For a college student trying to live frugally, there’s nothing quite as dangerous as an epic spring break trip. When you’re caught up in the moment and having the time of your life, it’s easy to throw caution out the window -and your budget along with it.
But while you may not be able to avoid buying shots for the entire bar at two in the morning, you can free up some room in your budget beforehand. If you spend less on travel and accommodations, you can spend more on the kinds of experiences that make spring break memorable.
Spring break 2020 is right around the corner, so it’s time to start planning. Follow these tips to get the best spring break deals:
Shop Around and Book Early
Booking early always saves you money, whether you’re traveling abroad or staying closer to home. According to research from travel site Skyscanner, the best time to book a domestic spring break flight is eight weeks before the trip. If you’re booking an international flight, you should do so 21 weeks beforehand.
If you haven’t booked your trip, do so ASAP. The longer you wait, the more flights will go up. Airlines know that March and April are popular times to travel, which means they can afford to raise their prices.
The same rule goes for picking a hotel or apartment. Sites like Airbnb have a limited supply, so you need to book accommodations quickly if you’re going somewhere popular. As soon as you know where you’re going, start looking for places to stay.
The longer you wait, the harder it will be to find something in your price range. In my personal travel experience, the less money you have to spend, the sooner you should book tickets and accommodations. If you wait too long, you’ll be stuck paying more than you planned or sacrificing on location and amenities.
Some hotels or Airbnb properties offer free cancellations, allowing you to book and cancel later if you find a better deal. Be sure to understand the terms and conditions when you reserve a room. Some Airbnb properties have free cancellations until the reservation day, while others charge 50% of the total amount if you cancel 48 hours after booking.
Follow Basic Travel Rules
While some travel rules (like never flying in sweatpants) are meant to be broken, others are fixed. One such rule is that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally the cheapest days to fly.
If your spring break starts on a Friday, that means not leaving town until Tuesday. Even if that sounds like a bummer, look at how much you’ll save by not flying on the same Friday as everyone else.
You should also compare flying out of your nearest airport with any other options a little further away. For example, if you go to school in Wisconsin, consider driving to Chicago to fly out of O’Hare instead of flying out of Milwaukee.
When booking flights, see if there’s an option to look at flights for airports outside of your city. You may be surprised how much you save by driving to a different airport. If you’re traveling with a few other people, consider getting an apartment or house instead of a hotel room. The rates will often be cheaper, you can cook your own meals and you won’t have to pay extra for amenities like laundry, on-site parking or WiFi.
Pick an Original Destination
Everyone wants to go to Florida or California for spring break. It’s warm, the beaches are plentiful and just about every community is built for tourism.
It’s also the obvious choice, which makes it inherently more expensive. Choosing a less well-known location will be be more affordable, so you’ll spend less on Airbnbs, restaurants, bars, Uber rides and more.
Look at more unique spots that will still fit your student budget. Make a list of any friends who live in cities you’re interested in. You’ll save a lot of money if you can find a free place to stay.
Consider visiting a non-beach town like New York or Washington D.C. These cities will still be a little chilly during spring break season, but you’ll find lower airline and hotel prices than if you go to Miami or Cancun.
If you do still want to go to the typical Panama City Beach locale, consider ways to make it cheaper. Try to cook more meals at your Airbnb instead of going out every night. Go to clubs and bars that have free cover or drink discounts. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than waking up with a hangover -and an overdrawn checking account.
Avoid Travel Scams
If you’re a college student, your parents have probably booked most of your vacations. Booking a trip for spring break sounds fun and simple, but it’s easy to make the wrong move. College students can often get sucked into scams and bad deals. Sometimes they just make honest mistakes, like booking an Airbnb that seems great and not realizing they’ll be sharing the house with the owner and another tenant.
Discount sites and apps can offer cheap travel packages that include flights and hotels, often for much less than what you’d pay when booking on a different site. The problem is, these hotels are often being remodeled, are located far away from the main drag or have some other major problem. Stay away if it seems too good to be true.
I recently tried to book an apartment on a reputable travel site. The place looked amazing and was available for the dates I needed. When I went to confirm the reservation, the landlord said it was no longer available and directed me to another site for a different property.
The link she sent was a phishing scam, made to look like a legitimate travel site. If I wasn’t experienced in recognizing the tell-tale signs, I could have easily fallen for it.
The point is, it never hurts to run your travel plans past a friend or family member before booking. They can ask the right questions and point out any abnormalities you may have missed.
Do you have any tips for getting great spring break deals? Share with us in the comments!
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.
Written by Zina Kumok.
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