The cheapest - and priciest - spring break destinations
By Elyssa Kirkham/GOBankingRates
Spring break is approaching, and young adults and college students hoping for a fun time should start planning and shopping for travel deals now. "Last-minute spring break sales are an urban legend," said Jeff Klee, CEO of airfare deals site CheapAir.com. "Prices will go up the closer we get to your holiday week. Don't wind up spending your break in the dorms because you didn't pull the trigger."
Even if you're not rolling in cash, you can still have an epic week by choosing an affordable destination.
GOBankingRates surveyed 37 of the best spring break destinations to find those that offer a great experience at a low price. We totaled up these costs of a weeklong trip: six nights in a hotel (assuming the cost is split between two adults), round-trip airfare, the cost of three meals a day, a taxi ride and 14 beers a day (yep, a spring breaker really does drink that much, found a survey by the American College of Health).
Using the total cost of each location, and also considering the safety of the city and how crowded it could be, these rankings highlight the priciest and most budget friendly spring break destinations.
Click through to see the spring break spots that won't break your budget, as well as the money-sucks that are best avoided.
The article was originally published on GOBankingRates.
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Affordable: Tampa, Florida ($1,142)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $255
- Airfare and taxis: $389
- Food and drink: $498
Tampa has all the right ingredients for the perfect spring break: warm weather, beautiful beaches and a happening night life, all at an affordable price. A weeklong trip to Tampa costs just $1,142, with food and drink being the highest expenses thanks to costly meals that average $14.50 per meal, or $43.50 a day. This is somewhat offset by other lower prices, like Tampa taxis' low mileage rates -- the lowest of any surveyed in this study -- and cheaper round-trip flights that average just $322.
Affordable: Portland, Oregon ($1,136)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $192
- Airfare and taxis: $469
- Food and drink: $475
Travelers who are less excited by sunny beaches than a quirky hipster scene with plenty to see and do will love Portland. The city's unofficial motto is "Keep Portland weird," and the unique vibe can be seen in the interesting street art, limitless food and drink options (including plenty of vegan fare), and more. Plus, with just a short drive out of Portland, spring breakers can enjoy the beautiful Oregon Coast or head to Mt. Hood for some late-season skiing or hiking.
Portland is also priced right for a cheap spring break trip, with hotels available starting at around $65 a night. Taxi fare is also relatively cheap in this city, and airfare into Portland is decently priced at about $372 round trip. The one expense you might want to watch is dining out since the average cost of a meal from a Portland restaurant averages $13, higher than most of the destinations in this survey.
Affordable: Hollywood, Florida ($1,132)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $298
- Airfare and taxis: $374
- Food and drink: $460
Hollywood (not to be confused with the Hollywood that's located in California) and nearby Hollywood Beach are prime spots for a sunny spring break. The beaches and boardwalks offer prime partying spots, but Hollywood also has plenty of great spots for dining, shopping and other activities.
This Florida city offers the best of the beach culture that has made nearby hot spots like Miami and Palm Beach world-famous, but with fewer crowds and lower prices. Transportation, in particular, is a category in which you can save big, as flights to nearby Ft. Lauderdale cost just $272 round trip. Taxi fare is also cheaper here.
Affordable: Hilton Head, South Carolina ($1,203)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $252
- Airfare and taxis: $545
- Food and drink: $406
Hilton Head is an island north of Savannah, Ga., and south of Charleston, S.C., that offers a small-town spring break option. Along with picturesque beaches, Hilton Head has plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun, including golf, tennis, bicycling, kayaking and other sports.
Spring breakers who are hoping to ditch the crowds will be happy in Hilton Head, which only received about 200,000 visitors per month on 2015. Hilton Head is also rated as the safest of the 10 best spring break ideas by crime-tracking site NeighborhoodScout.com.
The highest cost of a spring break trip to Hilton Head will be airfare. Hotels and dining are reasonably priced in Hilton Head, and taxi fare and booze are cheaper here than in most of the spring break destinations surveyed.
