Peter Cranis is thinking about spring break and travel. And he has a lot on his mind.
Cranis, the executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism, is about to be at the center of one of the busiest spring break seasons for travel in recent memory — and maybe ever.
His region has a lot going on, including a record number of launches from the Space Coast, new flights from the United Kingdom to nearby Melbourne Orlando International Airport, and the cruise industry starting up again at Port Canaveral. Oh, and nearby Orlando, a feeder market for the Space Coast, is the country’s No. 1 spring break destination.
But this year, nothing will put the Space Coast over the top like the calendar. Easter falls on April 17. “And that will allow more people to take two trips during the spring season,” Cranis says. “One in early spring and the other around the holiday.”
Travelers are thinking about spring break, too. And based on some of the early numbers, it looks like they’re thinking big. Can they squeeze more than one trip in, especially after sitting out the past two spring breaks? Short answer: Yes, but it’ll cost them. And what do they need to know this year?
Let’s start with those numbers.
Orlando is the top spring break destination for American travelers, according to an analysis by the booking app Hopper. It’s followed by other warm-weather destinations, including Cancún, Mexico; Las Vegas; Miami; and Phoenix.
Airfares are higher than they’ve been since before the pandemic. Domestic tickets for spring break 2022 — defined as Feb. 15 through March 31 — are going for $292 round-trip on average. According to Hopper, that’s 20 percent higher than last year, which in turn was 5 percent higher than 2019.
Rates are higher for accommodations, too. One night in a vacation rental in Central Florida will cost an average of $257 during spring break, up 22 percent from 2021, according to Hostaway, a vacation rental management platform. Marcus Rader, Hostaway’s chief executive, says this is not a typical spring break. By early November, the company’s Florida vacation rental inventory was already 81 percent booked, compared with just 72 percent in 2019.
“A big mistake that travelers are making is thinking it is a buyer’s market,” says Limor Decter, a travel adviser with Embark Beyond. “Many think they can snag a last-minute deal with great value for spring break. That’s not the case for spring break this year.”
Those who do find flights and accommodations aren’t thrilled with the price increases. Ahmed Mir is planning to fly from Salt Lake City to Miami for spring break this year. Not only are prices up from pandemic levels, “but the fees are also way higher,” he says. Mir, who edits a beverage website based in Salt Lake City, says he thinks hotels and airlines are trying to recoup the costs of sanitization programs — and trying to make up for two lousy years.
That means the sooner you book, the better your chances of finding reasonably priced airfare and accommodations.
“Prices are increasing, and demand is outpacing supply,” says John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group. “Anyone looking to travel over spring break should begin looking for their trip now and book as early as possible.”
So what’s the best strategy for spring break travel, besides booking early?
Look for flexibility, experts say. Find airlines, hotels and vacation rental companies that will let you cancel or reschedule if your plans fall through. And there are other ways of hedging your bets, such as making multiple cancelable reservations at different locations, also called “trip stacking.”
“While the trajectory of the pandemic looks positive for spring at the moment, we know by now that this could still change,” says Lindsey Roeschke, a travel and hospitality analyst at Morning Consult. “So protecting trips with insurance is advisable.”
Switching modes of transportation may not work. Say you want to go camping for spring break, maybe take a road trip through the Sun Belt states. Think again, says Nathan Israelsen, a spokesman for Progress Mfg, a manufacturer of trailer hitches.
“During the pandemic, the RV travel industry saw a 300 percent increase in sales, which resulted in 300 percent more RVs on the road,” he says. “Don’t think that you can get into a major national park by booking the same month or just showing up.”
At Zicasso, which matches travelers with travel agents, customers are on track to spend 30 percent more this year than they did in 2019. But spring break doesn’t have to drain your bank account, says Marci-Beth Maple, a marketing manager for the company. She recommends an international destination, such as Central or South America, if you don’t have a lot of time or money.
“For those with a longer spring break vacation, this may be the last opportunity to visit many iconic destinations in Europe without the traditional crowds,” she adds. “February and March are a good time to visit Italy, Spain, Portugal and other European countries. And it’s shoulder season, so it’s less expensive.”
That’s what I’m planning to do. Last year, I drove through the southern United States during spring break, and it was plenty busy. This year, I plan to spend a few weeks in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey — destinations not typically associated with spring break.
Whatever you do, prepare for a spring break like no other, says Olivia Nash Richardson, who runs Nash Travel Management, a travel agency.
“Prices are up, and any availability there might be is incredibly tight. Tighter than even I anticipated,” she says. “You might already be too late.”