search multiple airports (up to five departing locations and up to five destinations). When you’re flexible about where to go for spring break, this trick really comes in handy. Enter five beach destinations thousands of miles apart to find the best one to fly into. (You can even search entire states instead of airports to see flight costs at popular cities across the state.) As for departure airports, flights could be much cheaper at the airport an hour’s drive away than the one five minutes from home.
- If your trip dates are flexible, you have more chances to save money on flights. Compare prices on a few different dates or look at the price graph to see what days have the lowest airfare.
- You can track prices to receive email notifications in case airfare to your destination decreases or increases (Gmail account required). Toggle to make the “Any Dates" button blue to get notified about low flight rates.
- Select filters to narrow your searches by type of fare (economy, premium economy, etc.), airline, maximum prices, departure and arrival times, number of stops and so on. The more you filter, however, the fewer options you will have to save.
- Be sure to check if your selected ticket and itinerary includes free carry-ons or checked bags. Otherwise, make sure you factor luggage costs into your budget.
- Don’t worry about searching in incognito mode for your flights. Travel expert Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights says that incognito mode searching or cookie clearing is not necessary. Airlines don’t hike up prices to get more money from unsuspecting searchers. However, it can seem that way due to lower ticket prices expiring while you browse.
- You can also browse deals on hotels and vacation rentals when using Google Flights.
If you can travel on pretty much any date during the spring, check out Google Flights “Explore": Highlight “Explore" in the left-hand column (between “Travel" and “Things to Do" to get ideas for spring break trips in the next few months. You get to see how much it costs to fly to different places around the country or world. Choose from a weekend, one-week, and two-week trip to get an idea of airfare rates.
Suppose your spring break window is a week in March. Using the Explore feature, you could select a one-week trip in March from your hometown and compare prices for various destination options.
Wait…you said Google Flights finds the cheapest fare much of the time. What about when it doesn’t? Glad you asked! Google Flights is a one-stop shop for flights unless you fly Southwest, Allegiant, or international airlines such as Philippine Airlines, Thai Airways, Air China, and China Eastern.
Occasionally, carriers work with Expedia or other online travel agencies to deeply discount flights. These discounts don’t always show up on Google Flights.
Maximize the Southwest Airlines low fare calendar
Southwest is a popular airline for trips to Hawaii, plus it is well-known for its customer service, affordability, and rewards program. To catch a Southwest flight, book directly at Southwest.com or the Southwest app. Fares don’t show up on Google Flights or online travel agency websites. Look into Southwest if:
- You live near one of their major airports: Atlanta (ATL), Baltimore/Washington (BWI), Chicago Midway (MDW), Denver (DEN), Houston Hobby (HOU), Nashville (BNA), Oakland (OAK), Phoenix (PHX) and St. Louis (STL)
- You like being able to check two bags for free
- You don’t mind not being assigned seats (either arrive early to board early or pay the Business Select fare to choose your seat)
Of course, you should check out their Low Fare Calendar. Choose a departure and arrival city, and month. A calendar grid shows up with the various starting airfare prices for each day. If your dates are flexible, the savings can be huge, sometimes in the hundreds of dollars.
“Wanna Get Away" is the cheapest fare and is reusable if you can’t fly on the trip you booked. It is not refundable, but if the fare drops after you book it, you get a “Travel Fund" credit that makes the difference up through Southwest points. The points do expire, so keep an eye on that. Use the “Change Flights" option to make flight changes.
If you’re a Southwest Rapid Rewards member, check the Low Fare Calendar using points rather than currency. Another way to get more points: Stay at a hotel that is a Southwest Rapid Rewards partner or use a qualifying credit card.
Southwest Vacations lets you book a flight, hotel, car, and/or activities. Promo codes on vacations in places such as California, Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean can lead to significant savings, by as much as 25 percent. That could be perfect for spring break and summer trips!