Affordable: Orlando, Florida ($1,023)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $170
- Airfare and taxis: $407
- Food and drink: $446
Orlando has several amusement parks, including the Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld. These attractions, along with a hot nightlife and popular beaches make Orlando one of the most-visited U.S. cities, averaging 5.2 million visitors a month in 2014. This high number means spring breakers headed to Orlando should expect big crowds, especially in attractions popular for all ages, which can put a damper on vacation fun.
Still, Orlando offers low prices overall, especially on airfare ($297 for a round-trip ticket, on average) and beer ($3.15 for a domestic). While dining is also more expensive, priced around $15 a meal at an inexpensive restaurant, Orlando is still pretty high on the list of the best spring break destinations for 2016.
Affordable: Memphis, Tennessee ($1,083)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $181
- Airfare and taxis: $494
- Food and drink: $408
Best known for its barbecue, bourbon and blues, Memphis has a hot nightlife scene on historic Beale Street and beyond with live music, dive bars, clubs and more. Those looking for more adventure can also tour Elvis Presley's Graceland estate or take a day trip to nearby gambling town Tunica, Miss., to indulge in some casino fun.
Food is cheap in Memphis, with a typical meal at an inexpensive restaurant priced at just $8.50, making it affordable to fill up on plenty of Memphis barbecue. Taxi fares and hotel rates are also cheaper in this city. But with higher airfare costs -- $419 on average, round trip -- this would be a cheap spring break trip for vacationers who live close enough to drive.
Affordable: Virginia Beach, Virginia ($1,109)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $110
- Airfare and taxis: $609
- Food and drink: $390
Virginia Beach is one of the most budget-friendly beach destinations in the U.S. for 2016, according to hotel rating site Oyster.com. Indeed, it lands at No. 4 on this list of the best spring break destinations thanks to cheap beer, cheap hotels and decently priced dining. It's also one of the safest spring break destinations surveyed, according to NeighborhoodScout.com.
The biggest expense for spring breakers heading to Virginia Beach will be airfare, which at $457 round trip is one of the most expensive in this survey. If you're close enough to drive instead, it's definitely worth considering, as Virginia Beach taxis also charge higher per-mile rates.
Affordable: Las Vegas ($970)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $111
- Airfare and taxis: $384
- Food and drink: $475
The adult-playground vibe of Las Vegas makes it one of the best places to do some serious partying during spring break -- and its low prices make it affordable. As a popular spring break spot, Las Vegas is one of just three cities GOBankingRates surveyed where a weeklong trip costs under $1,000. It has the third-cheapest hotel rates (starting around $37 a night), and the cheapest round-trip airfare, averaging just $255 in 2015.
"Vegas is a good example of value for the money," Klee said. "Sin City offers discounts and deals for hotels on the strip, as long as you avoid pricier weekend stays." For example, he said, a Sunday-to-Thursday booking in mid-March is often as much as 50 percent to 80 percent cheaper than a Thursday-to-Sunday booking that same week.
The main drawback to Vegas is its high number of visitors; in March, Sin City usually gets around 3.6 million visitors, many of whom will be there during popular spring break weeks. Las Vegas spring breakers can save a bit by walking, however, as the price per mile for taxis is more expensive here than in most of the spring break destinations surveyed.
Affordable: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina ($980)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $105
- Airfare and taxis: $492
- Food and drink: $383
South Carolina's Myrtle Beach is a popular beach town that offers a classic spring break experience. It's also a surprisingly affordable beach destination.
When it comes to costs, Myrtle Beach offers the cheapest hotels of any popular spring break location. It also has some of the lowest prices for beer and taxi services. The cost of airfare will be a bit pricier, however, costing $404 round trip on average.
Affordable: Lake Tahoe ($929)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $118
- Airfare and taxis: $451
- Food and drink: $360
"If snowboarding is more your jam, Lake Tahoe is a fine spot for winter sports and gambling (on the Nevada side)," said Klee. The lake and nearby attractions also offer plenty to do during a spring break trip, including hiking, biking and more.
