Spring Break travel: What to expect — and how to keep costs down — in 2024

Spring Break travel: What to expect — and how to keep costs down — in 2024

It’s not too soon to start thinking about your spring break. That’s because this spring break may be the busiest one — ever.

Fortunately, it will also be one of the most affordable ones in years — but only if you do one thing.

“You have to plan ahead,” says Sangeeta Sadarangani, CEO of Crossing, a multinational travel agency headquartered in London. “Beat the rush by booking your vacation in advance — ideally by January — to avoid last-minute airfare hikes and limited hotel availability.”

Christopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter 

There are ways to get ahead of the 2024 spring break crowds. The herd is moving to the same predictable places. Time is also on your side (at least if you’re reading this story in January). Plus, there are some spring break travel mistakes that I can help you avoid. I’ll tell you all about those in just a minute.

Where’s everyone going for spring break in 2024?

Orlando is the number-one spring break destination for domestic travel, according to research by Allianz Partners. In fact, Orlando has been the top U.S. destination for the last eight years.

Internationally, Mexico dominates the list. Cancun and San Jose del Cabo came in first and second on the 2023 list, and Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City were in fourth and ninth place. Allianz expects the 2024 list to show more love for Florida and Mexico.

Other travel companies are seeing similar trends. Arch RoamRight says the top destination for Americans is the United States, followed by Italy, Mexico, the Caribbean and New Zealand. So that’s probably where you’ll find a lot of spring breakers in 2024.

People will be crowding to those places like never before, experts say.

“Spring break will be very busy this year,” says Rob DelliBovi, founder of the hospitality recruiting firm RDB Hospitality. “The travel economy is fully back, with 2024 predicted to be the first year since COVID that beats out 2019.”

In fact, crowds are inevitable if you’re traveling this spring.

“If you want to avoid the crowds, consider traveling to destinations off the beaten path, and always plan ahead for travel delays,” advises Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz.

You may also get a deal on your trip. But you have to move fast.

What are prices like this spring break?

Spring break travel, which is defined as travel in March and April, is still quite affordable, according to early predictions.

Airfares are about the same as they were a year ago. The average domestic airfare is $267 during spring break, up about 1 percent from 2023, according to the travel app Hopper. Fares to Europe are also flat ($650 roundtrip). But if you want to visit Mexico and Central America, you’ll pay 14 percent less ($444) and destinations in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific are even cheaper — down 26 percent ($1,160).

Car rental prices will average just $41 per day in the U.S., a 36 percent drop from last year. Rates vary based on location, says Hopper. A spring rental in Miami is just $19 per day. In Houston, you’ll pay $53. Rates in Orlando are around $31 a day.

Gas prices will fall to an average of $3.36 per gallon. That’s a drop of almost 5 percent from last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Experts are looking for prices to slide during the winter months, followed by a gradual increase by Memorial Day.

Lodging rates will average about $220 per night domestically. You’ll find the best deals in places like Las Vegas, where rooms go for just $125 a night. But destinations like New York, where rooms average $424 per night, may be out of reach for many traditional sun-and-fun spring breakers. (Hopper’s methodology for analyzing hotel rates changed from last year. But in 2023, lodging rates were 43 percent higher using the previous system.)

Bottom line: If you book now, you could save some money. If you wait until February to start thinking about spring break, you’ll almost certainly pay more and might not even find a flight.

Don’t make these spring break mistakes

Spring break has its own pitfalls. Here are a few mistakes you’ll definitely want to avoid:

Waiting too long to book: “The current travel climate requires more foresight,” says Fahd Khan, a marketing director for a private jet charter company. “This spring break, the biggest mistake travelers make is underestimating the lead time needed for planning.” (Here’s my guide to finding a travel advisor.)

Not working with an expert: Given that this is going to be one of the busiest spring breaks in recent memory — and maybe ever — you may want to work with a professional. “This spring break is a different animal,” warns David Bakke, who publishes a personal finance site.

Being inflexible: Lee Friedman, an expert on Caribbean travel, says by mid-January, she already had 25 families booked for vacations. But she noticed that many of them were stuck on leaving and returning on weekends — when everyone else wants to travel. And they insisted on having nonstop flights. But a little flexibility can save a lot of money. “For families experiencing sticker shock for flight prices, consider taking the kids out of school for one day to travel on a Friday or Monday. Or, consider an overnight stay at a connecting airport, such as Miami International or JFK, to keep prices down.”

And if you’re booking non-refundable items, or flying to your destination, don’t forget travel insurance. You’ll want to buy coverage as soon as you book your trip, says Carol Mueller, a vice president at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.

“That will ensure coverage in case of unforeseen events,” she says.

(I have more strategies in my ultimate guide to spring break travel on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org.)

Smart travelers have found this alternative to spring break

Reality check: Traveling during spring break could be madness. Martha Miller, an author who lives in Valencia, Spain, recalls planning a spring break trip to Seville recently.

“My son had 10 days or so off from school, but I didn’t realize it coincided with the Easter holidays,” she recalls. “I also didn’t realize how important those holidays are here, especially in Seville.”

Hotels were overpriced, she paid $800 for a rental car, and she could never find parking. The attractions were often inaccessible because of the Easter festivities.

It was, she says, “a huge mistake.”

What should she have done? Waited. “It would have been less expensive,” she says. And less busy.

Some travelers are skipping spring break entirely.

“We’ve noticed airline tickets and hotel costs continuing to go up, up, up,” says Michelle Long, who works for a retail company in Austin, Texas. “I think we might just stay home this year and plan something after spring break. We’ll save money, deal with less crowds and have better control of our experience.”

Elliott’s tips for a better spring break

No question about it, this spring break will be the one against which other spring breaks will be measured. In just a few weeks, fares and hotel rates will probably start to climb, and we’ll see record visitation at traditional spring break destinations. “This spring break will set a new standard,” says Syed Lateef, CEO of a vacation rental company based in Chicago. So how do you get ahead of it?

Plan an alternative spring break

Book your trip for early February or late April. Even with kids in school, there are ways around traveling during spring break. Plan a long weekend by taking a Friday or Monday off. Or schedule your travel around a school-sponsored event that you don’t have to attend, such as exams or teacher conferences. It doesn’t even have to be a whole week.

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Visit a B-list destination

Durazo, the Allianz spokesman, is right: Many people are headed to Orlando for spring break, so you’ll want to stay away during the busy times (but go in May and September, which are notoriously slow). Instead, set your sights on a B-list destination for spring, such as a northern beach resort. I’ve spent spring break in places like Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., and they are fun and not too crowded.

Skip it

This might be the year to skip spring break altogether. Instead, save your money and plan a trip in mid-May, just before the Memorial Day holiday. You’ll spend less than you would during the summer — airfares and hotel rates will be lower — and you’ll still get the warm weather (depending on where you go).

Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, journalist and founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at [email protected].