Where Will You Go for Spring Break?
From this corner of the northeast, where we were pummeled with two back-to-back storms in less than a week, it’s hard to believe that winter's ever going to end. But as long as the airports are open, we have a way out—spring break is right around the corner, and it’s not too late to plan your escape. Where to go, though...that’s the question. To help you decide, booking site Kayak looked at six months’ worth of spring-break searches from this year and compared them to last year’s results to track destination trends and pricing, for a comprehensive guide to vacation inspiration. To tailor your search to your travel style, read on.
1. If you want to keep up with the in-crowd...
Check out Kayak’s state-by-state breakdown, which lists the most frequently searched destinations across the country. As you’d expect, warm-weather locations like Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean are perennially popular, but there are a few surprises mixed in as well: Rhode Islanders and Alaskans alike are eyeing trips to Music City, while internationally, Americans from Alabama to Wisconsin are looking at far-flung locales like Tokyo. (And given that fares there have dropped 5% from last year’s rates, it’s not hard to see why.)
2. If you just want to relax on a beach…
After a particularly rough hurricane season, Caribbean islands like St. Thomas and Turks & Caicos are bouncing back, but the airfares aren’t following suit: On average, flights are still less expensive than they were this time in 2017, and with interest waning year over year, there are plenty of deals to be had. Domestically, Hawaii is fast becoming one of the most popular spring break destinations, thanks to new airline routes connecting it to the mainland, and Florida is maintaining its appeal, boasting half of the top trending domestic destinations in Kayak’s roundup. And it’s not just the reliable stand-bys like Orlando, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale—this year, travelers are increasingly considering lesser-visited cities like Punta Gorda, Destin, and Valparaiso.
3. If you want something a little more high-brow…
Europe has an enduring appeal, and this year’s top-ten list of trending international spring break destinations features a whopping six continental cities, and they’re mainly under-the-radar choices that offer cultural history with a dose of warmth weather, such as Santorini, Porto, Valencia, and Lyon. But the big-name cities are still drawing plenty of attention as well: Mississippi residents are most interested in Rome, Oregonians are intrigued by Amsterdam, and Missourians have Paris on the brain.
4. If all you really want is a great deal…
Good news, bargain hunters: With prices dropping to desirable destinations around the world, you’re bound to find someplace that sounds appealing, whether you prefer to wring the last drop out of winter or get an early start on your tan. If you’re looking to stay cool, flights to Vancouver and Calgary are hovering around $300, on average, while fares to Reykjavik have dropped 7% since 2017. On the warm-weather tip, consider that island life: Flights to Turks and Caicos and St. Thomas are both down 14%, and you can get to the West Indies for up to 20% less than last year, with flights to Trinidad and Tobago and Puerto Rico ringing in around $430 and $248, respectively. Closer to home, from Las Vegas to Key West and San Diego to Santa Fe, you’ll find median airfare for less than $500—and even as low as $250.
How to Get More Legroom in Coach
If you’ve been feeling extra cramped on flights these days, you’re not alone. Air carriers have been been slowly shrinking the amount of legroom customers get for years. The average “seat pitch” – the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat directly in front of it – has decreased from 35 inches in the late 1960s to 31 inches today, and on some airlines has been reduced to 28 inches. That may explain why a quarter of passengers on economy flights said they found seat comfort to be “poor” or “very poor,” a 2018 survey by Consumer Reports found. Many airlines have added more seats to planes to increase profits. But amid growing concerns of deep vein thrombosis (a potentially fatal condition involving blood clots in the legs) on planes with less legroom – and safety issues in the event of an emergency evacuation – the Federal Aviation Administration is considering stepping in to impose regulations on how much room travelers deserve when flying with a commercial airline. The good news? We’ve compiled a list of the best and worst coach seats based on legroom from North America-based airlines. Knowing what your options are can help you make a smarter choice on your next flight. (Note: Legroom on carriers can vary between long-haul and short-haul planes.) NORTH AMERICAN AIRLINES WITH THE MOST LEGROOM Interjet: 34 inches. This Mexico-based, low-cost