By Christina Lavingia, Editor
Spring break season is right around the corner, a holiday that typically decimates the budgets of students. The average college student spends about $1,100 a week on spring break, according to BillShrink.com -- and the majority of that amount doesn't cover getting there or lodging, but rather the high costs of having fun, whether it's the deposit on a rented jet ski or an open bar tab.
GOBankingRates rounded up the 12 most popular spring break destinations and asked the biggest names in travel, including Southwest, Travelocity, Orbitz.com and more, for their expert tips on saving money at these popular locales. Following these tips, you can save hundreds while getting some much needed fun in the sun.
Luckily, because not all schools schedule spring break on the same week, it's easier to save money on spring vacations than during the winter holidays. Still, it's important to do your homework on deals and discounts when it comes to flights, hotels and activities.
12 Ways to Save Money on Spring Break
1. Travelocity: Look for Non-Peak Days
Courtney Scott, senior editor at Travelocity, had the following advice for those traveling by air this spring break:
"Travelers looking to cut costs should look at traveling on off-peak days and during mid-to-low season," Scott said. "Both airfare and hotel prices drop dramatically during these times. ... [Additionally] avoid checking baggage which can be a fee of $25/bag or more and try to be loyal to one airline so that you can gain elite status which typically gives free upgrades, free priority boarding and free checked baggage."
2. Southwest Airlines: Book Tuesday Through Thursday
Knowing when the deals run will also greatly benefit you, said Lisa Tiller, spokesperson for Southwest.
"Southwest typically offers fare sales each week from Tuesday through Thursday," she said. "Availability is always limited though, so just because a low sale fare is available on Tuesday does not necessarily mean it will still be available on Thursday. Every once in a while we will surprise our customers with an offer on an 'off' day, such as our St. Patrick's Day weekend 25 percent off fare saver that ran Saturday through Sunday."
3. Priceline: Bid on the Best Deal
If the day and time of your departure is flexible, you can try bidding with Priceline's Express Deals to cut up to 40 percent off published fares. "The tradeoff is you agree to fly on any major airline that accepts your bid, your trip can depart anywhere between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. (so you have to allot one day for travel each way), and you may have one connection each way," explained Priceline.com's travel editor, Brian Ek.
4. Budget Travel: Go for Driving Distance
Those who can drive to their spring break destinations can forgo this cost all together and do their savings a big favor, according to editor in chief of Budget Travel, Robert Firpo-Cappiello.
"The first place to cut costs is airfare," Firpo-Cappiello said. "As you plan your spring break, consider locales that are driving distance. Budget Travel's Ultimate Road Trips app can help (available for iOS and Google Play). Northeasterners can make an escape to Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach or even all the way to Florida if they're willing to split the driving duties with friends. Midwesterners can have a ball on the Gulf Coast, and Westerners just have to head a little south to bask in the sun in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico."
5. TripAdvisor: Check Room Prices in Real Time
When it comes to your spring break lodging, there are a number of ways you can save money without forgoing a quality room. Julie Cassetina, senior public relations specialist at TripAdvisor, tipped us off to the site's comparison tool.
"It allows users to see real-time hotel room prices and availability from TripAdvisor booking partners, all on one page," Cassetina said. Use it to compare hotel rates, find a price in your range and book your trip without having to leave the page.
6. Travelzoo: Don't Pay for the View
When it comes to the specific room you stay in, Gabe Saglie of Travelzoo offered this easy tip to snag a cheaper rate.
"At tropical destinations, beach proximity can affect the total cost of your trip," Saglie said. "Staying in a room with a garden view instead of an ocean view can save you 30 percent on your stay, and the shore is still a short stroll away."
If lodging is still out of your price point once you consider discount options, staying in a hostel rather than a hotel can lead to huge savings, especially over the course of a week-long vacation.
7. KAYAK: Travel According to Lead Time
According to David Solomito, director of brand marketing at KAYAK, the amount of lead time you have when planning will affect which locations are cheaper or more expensive to visit.
"If you're not a planner, the Caribbean might be a good place to visit, since the best time to book to find the best deals is two to four weeks in advance. Or, if you have a little extra time, traveling within North America -- a beach trip to Miami, for example -- is best, with a four- to six-week booking window," Solomito said.
8. Hotels.com: Choose the Path Less Traveled
According to Hotels.com, an easy way to save money is by avoiding most popular destinations.
"Mexican cities continue to rise in popularity," said Taylor L. Cole, travel expert for Hotels.com. "Cancun/Riviera Maya is the sixth most popular international destination for Americans. Additionally, Mexico City and Vallarta are go-to cities for both domestic and international travelers during spring break and year-round. Travelers looking to break away from the crowds this spring break should consider our picks for an off-the-beaten-path value." Hotels.com's list included Lexington, Ky., Branson, Mo., Raleigh, N.C., and Mobile, Ala., for hotel stays below $100.
9. SmarterTravel: Join a Hotel Rewards Program
Frequent travelers who are loyal to a particular hotel brand can save big and earn extra perks by joining a hotel rewards program.
"Hotel resort fees -- which could including anything from parking and gym access to beach chairs -- will continue to plague travelers this year," said Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com. "The best way to avoid them is to join the hotel's loyalty program; hotels will often waive the fees for its most loyal guests."
If you're not a rewards member, Banas said it never hurts to ask for the fee to be removed, especially if you're not going to use the amenities.
10. TravelSquire: Bundle Your Trip
Rather than booking a flight, hotel and car separately, look for package deals that cut the overall cost of your trip. Jeff Greif, editor in chief of TravelSquire.com, said this is a great way to cut costs over spring break. "Look for companies that package air fare with hotels (and sometimes meals), which can be a very affordable way to pay for a vacation. Ask about transfers, too, as they can be packaged in. Try to include as much as possible in one price."
11. Orbitz: Buy Tickets Ahead of Time
You've done all the prep work, so don't break your travel budget by waiting until the last minute to buy tickets to attractions.
"Whether you're heading to Disney or hitting the slopes in Colorado, you can save money by purchasing tickets to parks, attractions or ski resorts in advance and online," said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor for Orbitz.com. "Event sites like Orbitz.com sell tickets -- and in many cases at a discount -- to the full price you'll pay once you reach your destination. Also, always consider if you'll be using multi-day tickets, which are cheaper than purchasing each day separately."
12. CheapOair: When in Doubt, Vegas
"The average spring break age group is 18-34, so based on the demographics, people are searching more for extremely discounted airfares and moderate hotel costs," said Tom Spagnola, SVP of supplier relations for CheapOair. "Las Vegas is always a 'hot spot' for the younger crowd looking for a great place to have fun but still have cheap airfare."
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