March to May is the best time to visit Lake Tahoe, a sparkling alpine lake located on the California-Nevada border, according to U.S. News, as this is an off-season for the area and prices tend to be lower. Lake Tahoe also has some of the lowest hotel rates of any hot spring break destination, as well as cheap food, drink and taxis.
Airfare is the highest cost, with the average cost for a round-trip flight to nearby Reno coming out to $359. But, you can easily trim down your cost. "You can get more budget airfare by flying to San Francisco/Oakland and renting a car instead of flying to the more direct Reno International Airport," said Klee. "Flights to Oakland are averaging almost $100 less than flights to Reno for dates in March and April."
Pricey: Newport Beach, California ($1,491)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $395
- Airfare and taxis: $596
- Food and drink: $500
Newport Beach, located south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego, offers lots of beach and water fun, as well as higher-end dining, shopping and nightlife with fewer crowds since the city sees just 575,000 visitors a month.
Transportation will be the biggest expense for spring breakers in Newport Beach. Average costs for round-trip flights into nearby Santa Ana Airport are $391, and this city has one of the highest per-mile rate for taxis at $4.90. You can save on these costs by flying into Long Beach Airport, which is a little farther but costs on average just $257 for round-trip airfare, a savings of $134. As for taxi fare, take an Uber instead or take advantage of the walkability of many Newport Beach hot spots.
Pricey: Breckenridge, Colorado ($1,430)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $537
- Airfare and taxis: $433
- Food and drink: $460
Breckenridge is a popular spring break destination for skiers and snowboarders who want to fit in some late-season time on the slopes. But this ski spot, which is located about 80 miles from Denver, has plenty to offer aside from snow sports, including outdoor concerts and bar parties.
Though this ski town offers plenty of fun, it comes at a high price. Hotel rates start around $180 per night for a two-person room, the third-highest of any location among the 10 priciest. And while flying into Denver, the nearest major airport, is fairly cheap ($338 on average, round trip), there will be a cost on top of that for the two-hour trip from the airport to Breckenridge.
Pricey: Honolulu ($1,468)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $305
- Airfare and taxis: $588
- Food and drink: $575
After a long, dreary winter, nothing sounds better than a dreamy, sun-filled Hawaiian spring break. But heading to Honolulu for a weeklong trip will incur a high price, especially during a busy season like spring break. Dining, in particular, is pricey in Honolulu, with an average meal priced at $15 ($45 a day) and domestic beers priced around $5 each on average, making it easy to spend up to $115 a day on booze and food alone. Spring breakers should also try to avoid taking a cab whenever possible, as the average cost of $5 per mile makes this a pricey transportation option.
Pricey: Panama City Beach, Florida ($1,474)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $464
- Airfare and taxis: $620
- Food and drink: $390
Those seeking a textbook college spring break trip that involves beaches, partying and drinking will get it in Panama City Beach.
As a popular spring break spot, however, demand for accommodations is high, and Panama City Beach's prices will be hiked during late March and early April. Hotel prices start at a steep $155, and taxis will also charge high rates. But the real budget killer will be getting to Panama City Beach, as flights cost $462 round trip on average, the highest airfare of any of the 10 priciest spring break spots. At least Panama City Beach offers cheap beer, costing just $3 each on average.
Pricey: Santa Monica, California ($1,545)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $462
- Airfare and taxis: $553
- Food and drink: $530
A busy beach city right by Los Angeles, Santa Monica offers a spring break experience full of shopping, surf and sun. But this beachfront experience will come at a high price.
"The beach cities in Los Angeles will cost you more for accommodation," Klee said. GOBankingRates found that hotel rates start around $154 for a two-person room, though Klee added you should expect prices to get as high as $250 a night close to the beach. "If you are really on a budget, staying inland will save you big time," he advised.
Flights to Los Angeles are also on the higher end, averaging $394 round trip in 2015. But Klee said that "airfare to Los Angeles is cheap in March and April right now."
