Undeterred spring breakers head to Mexico
A lot has been made about whether the popular spring break destination of Mexico is safe for college-aged partiers amid ongoing reports of drug-related violence south of the border.
But, spring breakers are a determined and resilient bunch.
Despite the fact that the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a strong statement this month discouraging spring breakers from heading to Mexico because of continued violence, and the U.S. State Department still has a travel warning to Mexico in place, student and youth travel companies say that Mexico is actually making a comeback on their lists of top spring break spots.
Funjet Vacations saw a 15% increase in spring breakers heading to Mexico this March compared to last year, the majority of which are heading to the white sands and crystal waters resort peninsula of Cancun.
StudentUniverse.com noted that Cancun shot up to its second most popular international spring break destination this year from the fifth spot last year. London ranked first both years. Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Paris filled out the remaining top five global spots.
London and Paris topped the list at student travel specialist STA Travel, followed by Cancun in the third spot.
"Cancun is still in the third spot, which isn't really surprising to us. It's a very safe destination," said Patrick Evans of STA Travel. Evans acknowledged that STA Travel does not encourage spring breakers to travel near the U.S.-Mexico border and has discontinued itineraries that include border towns.
And while Mexico is regaining the confidence of spring breakers, perhaps it’s no surprise that culturally rich (and safe) destinations in Europe have been more popular in recent years.
"We’ve seen a pretty sizeable shift towards the more culturally enriching destinations," said Evans. In tough economic times, “it may be difficult to convince your parents to fund your spring break trip. A lot of kids really are on the college track. They tend to be looking for the more enriching trips.”
For those who still haven't decided where to go for spring break (or just for a spring getaway, for those of for whom spring break is a distant memory!) there are still numerous last-minute spring break deals on the market.
STA Travel and StudentUniverse.com have a host of last chance deals to Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe and in the U.S. (a quick search on STA Travel’s site found a trip from New York to Cancun for three nights this weekend, air-inclusive, for as low as $1,300).
StudentCity.com sells party packages, ranging from open bar packages to options for skipping the lines and cover charges at clubs. And Funjet Vacations also features last-minute travel deals to popular fun-and-sun destinations.
More from Budget Travel:
Fly to Mexico starting at $96 each way
Is Egypt ready for tourists?
The U.S. State Department "continues to warn U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Egypt" , but at least one major tour operator announced that it will proceed with guided trips to the tumultuous country soon. Starting on March 14th, Grand Circle Corporation (GCC) will resume its popular 15-day "Ancient Egypt & the Nile River" itinerary. The Boston-based company operates two well-known outfits: Overseas Adventure Travel, which leads small-group tours of about ten to 15 people, and Grand Circle Tours, which leads groups of between 32 and 36 travelers. For the past month, during the riots and political upheaval in Egypt, GCC suspended all travel there. "We had a lot of trips scheduled, and we gave all our travelers the option to either go to another destination or to postpone their Egypt trip to a later date," said GCC Communications Director Priscilla O'Reilly, in a telephone interview with Budget Travel today. "About half chose another country, but the other 50 percent opted to stick with Egypt and go at a later date. It's one of our most popular destinations. We send about 10,000 Americans there every year." If anything, O'Reilly continued, the recent political turmoil seems like it increased interest in traveling to Egypt. "We've had a few calls from travelers who want to know if we're going back there—and request that we do—because they want to visit right now, during such an important time in Egypt's history," she said. In a statement released today on GCC's website, Chairman Alan E. Lewis said company representatives had toured "all of the sites we visit" and concluded it was safe to resume trips there: "We have been in direct contact with Egypt's Chief of Tourism police, who has confirmed that Grand Circle groups may begin their return to Egypt effective immediately." Already, many of the country's historical sites—and main tourist attractions—such as the pyramids of Giza and museums on the Nile and in Cairo, have reopened. A CBS News story last week said that most American tour operators who lead group trips to Egypt "expected business to return to normal within a year." At the same time, some travel companies are waiting for further developments before announcing concrete plans to resume visiting the country. All trips with Toronto-based Gap Adventures, for instance, are currently cancelled through March 13th. "We make regular assessments on a weekly basis as to when we'll be able to start tours there again," public relations manager Billy Connelly told Budget Travel on the telephone today. "Currently we are scheduled for March 14th and beyond—but we'll reassess those plans again on Monday, March 7th." As for travelers already booked on Gap Adventures tours to Egypt, Connelly said that "most re-booked other trips to other destinations, while a smaller number postponed their trip to Egypt, pending what happens on the ground and when it's safe to return." In a similar act of hesitation, Continental Airlines announced yesterday that it was "indefinitely" postponing plans for flights into Cairo. What are your thoughts: Do you think it's safe to visit Egypt again? See more from Budget Travel Real Deals: A Sunny Land Tours Egypt package includes air/cruise/8 nights, from $1,299 Riots in Egypt: How Much Can Travel Insurance Help? Ask Trip Coach: Trips Gone Bad How to Survive 10 Travel Emergencies
The threat of rising airfares