Think beyond your preferred destination when comparing flights and prices
Spring break in ultra-popular destinations such as Key West, Florida, Cancún, Mexico and Costa Rica sometimes means higher airfares and hotel rates. Compare these prices with alternatives such as Panama City, Panama or Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Going somewhere off the beaten path could lead to significant savings (jump down to see our recommendations for the most popular destinations).
Travel as a group so you can split expenses and qualify for more discounts
Look for home rentals or other larger accommodations rather than paying for a bunch of individual hotel rooms. If you’re cruising, you can get group discounts, too.
An all-inclusive spring break party package, resort, or cruise means you don’t have to worry about being nickeled and dimed or surprise credit card bills. You won’t spend spring break fighting with friends over splitting costs. All-inclusive rates can also prevent a lot of planning headaches.
If the all-inclusive price at a resort or destination seems too high at first glance, consider the big picture (e.g. you can eat all meals on site instead of having to pay for transportation and each meal at a restaurant). Do ensure that all-inclusive actually means just that, and make yourself aware of the limitations. For instance, it might not include round-trip transportation to the airport or childcare (but it might). It also might not include the fancy lobster, tips, upgrades, or unique excursions.
Build flexibility into your trip, and expect the unexpected
Get travel insurance or book with companies that let you cancel or reschedule easily.
For peace of mind that you’ll get to go somewhere for spring break no matter what happens (pandemic restrictions, illness, weather, etc.), make plans for more than one destination. For example, line up two sets of hotel accommodations in two cities. Stick with hotels that don’t penalize you too much for cancellations as long as they’re made within a reasonable timeframe, and you should get to go somewhere. This practice is called trip stacking.
Cook/prep meals instead of eating out all of the time
To save a lot of cash, opt for rentals that have kitchenettes or kitchens. The money you’ll save by eating in can pay for a day of scuba diving, riding roller coasters, or enjoying a spa.
Pay with a credit card if possible
Cards give you protection if something scammy or fraudulent arises, and you can earn points, air miles, or cash back on purchases with many cards that could offset the costs of your trip.
Get passes, tickets, and drinks packages in advance, or see if you can bundle with your resort/hotel
Whether you plan to explore museums, beaches, or mountains, it’s often less expensive to pay in advance for activities or tours. Look into bundled prices where you get access to a range of attractions for the price of just two or three. For instance, guests at Universal Orlando Resort can save up to $200 by booking their hotel rooms and theme park tickets together (hint: Florida residents also can get additional discounts at Orlando-area resorts and parks).
The same “pay ahead of time" idea applies to drinks packages. For instance, one cruise drink package can cost $63 a night plus an 18 percent gratuity when you get it at least four days in advance. However, it costs up to $79 a night plus the gratuity if you wait to buy it on the ship.
Drive instead of fly (especially if you’re near a cruise port)
Driving isn’t always cheaper than flying due to rising gas prices, but it allows for more flexibility, and you can bring all of your luggage for free. Plus, a bunch of people can pack into one vehicle and split the cost of gas.
Also, cruise ports are located in cities all around the country, such as Baltimore, Maryland Charleston, South Carolina, and Galveston, Texas. You might be within driving distance of a cruise port and have no idea! Parking rates often apply, so you get the most savings if someone drops you off or if everyone in the car splits the fees.
Pair your destination with budget-friendly transportation
Students under 25 years old often get charged extra car rental fees. If you’re flying somewhere for spring break, explore car alternatives such as walking or biking, public transportation, or rideshare apps.
Check out Savings.com travel deals
Save on flight fees, vacation packages, attraction bundles, and more. Narrow your search criteria by category or travel store, for example, hotels, tours, Disney World, or Hotwire.
Chat with locals about the best spots for inexpensive, fun activities, drinks, and food
These folks include Uber/Lyft drivers, vacation rental property owners, and hotel concierges. Sometimes the typical tourist spots have higher prices (and longer wait times), so friendly locals can help you go off the beaten path. Ask them to share their favorite restaurants and activities, and also ask which areas of town you should avoid.
