By: Hipmunk Staff
Each year, usually in March, thousands of American college students embark on the party pilgrimage that is Spring Break. Toting beach towels, bathing suits, and booze, they descend upon coastal meccas and warm weather cities in the hopes of coming home with a few crazy stories to tell.
But not all Spring Break destinations are created equally: some are drastically more expensive than others. If you’re a cash-strapped college student looking to get in on the fun, where exactly should you go? Which cities offer the sweetest deals on springtime flights and hotels?
We took a look through our travel queries, and compiled 12 of the most popular Spring Break destinations in the United States, Mexico, and Caribbean. These hotspots — all warm-weather paradises like Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, and Miami — represent the places that see the largest influx of interest in our databases around this time of year. We then analyzed the average flight and hotel costs related with these places to determine which are the most affordable, and which are the most expensive. Finally, we broke down how much a trip to these 12 cities costs from each of America’s 25 biggest party schools.
First, let’s start with the flights. Using historical Hipmunk travel data, we aggregated the cost to fly to 12 destinations from major US cities and then calculated the national average.
So, where are the most affordable places to go?
Las Vegas, Nevada, at an average of $306, comes out on top as the cheapest place to fly to. In general, domestic destinations are cheaper than international destinations: Miami (FL), South Padre Island (TX), and Daytona Beach (FL) top out the top five.
Residents of Panama City, who recently passed an ordinance trying to crack down on raucous Spring Break partying, may be glad to know it’s the most expensive place to fly to in our index. It is, however, still within driving range of many Southern universities — so it’s likely to remain a popular party spot.
Of course, once you fly somewhere, you need somewhere to stay. Again, using historical Hipmunk data, we determined the average nightly rate of a hotel room at each of these destinations.
Once more, Vegas appears toward the top of the list — but this time, it’s dethroned as the least expensive place to stay by Acapulco, Mexico. A resort city on the Pacific coast, Acapulco first gained attention from US tourists in the late 1950s; today, college students flock there for the nightlife, beaches, and cliff-diving.
But not every destination in Mexico features affordable hotels: Cancun and Cabo San Lucas are about triple the cost as Acapulco, at $271 and $288 per night, respectively. Only Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, tops them at $305 per night.
Now that we’ve ranked these havens by hotel and flight costs, let’s bring it all together. Assuming a five-night hotel stay (splitting the cost of the room with one other person) in addition to a flight, what are the overall cheapest places to travel for Spring Break?
And Las Vegas trumps again! An entire, five-night Spring Break in Sin City comes in at just under $600.
With the proliferation of college campuses sprinkled throughout California, Nevada, and Arizona, it’s no surprise that Las Vegas is one of America’s premier stomping grounds for young folks. After all, where else can you attend some of the biggest pool parties in the world, hit the casinos, and down an 80-ounce daiquiri served in a guitar-shaped glass all in one day?
If that’s not your style, Acapulco ($764) and Puerto Vallarta ($831) offer solid values for those seeking a less expensive Spring Break. Our advice: steer clear of Cabo San Lucas and Cancun, which run in excess of $1,100 per trip — nearly double the cost of going to Vegas!
If you’re looking at this data and still curious about how various cost options would compare with your given school’s location, we’ve got you covered.
Using a list of the Top 25 Party Schools (ranked by Niche.com), we analyzed the cost to fly to Spring Break destinations from the airport closest to each university. You can use the following “cheat sheet” to get a more specific idea of airline costs:
And since you’re probably curious about how much the whole trip will set you back, let’s go ahead and add in the hotel costs as well. The chart below graphs out the total travel costs associated with going from your school to each of these destinations:
And if you’re looking to escape this spring but you’re not the party type, you may want to head for the mountains. It’s looking to be a big snow year, so there should still be some good skiing going on in mid-March. You can check out our ski price index here to see the budget breakdown of the US’ best ski destinations.
So there you have it. If you’re planning on a party-filled Spring Break getaway this March, let our data guides you in the direction best suited for your budget. From there, you’re on your own.
Methodology: Hipmunk analyzed its data from October 2014 through March 2015 data for average airfare from the 30 most popular US airports, as well as hotel booking prices in popular Spring Break Destinations for the month of March, 2015. Using the same methodology, they also analyzed average airfare from each of the Top 25 party schools’ nearest airports to popular Spring Break locations to estimate Spring Break 2016 Vacation costs for college students in the US.