Pricey: New York City ($1,492)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $258
- Airfare and taxis: $544
- Food and drink: $690
New York City won't provide the typical surf-and-sun vacation you're probably accustomed to, but it still offers plenty to do. However, expect plenty of crowds; the Big Apple averages just under 5 million visitors a month, and plenty of families and other vacationers will be headed there for the week off.
Spring breakers should also carefully plan their budgets, as prices in New York can quickly eat into funds. The average cost of airfare into the greater New York area is one of the highest in this study, at $429 round trip. And, this city has one of the most expensive dining costs of any other in this survey. A typical meal at an inexpensive spot costs $18, while beers are $6 a pop -- for a typical spring breaker, this alone will cost around $140 a day.
Pricey: Scottsdale, Arizona ($1,599)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $456
- Airfare and taxis: $506
- Food and drink: $637
As a desert getaway, Scottsdale offers plenty to do, from outdoor fun -- like hiking, golfing and off-roading -- to shopping, dining, clubbing or even gambling at local casinos. Baseball fans will especially want to show up for Major League spring training sessions to see how their favorite athletes are shaping up for the new season.
All of this will come at a price, however. While flights to nearby Phoenix are among the more reasonably priced at $359 round trip, hotel and taxi rates are on the higher end. The real sticker shock, however, will come when eating out -- a typical meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs $18, or $54 a day for three meals, and domestic beers are $5.25 each.
Pricey: Hamptons, New York ($1,661)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $427
- Airfare and taxis: $544
- Food and drink: $690
The Hamptons are famously known as a playground for the East Coast's wealthy city inhabitants -- especially New Yorkers -- who want to escape from the all the hustle and bustle. If you want to visit this destination during spring break, expect to fork over some serious dough.
Dining, in particular, will be pricey, with many restaurants geared at offering a luxurious experience to rich patrons. Even a meal at an inexpensive spot will cost $18 per person ($270 for five days), and domestic beers carry the highest price of any location at $6 apiece. High-cost flights also drive up the costs of a Hamptons spring break, with a round-trip ticket into the nearby greater New York area costing $429.
Pricey: Key West, Florida ($1,614)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $640
- Airfare and taxis: $479
- Food and drink: $495
Although the island located south of Florida will offer some of the warmest temperatures and the best beach weather, a Key West spring break is expensive, mostly thanks to high hotel rates. Costs start at around $640 per person for a six-night stay, which will likely deter many college students from planning their next spring break there. "It's the height of our season and frankly, [students] can't afford the [hotel] rates," the president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West, told the Miami Herald last year.
But if your mind is set on going to Key West for spring break, search travel sites like Kayak.com, Orbitz.com, Hotwire.com, etc. for any spring break packages or deals that can help you save money on lodging and transportation.
Pricey: Palm Beach, Florida ($1,913)
- Hotel for 6 nights: $1,059
- Airfare and taxis: $394
- Food and drink: $460
The cost of a weeklong trip in Palm Beach is more than double the cheapest destination on this list; for what one person would spend to spring break in Palm Beach, two people could spring break in Lake Tahoe.
Hotel costs are to blame for the high cost of Palm Beach spring break trip, with rates starting around $350 a night for two-person lodgings. For the hotel alone, a spring breaker will spend over $1,000 -- and that's when they're sharing the room and splitting the costs with another person. Those heading to South Florida for spring break would probably be better served by skipping this beach spot for less expensive alternatives, like Tampa or Ft. Lauderdale.
To generate these rankings, GOBankingRates surveyed and totaled the following costs of a seven-day, six-night spring break: (1) the cost of a typical hotel room in the city with a rating of at least two stars on Hotels.com, for six nights, with costs split evenly between two adults (sourced Jan. 22); (2) the average cost of round-trip airfare to the nearest major airport, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics; and these following costs calculated with pricing data from Numbeo.com: (3) three meals a day for five days, (4) 14 beers a day for five days, and (5) seven taxi trips of around 6 miles each. The 37 cities were ranked by the combined dollar cost of a spring break trip, with cities lightly weighted for higher safety ratings and lower numbers of annual visitors.
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