Focus on free activities such as beaches and hikes
Freebies can be your best friend even if you’re not the beachy or outdoorsy type. If you love live music or museums, there are bound to be some free or reduced-price events at your spring break destination. But also…
Avoid “too good to be free"
Someone offers you free concert tickets or a $100 gift card. All you have to do is attend a timeshare presentation. No sweat, right? Wrong. These types of offers tend to consume hours of your time, even when the folks promise two hours, max. They’re energy-sapping headaches, and attendees do sometimes end up being pressured into timeshares or other “deals" they do not want or cannot afford.
Save your spring break time and energy for other activities.
Beware of scams
In a common scam, taxi drivers take roundabout routes so they can overcharge passengers who are unfamiliar with the area. Avoid this by telling your driver the route you want to take (after consulting a map app), or stick with official rideshare apps, hotel shuttles and other transportation you know is trustworthy. Many cities and countries will also certify taxis, so be sure to only ride in taxis that are licensed by local authorities. Before you depart, search online for the name of your destination plus “authorized taxis" to find out which companies are legitimate.
Another major scam is misleading vacation property advertising. Suppose you find a dirt-cheap deal for a gigantic, gleaming beach mansion. It could be a scam. The Federal Trade Commission points out that criminals have several ways to part travelers from their money, whether it’s through “stolen" rental listings with contact info changed, plain made-up listings, or some other tactic. It’s hard to pass up a magnificent deal, and scammers know that.
- Take your time deciding on a rental property. If a deal sounds too good to be true, take extra measures to verify it is legitimate. For instance, get contracts with contact info, check listings online, and verify that the addresses exist on Google Maps. When vetting a property, go through official sources, for instance, calling a resort front desk instead of the number of an individual person the property owner told you to call. If the offer is free airline miles with a certain property rental, contact the airline and ask if the offer is above board.
- Search the rental company/property manager’s names with terms such as, “scam," “review," and “complaint."
- Get someone you trust to visit the property and verify it, if you’re lucky enough to know someone who lives in your spring break destination.
- Pay with a credit card, and follow all anti-scammer procedures with companies such as Airbnb. That way, if disputes arise, you should be protected. Note that Airbnb discourages off-platform transactions in order to keep you safe.
- Do not send gift cards or wire money to secure a rental property. You likely won’t get that money back.
Top spring break destinations, inexpensive alternatives, Disney value resorts, cruises, and other savings tips
Spring break expenses add up fast with airfare or gas, lodging, food, activities, and more. Here’s a list of popular destinations and alternatives where budget deals are more common.
Savings Tips for the Most Popular Spring Break Destinations
- Miami Beach/South Beach, Florida:
When booking flights remember it may be cheaper to fly into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport (FLL) instead of Miami International Airport. You can fly to FLL on a budget airline like Spirit, then take a shuttle to Miami for about $15. Keep in mind there is no need to rent a car when visiting Miami Beach as it is a pedestrian-friendly city with good public transportation.
- Cabo San Lucas, Mexico:
At this party-hearty destination, look into all-inclusive packages for resorts. Use a travel site like CheapoAir, Hotwire, or OneTravel and use the filter tool to compare deals on all-inclusive resorts.
- Punta Cana, Dominican Republic:
Punta Cana is the resort capital of the Dominican Republic, and you can find good all-inclusive deals. An alternative that could offer significant savings is Samana Bay. It’s less glitzy than some other resort areas, but still offers stunning white-sand beaches.
- Nassau, Bahamas
Avoid super high-end resorts and look into smaller-scale beachfront resorts for the best deals.
Popular, Less Expensive Spring Break Alternatives
- Outer Banks, North Carolina: This destination offers many larger rental homes to choose from, which is great for big groups and big savings. While there are fewer hotels to choose from, you can find good rates especially in the colder spring months. The weather is not as predictably nice as in Florida, however.
- New Orleans, Louisiana: If your schedule allows, plan to avoid Mardi Gras, when prices go up. The farther out you stay from the French Quarter, the more money you should save.
- Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: In this family-friendly beach town, you can pick from lots of budget hotels, condos, and rental homes. Luckily, this area is driveable from much of the East Coast.
- South Padre Island, Texas: Don’t forget about Texas beaches! This little-known spot is increasingly family friendly and still a hot destination for college students.
- Panama City Beach, Florida: Alcohol is not allowed on the beaches in March, which could dampen some spring breaks but make it more welcoming for families. Avoid waterfront hotels and condos, which are priciest.
- Grand Canyon: Spring break is a less busy time to visit this natural wonder versus the overly crowded summer. This destination could be perfect for frugal hikers and outdoor lovers who love tent camping, RVs, and cabins.
- Daytona Beach, Florida: Book at hotels farther from the oceanfront for the best bargains.
- Key West, Florida: Compare the prices of flying into Miami or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and renting a car versus flying into Key West. The first two airports may be much more affordable even with car rental, plus the 3½-hour drive offers stunning views. Stay on Marathon or an island other than Key West for lower-cost accommodations.
- Sanibel Island, Florida: This destination is good for spring breakers who prefer a laid-back time surrounded by nature instead of a constant party. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, the quiet island is famous for its rare seashells (and lots of them).
- Savannah, Georgia area: Large groups should look into beachfront home rentals in Tybee Island, Hilton Head, Jekyll, or St. Simons. Beautiful, inexpensive campsites are available in many of these places. The Savannah area offers a nice mix of history, culture, and beach, and you can find inexpensive lodgings in the city proper if beaches are not your thing. Savannah does turn into Party City, USA, for St. Patrick’s, which sometimes coincides with spring break. Prices could be higher then, so beware of this when choosing your dates.
- Las Vegas, Nevada: To keep costs low in the “City of Lost Wages", stay away from the extravagantly expensive hotels on the Strip that charge more than $150 a night per room, and avoid gambling. If you enjoy hiking and camping, Las Vegas will not disappoint. You camp near Red Rock Canyon National Park or Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area and explore stunning rock formations and other sites.
Other DestinationsHere are additional popular places to go, especially for families or college students who aren’t too keen on the typical beachy or party-hearty experience. In outdoor areas such as Moab, Utah, you can usually save money by staying at a campground.
- Austin, Texas
- Boulder, Colorado
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Chicago, Illinois
- Destin, Florida
- Hollywood, Florida
- Kauai, Hawaii
- La Jolla, California
- Los Angeles, California
- Maui, Hawaii
- Moab, Utah
- Montego Bay, Jamaica
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Orlando, Florida
- Palm Springs, California
- Pismo Beach, California
- Sedona, Arizona
- St. Augustine, Florida
- St. Petersburg, Florida
- Washington, D.C.
- Zion National Park, Utah
Compare the costs of each park/resort and your transportation costs if you’re not picky about which one to stay in. These value resorts offer as much as $200 savings per day:
- All-Star Movies Resort
- All-Star Music Resort
- All-Star Sports Resort
- Art of Animation Resort
- Pop Century Resort
Family suites at these value resorts offer some of the best group deals for Disney properties. “Good Neighbor" hotels offsite may be even less expensive, and many include transportation to the parks.
With ports all over the United States and world, cruises can make for significant spring break travel savings. You have the ability to purchase packages upfront, have fun with friends or family of all ages, and not worry about spending lots of money on surprise costs. However, the Centers for Disease Control still recommends avoiding cruise travel, especially if you are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Once you weigh the risks and benefits, companies like STS Travel and College Party Cruise offer special spring break travel packages and cruises for college students. Popular college spring break cruise destinations include:
- Nassau, Bahamas
- Cancun Mexico
- Negril, Jamaica
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
- Miami, Florida
- Costa Rica
- Ibiza, Spain
The earlier you book, the more money you should save. If you’re concerned about the safety of cruise travel right now, you could book in advance for a 2023 spring break cruise.