Planning a spring break getaway this year? Better start booking. Travel agents say reservations for spring vacations are well ahead of those last year at this time, with the usual ski resorts and beach destinations filling up fast.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel agencies are reporting increases of 10 percent to 50 percent in bookings for late-February to mid-April travel; some travelers reserved as early as November. Online travel agencies such as travelocity.com and expedia.com are also experiencing an early booking trend.
"As we get into February, people think they're being early for spring break, but they're really not," said Jean Cook, assistant manager at Century Travel, a Carlson Wagonlit Travel agency in Spokane, Wash., where last month, bookings for this year's spring break were double the number of last year. "People are realizing, to get the dates they really prefer and that will sync with their schedules, they have to be able to book it earlier."
It's still possible to secure an airline seat - if you're flexible. While weekend flights to popular beach destinations such as Mexico and to ski resorts in Colorado are tight, and airfares are higher than last year, travelers willing to leave midweek or to adjust their stays can still find savings.
For example, Cook was able to find an April flight from Spokane to Honolulu, connecting through Seattle or Portland, Ore., for $640 with a Monday departure and a return Tuesday the following week. The cheapest comparable flight available from Saturday to Saturday in April was $1,442.
Hotels say new rules - requiring passports for Americans traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda - aren't dampening demand.
Cancun, Mexico, which plunged down the list of destinations for spring breakers last year after being hit by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005, is climbing back to the top. "Acapulco [Mexico] was our primary beach destination last year," said Christi Day, a spokeswoman for STA Travel in Lewisville, Texas, but "this year they're running neck and neck," she said.
Of course, deals are still available at many resorts in popular spring break destinations, but the discounts generally aren't of the cut-rate variety. Cheaptickets.com is offering $100 off three-night vacation packages to Mexico, booked by Feb. 11 with the promotion code CHEAPMEXICO.
It's not just warm-weather destinations that are selling fast. Ski.com sales for spring break are up 11 percent from last year.