carrier flies from a handful of US cities to destinations in Mexico and Central and South America. The airline says it removed up to 30 seats on each its aircrafts in order to give customers more space. Air Canada: 30-34 inches. Canada’s largest airline is known for not only low prices but also spacious seats. JetBlue: 32 inches. Although JetBlue recently lowered its average legroom space by adding 12 cabin seats to its latest fleet of planes, the carrier is still a strong runner-up. Virgin America: 32 inches. At 5’11,’’ Virgin America founder Richard Branson doesn't like to be confined to tight spaces – and he doesn’t want his customers flying coach to be either. Southwest: 32 inches. In addition to low rates, the domestic discount carrier gives passengers more space than many of its higher budget competitors. NORTH AMERICAN AIRLINES WITH LESS LEGROOM Alaska Airlines: 31-32 inches. Despite the squeeze, coach passengers have the option to book Preferred Plus Seats, which offer 4 inches of extra legroom, starting at an extra $15. American Airlines: 31 inches. Tight space, right? To American Airlines’ credit, after the Fort Worth-based carrier announced last year it would be adding more seats to its Boeing (BA) 737 Max jetliners, the company decided to nix its plans after receiving negative feedback from customers and employees. Delta: 31 inches. Delta, one of the largest airlines in the world, also offers some of the tightest economy seats. Hawaiian Airlines: 31 inches. Despite its tight seating, Hawaiian Airlines recently nabbed the title of the US's airline industry’s top-ranked carrier for on-time performance from the US Department of Transportation. United: 30 to 31 inches. With flights to 60 countries spanning North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, United offers larger “Economy Plus” seating with extra legroom. Allegiant: 30 inches. The budget airline serves more than 100 domestic destinations. Select flights offer “Legroom + seats” that provide passengers with up to 34 inches of legroom. Spirit: 28 inches. Although the airline is tied for last place, Spirit offers some of the cheapest fares. Frontier: 28 inches. The low-cost carrier may offer seriously squashed legroom, but (like Spirit) it has some of the lowest prices. HOW TO UPGRADE YOUR LEGROOM FOR FREE Put simply: Loyalty pays off for air travelers. Many frequent flyer programs offer members perks such as free seat upgrades and discounts of 10 to 50 percent on select flights. Promo alerts are often sent to members via email, Twitter, Facebook, and other channels. If you travel enough to earn elite status, you may also qualify for complimentary seat upgrades. For instance, when you fly 25,000 miles on American in one calendar year, you earn “Silver status” that can get you (and a companion) free access to the airline’s roomier economy plus seats. Pro tip: You may even be able to score a seat upgrade by asking the check-in agent or gate representative “nicely” for one, The Points Guy says.
How to Fly for Under $400 Round-Trip
We’re always on the lookout for a good deal, and a new tool has emerged that will help you book domestic or international travel on the cheap. The team at Kayak recently looked at data from a year’s worth of searches (1.5 billion or so) to recommend the best places to go each month for less than $400. Using Kayak along with a bargain lodging tool may yield surprisingly great travel deals. Here's how to make it happen. 1. KNOW THE RIGHT TIME FOR A WARM-WEATHER GETAWAY A bargain fare for a warm-weather destination might seem hard to come by in the middle of winter, but it turns out it may be just as good for your wallet as it is for your mental health. Kayak’s top picks for January are Turks & Caicos (average fare $309) and Long Beach, California ($138), while Atlanta ($216) and Puerto Vallarta ($338) are the site’s recommendations for December. 2. HEAD TO THE BIG CITIES IN WINTER, SPRING, OR FALL Look for urban getaways like Chicago in February and Boston in March, or catch the tail end of winter-sports season in Denver or Calgary with cheap fares in April. As we’ve mentioned before, shoulder season offers a great opportunity to visit popular destinations at a fair price, without sacrificing on the weather front. See also: Mexico City in May and Cabo in September, both for right around $300. 3. THESE DESTINATIONS ARE (ALMOST) ALWAYS A GOOD DEAL In general, Mexico and the Caribbean performed well overall, and Canada was a big hit year-round, so look close to home if you want a new stamp for your passport without putting in too much time on a plane. 4. STAY FLEXIBLE TO MAXIMIZE SAVINGS If you have some vacation time to burn and some flexibility, the Kayak site may inspire you to book affordable trips you hadn't planned on, with plenty of domestic flights under $200 and overseas destinations under $400.
Have You Saved Money With These Travel Innovators?
