Attention, procrastinators: It’s still not too late to book a spring break trip. A combination of lower airfares, a strong dollar and a late Easter holiday means it’s still possible to nab a getaway for less.
With Easter falling late this year – Sunday, April 16, versus late March last year – fewer college students and families with school-age children are vying for the same weeks, creating less of a booking crunch and better deals spread throughout the season. Below, some of the best bets for last-minute bookers.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Even though it is peak season, it’s not hard to find reasonable hotel rates, with choices ranging from all-inclusive mega-resorts to stylish boutique hotels. And plenty of nonstop flights from the East Coast make Puerto Rico easy to get to, while a healthy amount of competition keeps fares relatively low. Flights to San Juan are down 11 percent in March and April compared with the same period last year, according to Kayak.com.
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As spring break closes in and airfares rise, try buying two one-way fares on separate airlines to save, recommends George Hobica, the president of Airfarewatchdog.com. Kayak.com calls such tickets “hacker fares.” A recent search on the site for Saturday-to-Saturday flights in mid-March from New York turned up a flight for $252 departing on United from Newark and returning to Kennedy Airport on Delta. For the same dates, the lowest round-trip fare on United was $286.
Every March, the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival (this year, March 10-19) draws an affluent crowd of techies, celebrity artists and their fans to this popular city for music, movies and conferences. The time to visit is when they all go home. Hotel rates drop precipitously, while the average daytime temperatures remain in the 60s and 70s.
In a recent search on Expedia.com, the lowest rate for a four-star hotel the week of SXSW was $834 a night at the Hyatt Regency Austin. A week later the same hotel was available for $299 a night. You can eat well and cheaply at the myriad food trucks found in every nook of the city that serve everything from cupcakes to Korean barbecue. Take in the bluebonnets and other spring wildflowers at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, kayak Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin or visit the rodeo (March 11to 25), where aspiring young cowgirls and cowboys ride sheep in the mutton bustin' competition, among other classic rodeo games. For a thrill at dusk, head to the Congress Avenue Bridge to witness hundreds of thousands of bats emerge from underneath as they set off on their nightly bug hunt.
Palm Springs, California
While spring is a prime time to visit this desert town, with daytime temperatures in the mid-80s and a retro pool party scene, hotels and rentals are plentiful. In the last year, roughly a dozen hotels have opened up or undergone face-lifts, including the 32-room Arrive Hotel, with a pool, hot tub, bocce court and ice cream parlor/gift shop, and rates from $209 a night (based on a recent search).
And on Feb. 15, an ordinance designed to limit the number of vacation rentals was overturned, making way for a surge in listings. Villaway.com, a luxury rental site, will be adding more than 50 homes in the area to its site over the next few weeks. There are “amazing deals in Palm Springs,” said Joe Liebke, the chief executive of Villaway, noting that a five-bedroom villa with a guesthouse, pool and private disco perched on a bluff is available for $1,200 a night in March, down from $2,000. In March, he said, visitors will beat the “madness of crowds” that arrive for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in mid-April.
Families will appreciate the sunshine, beautiful beaches and kid-oriented attractions, including the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego and Legoland California. Four hotels have opened in or near downtown in the last year, including the Pendry – the debut of a new luxury brand from Montage International – in the Gaslamp Quarter. It has 317 rooms, a spa and three restaurants and bars, including a poolside rooftop lounge. (Rates from $295 with a $50 breakfast credit for stays through April.)
Through March, when low tides tend to coincide with daylight hours, nature lovers can search for sea anemones and starfish in the tide pools of Cabrillo National Monument, a short drive from downtown San Diego at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula. Explore 1,200-acre Balboa Park, home to the zoo and 15 major museums. Or head north to La Jolla to see seals and sea lions just off shore. Sporting events more your style? Teams from 16 nations compete during the second round of the World Baseball Classic, which takes the field at Petco Park in downtown San Diego, March 14 to 19.
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
Looking for a wintry getaway? “Favorable exchange rates and consistent late-season snowfall” make Whistler Blackcomb a good bet for procrastinators, said Dan Sherman, the vice president of marketing at Ski.com. Whistler Blackcomb is the largest ski area in North America with more than 200 trails across some 8,100 acres and terrain for beginners, intermediates and experts. Blackcomb Mountain gets snow late into the spring, remaining open until May 22, more than a month later than most resorts in North America. Through April, Ski.com is offering 20 to 40 percent off hotels and condos like Crystal Lodge & Suites, in the center of Whistler Village, and Le Chamois, at the base of Blackcomb Mountain in the Upper Village, steps from the chairlifts.
Airfares to Europe are down nearly 20 percent on average for travel in March compared with the same period last year, according to StudentUniverse, a booking site for students and recent graduates, which found round-trip flights as low as $301 from New York to Stockholm, $332 from Boston to Copenhagen and $352 from New York to Barcelona or Madrid in a recent search. And the strong dollar means more buying power when you land.
Low fares can also be found on European budget carriers like Norwegian Air and Wow Air, which have been expanding in the United States. Monograms is offering package tours between 10 and 20 percent off with rates from $1,295 a person for a week of sightseeing in Rome and Venice.