There's a theory that once the airfare surpasses the price of the land portion of a trip, travelers will opt out of said trip. Whether or not that's true, tour operators and vacation packagers are worried that increasing airfares, spurred by improving demand and surging fuel costs, will give travelers a sticker shock that will make them think twice about that vacation to Italy, Hawaii, or farther afield. One way to avoid that, they say, is for travelers to trade in the last-minute, price-shopping that may have worked at the height of the recession for a book-sooner-rather-than-later strategy. "We have a 'perfect storm' in 2011 of reduced capacity and much higher demand, and this is leading to airlines operating very profitably on those routes and they have all declared clearly that they will not be increasing capacity in 2011," said Paul Wiseman, president of escorted tour company Trafalgar Tours. In fact, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, airline capacity in available seat miles domestically and internationally will actually increase 4.5% this year after posting a 0.5% decrease for 2010. But as business travelers return to the road, tour operators are worried that leisure travelers who wait too long to book will be fighting for seats, at a price. And that certain high-priority destinations, like Europe, will be the first to go. Wiseman said that Trafalgar has been comparing air prices between October and now and that 2011 fares have already risen by at least 30% in some cases. He said that in October, British Airways round-trip flights between Los Angeles and Rome were around $1,100. "If you shop British Airways from Los Angeles to Rome out June 10 back June 20, it currently shops at $1920.87," cited Wiseman. A recent search on britishairways.com found the same flight for between June 10 and 20, for $1,675.87 (without an overnight layover, with an overnight layover it was a couple hundred lower). Regardless, even the lowest current price represents around a 50% increase over Wiseman's October example. Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said the political unrest in Egypt and Libya hasn't helped either. "These are large oil producing countries and the political unrest makes the markets nervous and uncertain so the price of oil has been driving higher airfares," said Richards. Richards advised that if customers find a reasonable fare, they should book the flight as soon as possible to lock in the price and avoid higher airline-imposed fuel surcharges. To encourage vacationers to book earlier, several tour operators have air-inclusive specials in the market. Trafalgar started off 2011 with a Europe promotion that boasts $1,000 in savings per couple on air-inclusive packages with British Airways flights, or $800 in savings per couple on all other air-inclusive packages, good for bookings made through Feb. 28, 2011. Another tour operator, Globus, rung in the new year with an offer of 10% off per person on the land portion of a 2011 air-inclusive Europe vacation when booked and paid in full by March 1, 2011, for travel between May 1 and December 31, 2011. More from Budget Travel: Airlines hike fees for baggage 95% of Americans plan to travel more in 2011 http://blog.budgettravel.com/budgettravel/2011/02/earn_flight_reward_points_on_f.html
New sites will tell other hotel guests who you are
In the future, you may be able to look up the names of most of the strangers in your hotel lobby, thanks to the Internet. Other hotel guests may be able to look up your name online, too, if you decide to let them. Is this a good thing? Many people already have profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other networking sites, opting to allow total strangers see some information and photos about themselves—with more details available to an approved network of friends. Add to that the craze for geo-location devices, like the iPhone, that pinpoint your location on a map, and "check-in" services, like FourSquare, that let you publicly post where you are right now—or where you plan to be soon. Eventually, travelers may walk into a hotel lobby and choose to post online, via their portable Web-enabled device, who they are and where they are. They may also look to see information that other guests staying at the hotel have posted about themselves. Using a Facebook-integrated app, you can learn the names and interests of many of those other people in advance of speaking with them. This information may make it easier for you to strike up conversations. GoMio.com is aimed at the youth hostel market with its "Who Else Will Be There?" feature, which allows users to view the Facebook profiles of other users who will be at the same place at the same time. Grindr, the controversial gay mobile dating app, is debuting a version for heterosexual GPS-powered dating tool within a few weeks. Women walking into a hotel lounge, for instance, will be able to see photos and personal information about male users nearby, arranged by how physically close to those other users are. (Don't want someone to see your Grindr profile? Push a button to block your details from appearing on that user's device.) On the bright side, if you ever stayed in a hostel or hotel, you may recall feeling nervous when you walked into the common area and saw other guests who are roughly your own age. Which of them speak English? Where are they from? Do you have a mutual friend in common somewhere in the world? But looked at another way, is it risky to share this much information to strangers? After all, most people traveling are relatively isolated (from family, friends, and co-workers) and somewhat vulnerable. Do you really want to advertise the details of how far you've traveled and how long you're going to be around to any stranger that's signed up for a service? Let us know by posting a comment: Would you like to share your online profile with other guests at your hotel during a trip? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL What's the best social network for travel? (25+ comments) Where are you going in 2011? (200+ comments) New travel stress: Facebook oversharing (10+ comments)
Airlines hike fees for baggage
Airlines keep hiking fees on baggage, as fuel costs rise. In fact, airlines never got rid of the baggage fees they tacked on to cover rising gas prices ages ago. When fuel prices dropped, those baggage fees stayed high. So why do airlines need to raise fees again? Airlines have been hiking fees in response to the rise in oil prices in recent weeks. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that average oil prices will be $14 higher per barrel this year than the average last year, affecting jet fuel prices. Spirit Airlines's unique fee for carry-on bags—much criticized by Budget Travel readers—just worsened. This week, the airline announced that it would charge $25 for bags that weigh between 41 and 50 pounds. Its previous weight allowance was 50 pounds. US Airways is hiking fees on overweight checked baggage, starting March 1. Bags weighing 51 to 70 pounds will cost $90, up from $50. Those airlines are just the latest in a series to hike fees. Hipmunk, the metasearch site, created a striking visual graphic showing the explosion in bag fees (shown here). Interestingly, only Alaska Airlines delivers a customer service in exchange for its hiked fees. Alaska offers a Baggage Service Guarantee, promising you a $20 travel credit or a mileage bonus if your bag isn't at the carousel within 20 minutes of your arrival, as reported by CNN.com. For a full list of fees, check out this just-updated AirfareWatchdog Fees Chart. Besides airlines have never reduced their baggage fees from the last oil-price run-up. So what do you think? Is it fair for airlines to raise fees again? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Spirit to charge $20 for carry-on, yes, carry-on bags Sick of airline baggage fees? Get your Holiday Inn and Kimpton hotel to pay for them Will United add more baggage fees?