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Where Will You Go for Spring Break?

By Maya Stanton
March 12, 2018
Beach on St Thomas
Julie Salesberry/Dreamstime
It's not too late to plan your escape.

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.

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Travel Tips

The Best Time to Book a Hotel

It may be smart to buy your plane tickets a few weeks in advance, but when should you book that hotel room to lock in the best rate? If you’re traveling to Europe, the Middle East, or Africa, the answer may be sooner to departure than you’d think. According to expense-management company SAP Concur’s 2017 data, you’ll get the lowest average rate if you play the waiting game. Score a Deal It may seem counter-intuitive to leave it late, but to hit that sweet spot between available inventory and pricing, you’ll want to book just three days ahead—or less. Plenty of travelers are leaving money on the table in this regard: Though the majority of hotel stays are reserved at least eight days out, booking 15 days or more in advance comes with an average 18% surcharge. If you’re looking for luxury for less, you’ll want to be even more patient, as SAP Concur found that same-day reservations for high-end hotels in Paris and Frankfurt cost less than bookings made at least a month out. (Not in London, though—there, bookings at swanky properties cost 7% more on the day-of than 30 days in advance, so you’ll want to monitor prices on a city-by-city basis to get the most bang for your buck.) Consider the Season Tempted by the recent flood of cheap flights to Europe? Spending the summer on the continent may sound appealing, but you’ll be battling the crowds and paying more for the privilege; instead, target a winter break and travel from January to March, and you’ll be looking at rates nearly 10% lower than the rest of the year. Whenever you decide to go, though, make sure you check the cancellation policy for the hotel you’re hoping to book and try to hold out til then—last-minute cancellations mean readily available inventory, and if you're willing to gamble, it could mean big savings.  How close do you cut it when you're planning a trip? Do you like the thrill of an eleventh-hour hotel deal, or are you willing to pay a little extra for peace of mind? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Travel Tips

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. 

Travel Tips

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.

Travel Tips

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?

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