6 popular spring break destinations and how to save on travel using cards
From flying to alternative airports to cashing in the right kind of rewards, here's how to score a great getaway on a budget
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Who isn’t dreaming of a vacation getaway as spring arrives? But this is also the season the prices of some destinations go up. Way up.
That still doesn’t mean you have to say “no” to your own spring break. Between alternative destinations and smart travel hacks that spring getaway is just a few clicks – or calls – away.
Here are six dream destinations, with strategies to snag a discount this spring:
6 popular spring break destinations – on a budget
- The Caribbean.
- Western ski slopes: Colorado, Utah and the Sierras.
- Theme parks.
1. The Caribbean
Spring in the islands can be pricey. But there are bargains, too.
“If you want to go to the Caribbean, we always recommend Puerto Rico,” says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of BudgetTravel.com.
One of his favorite spots: Old San Juan. Not only are there hundreds of hotels and resorts, great beaches and thousands of restaurants, but you’ll also find “beautiful culture and wonderful food,” he says.
Plus, you can get rooms for less than $200 a night, which is “often not the case in other [Caribbean] destinations,” says Firpo-Cappiello.
And, since Puerto Rico is part of the U.S., you don’t even need a passport.
Tip: “Be flexible,” says John E. DiScala, founder of JohnnyJet.com. Instead of flying “on Friday or Saturday or Sunday like everyone else, go on Tuesday or Wednesday.” Ditto the return trip. That savings can be “up to 50 percent,” he adds.
But book those flights on Sunday, says Pauline Frommer, co-president of FrommerMedia and editorial director of Frommer’s Guidebooks. Consumers who do pay an average of 17 percent less, according to a recent study by the Airline Reporting Corp.
2. Western ski slopes: Colorado, Utah, and the Sierras
“A lot of people want to ski over spring break,” says Frommer.
And the Western slopes are particularly popular “because it can be 55 degrees and sunny, and there’s still a lot of snow,” says Firpo-Cappiello.
What you might not know: Almost every American ski resort (and some of the international ones), belongs to one of two skiing consortiums and use one of two ski passes on the slopes: Epic Pass or Ikon Pass, says Frommer.
Getting season passes to the slopes through these groups (rather than paying the day rate on the mountain), will save you a nice chunk of change.
“You will make back what you paid in a few days,” she says. But you need to plan ahead and order your season passes a few weeks in advance of your vacation, Frommer advises.
Even better, after spring break, “you might be able to use them on a hill near you,” she says.
Save a little more by staying off-site of the resort and renting ski equipment at a nearby city rather than the resort, says Frommer.
See related: Using points for a ski resort vacation
The Sunshine State is one of the most popular destinations for a spring getaway. But if you have your heart set on a bit of sun and sand, there are a few bargains.
One of the best: Sanibel Island, says Firpo-Cappiello. If you want to get a deal, opt for a resort, he says. “There are resorts that offer a really good experience for $140 to $170 a night.”
See related: 7 hotel rewards mistakes you should avoid
A spring break to Tahiti can be affordable if you get off the beaten path and take in the natural beauty of the outer islands, says Frommer.
On the Austral Islands, you can see “Tahiti as Gauguin would have seen it,” she adds. “It’s a real paradise that’s just under the radar.”
Guest houses on the beach can go for $100 a night – as compared to $300 to $500 per night in locations like Bora Bora or Moorea, she adds.
Best of all, an airfare war to Tahiti is driving down prices, Frommer reports.
Tip: Want to use rewards to pay for part of your getaway? Opt for cashing in rewards from a general credit card over a branded airline card, says DiScala.
5. Theme parks
Want to hit the parks and still have a few bucks to spare? Stay outside the park and skip those all-inclusive park packages that include meals, says Frommer.
Those passes only pay if you go to two sit-down meals a day,” she says. “And for folks at the park that doesn’t make sense.”
And, especially with a family or large group, if you trade in-park hotel rooms for a local condo, “you can cook for yourself, see other parks and get souvenirs at a third the price,” Frommer says. Plus, “for the cost of a hotel room, you can have a whole apartment.”
Tip: Consider an alternate airport. If you’re spending the week in South Beach, consider flying into Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami, says JohhnyJet.com's John DiScala. It’s “26 miles away and usually much cheaper,” he adds. “Most places have alternate airports.”
While it has a rep for being pricey, early spring is actually an ideal time to visit Europe – especially southern Europe, says Frommer.
Southern locales like Spain, Portugal, the South of France and the Greek mainland are temperate and a lot more affordable than they’ll be later in the season.
Frommer, who went to Paris with family last year, snagged a two-bedroom apartment on Airbnb for 120 euros per night (about $155 US). “We had a wonderful weeklong stay.”
You can also hit up some of the less-traveled destinations. Love southern Italy? Try Basilicata, where you can find a very nice room for $100 a night, says Frommer.
See related: 10 credit and money tips for travel abroad
Tip: “Make sure you read the fare rules and understand them before you buy that cheap ticket,” says DiScala.
Some basic economy fares don’t include checked or carry-on bags, says DiScala. So, unless you vacation without luggage, your real-world costs will be higher. In that instance, a “more expensive” ticket that includes luggage will actually cost less.
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