Spring break 2014: How to score the best travel deals
With wet T-shirt contests and booze-soaked bacchanals on the beach comes another rite of spring break: higher airfares to warm-weather spots.
Here are some strategies for beating the high cost of getting to a place in the sun.
- Core spring-break weeks this year are March 16 and 23, so if you have flexibility, avoid travel during that time to popular spring break destinations. Fares during those periods rise by about 30%, according to research by Hopper, a travel planning site that analyzes millions of daily airfare searches.
- Travel Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday for best fares. A Friday departure will add an average of 22% to the price.
- Book at least 15 days in advance. At four to 14 days out, fares increase by 29%, and last-minute bookings of three days or fewer see price increases of 62%, say Hopper's number crunchers.
- Consider a less popular destination. Airfare search engine Fly.com analyzed the 10 most popular destination searches conducted in January for travel in March from eight U.S. cities, and compared the fares with those of a year ago. The findings show that tweaking plans can mean savings and/or better value.
Sample fares reported by Fly.com: Boston to Orlando averaged $279, up 9% over last year. But flights from Boston to West Palm Beach, Fla., dropped 21% to an average of $220.
Fares between Philadelphia and New Orleans averaged $354, up 32% over last year. But a ticket to Las Vegas was down 40% with average fares at $207.
And fares from Los Angeles to Honolulu averaged $438, down 21%, while tickets to Lihue, Kauai, down 1%, averaged $617.
Meanwhile, Hopper has devised an interactive map that uses crowd-sourced airfare searches to determine the lowest fares delivered to those queries. The data is from round-trip fare searches made between Jan. 19 and Feb. 16. The "lowest" fare is represented by 10th-percentile prices. So, for example, if a low, or "deal" fare is listed at $800, it means that 10% of the searches yielded fares of $800 or less.
When it comes to getting the lowest airfare for spring break — or any time, "there's no one-size-fits-all formula," concedes Hopper's chief data scientist Patrick Surry. "(But) flight pricing is so opaque to the consumer and the airlines are making up their own rules. We're trying to help the consumer benefit from the experience of other people, people who've been through the shopping experience. Using huge volumes of data, we can leverage that information, so it's not just you against the airline."