In our insatiable quest to explore new travel trends, we’ve been devouring Fast Company’s newly published 2018 Top 10 Most Innovative Travel Companies list (fastcompany.com), and having our usual reaction, a mix of “of course,” “really?” and “wow, I didn’t know that.” Among the most relevant news for Budget Travelers: HOPPER USES ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO SAVE YOU MONEY Hopper, the mobile flight-booking platform, doesn’t just try to book you on an affordable flight, but increasingly employs artificial intelligence and push notifications to help you zero in on the kind of getaways you’re looking for, potential alternative airports, travel dates, and even alternate destinations. Fast Company reports that 20 percent of Hopper’s bookings are now for flights that users were not initially even looking for. GRADUATE HOTELS IS CELEBRATING THE GREAT AMERICAN COLLEGE TOWN Graduate Hotels develops lodgings near college campuses, integrating its hotels and overall aesthetic into the community. It’s no secret that Budget Travel has celebrated America’s Coolest Small Towns for more than a decade, and we’re psyched to see how Graduate Hotels expands from its current 10 hotels. CELEBRITY CRUISES IS GETTING A MAKEOVER Debuting in November 2018, Celebrity Cruises’ new Celebrity Edge was designed in 3D, allowing for an innovative look that provides passengers with bigger staterooms, more public space, and an overall airier approach to the cruise experience. We're adding the Edge to our 2018 cruise to-do list. HAVE YOU SAVED MONEY WITH THESE TRAVEL INNOVATORS? In addition to the three brands mentioned above, Fast Company also cited, among others, Away for its innovative suitcase design, Delta Airlines for streamlining the airport process, and Budget Travel’s parent company, Lonely Planet, for its cool Guides and Trips apps and inspiring video platform. Have you traveled with any of Fast Company’s 2018 honorees? Have you saved time, money, or hassle thanks to their efforts?
How to Save Money at AAA’s Top Restaurants
AAA has unveiled the 68 restaurants that have earned its top Five Diamond rating over the past year (aaa.com), including eight new honorees. If your first reaction is, “I can’t possibly afford a restaurant that good,” we’ve got some good news: While, yes, these eateries are among the very best foodie hotspots in North America, and prices can be sky-high, there are also a few strategies that may help you enjoy certain Five Diamond restaurants (and AAA’s Four Diamond and other top restaurants) without breaking the bank. RIGOROUS RESTAURANT EVALUATIONS AAA has been inspecting and evaluating lodgings and restaurants since 1937 and has been publishing a Diamond rating system since 1985. Inspectors are experienced food-and-beverage professionals who evaluate restaurants in person with an eye toward quality ingredients, unique preparation, great service, and overall environment, as well as emerging culinary trends. AAA inspects and approves more than 31,000 restaurants, and only about .2 percent earn the Five Diamond rating. RESTAURANTS THAT EDUCATE AND ENTERTAIN “Five Diamond restaurants have evolved over the years to meet the changing expectations of restaurant enthusiasts who are increasingly sophisticated about cuisine,” says Michael Petrone, director, AAA Inspections & Diamond Ratings. “Guests want to learn about cooking techniques, ingredient sourcing, and the latest trends. They are looking for a wide-ranging dining experience that includes being educated and entertained. No longer does world-class necessarily mean formal attire and opulent surroundings. And that’s where AAA’s Diamond Ratings can help guide the discerning diner.” Among the eight new additions to AAA’s Five Diamond list this year are McCrady’s, in Charleston, South Carolina, which shares a space with a tavern that offers a more casual menu; and The Catbird Seat, in Nashville, Tennessee, which grows its own produce in a patio garden and offers a $115 tasting menu that, while certainly splurge-y for Budget Travelers, is a relative bargain in the high-end restaurant world. HOW TO DO FIVE DIAMOND RESTAURANTS ON A BUDGET Speaking of menu prices, we asked AAA’s Petrone if it’s even possible for bargain-minded diners to partake of the bounty at Five Diamond restaurants. Although some Five Diamond honorees offer only a fixed-price tasting menu that may surpass $200/person, there are some money-saving strategies that will work at some Five Diamond restaurants, as well as at AAA’s Four Diamond honorees and other top restaurants: Save money at lunchtime Consider eating at a restaurant for lunch instead of dinner; check in advance as there is sometimes a separate lunch menu with more affordable prices. Eat in the lounge Instead of eating in the restaurant itself, eat in the lounge area, where more casual fare may be served and prices are sometimes less expensive. Share or snack If the restaurant allows more casual dining, look for shareable menu items or order snacks to get a taste of what’s cookin’ without going bust. Check out the chef’s menu Look for a chef’s menu with or without wine pairing, as that is often the best value.