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Spring Break Travel 2024: Tips for the Busy Travel Season

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Spring break season is upon us.

While 2023 was a record-breaking year for travel, this spring break season is on track to be even busier with almost no restrictions and even more flights to many popular spring break destinations than in years past.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says travel volumes heading into the busy 2024 spring break travel season are already higher than in 2023, with the busiest period expected to be between March 7 and March 25. Whether you're staying close to home or taking an international trip this spring, that means you're likely to find busier airports, longer security lines, and fuller planes than you've seen traveling over the last few years.

Read on for what to expect this spring break season and our tips for a hassle-free trip.



What to Expect for Spring Break Travel in 2024

This spring break could set new records for travel in the U.S. That means you'll want to plan accordingly.

The TSA itself is preparing for a rush of travelers over the coming months.

“TSA screened a record number of passengers in 2023, and we expect that trend to continue this year,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a news release. “So far in 2024, travel volumes are trending at nearly 6% above the same period in 2023.”

Still, Pekoske said passengers can expect to get through the security line within 30 minutes (or 10 minutes or less if you've got TSA PreCheck). But airport security checkpoints around the country inevitably get overwhelmed during peak travel periods. If you're traveling in the next few months, arriving early is a smart move, especially if you need to check a bag.


Southwest Airlines plane landing


It's been an unusually quiet winter for much of the U.S., but bad weather always has the potential to cause travel issues, especially in these waning months of winter and early spring. Whether you're flying this week or next month, it's always a good idea to keep your eye on the weather. 

Read more: How to Survive (Or Avoid) Flight Cancellations & Delays


It's Not Too Late to Book a Spring Break Getaway

Typically around this time, travelers looking for last-minute spring break flights are likely to see sky-high prices. Not this year: Flight prices over the next few months keep dropping, meaning it's not too late to book a spring break trip – or rebook your existing flights and save even more.

Over the last few weeks, we've noticed a trend of airfare dropping for last-minute trips, and so have our Thrifty Traveler Premium members: countless cheap domestic flight deals for March, April, and even May as well as a slew of deeply discounted fares to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and Europe, too.

For example, here's a deal we sent our members just this week for flights to Charleston (CHS) and Savannah (SAV) for as low as $137 roundtrip.


Thrifty Traveler Premium flight deal for Georgia and South Carolina departure cities


We've even seen some deals for popular spring break destinations like Puerto Rico with availability over the next few weeks and through the spring.


Thrifty Traveler Premium deal for flights to Puerto Rico

Have some points and miles stashed up? This is the year to use them. This week alone we've found deals to use your Delta SkyMiles to get to Europe and back – for as few as 34,000 miles roundtrip! 


Delta SkyMiles Europe flash sale


This flash sale had nationwide availability, too! This is just a fraction of the cities included on this deal.


Delta SkyMiles Europe flash sale departure cities


Even just 10,000 American miles could get you to a beach in Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central America this spring!


Mexico Caribbean Central America AA miles sale


So if you've been procrastinating, you could still find some amazing deals for a warm-weather destination or a spring ski trip in the mountains. But this might be your last chance. The longer you wait, the more likely the last of these decent bargains are to disappear as spring break draws near.

Read our guide for how to find cheaper flights on short notice or use Google Flights Explore to find a cheap getaway!


Should You Be Concerned About Travel Advisories?

Many popular warm-weather spring break destinations have been making headlines lately either for new travel advisories, violent crimes, or both, and that's left many travelers understandably concerned about whether it's safe to travel to these places.

The U.S. embassy in Mexico, for instance, recently issued a spring break travel warning for Americans planning to visit the country. Officials warned travelers about crime as well as other potential dangers like unregulated alcohol and pharmaceuticals. “Unregulated alcohol may be contaminated, and U.S. citizens have reported losing consciousness or becoming injured after consuming alcohol that was possibly tainted,” the advisory read.

Officials also advised travelers to exercise caution in the downtown areas of popular spring break locations including Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum, especially at night.


putting a passport in a bag


The U.S. State Department has also renewed travel warnings to Jamaica and the Bahamas. Jamaica is now considered a Level 3 (reconsider travel), just below Level 4, which is do not travel. The latest advisory warned of increased crime in the country and advised travelers to avoid visiting certain areas – including the popular resort-heavy area of Montego Bay – although these warnings are specific to certain neighborhoods.

The Bahamas is considered a slightly safer destination at a Level 2 advisory. While the latest advisory warned travelers about increased crime, it's worth noting that it also cautioned travelers about jet skis and sharks.

For the vast majority of travelers, visiting these destinations is relatively safe. That's especially true if you're staying close to your hotel or resort, and not planning to venture beyond well-trafficked tourist areas.

Of course, it's always a good idea to be extra vigilant when traveling internationally and be prepared should the worst happen while you're traveling.

As we enter the peak spring break travel period, the State Department issued some advice to Americans taking international trips in the next few months.

  • Research your destination: Stay up to date on the latest travel advisories for your destination on the State Department's website so you can make informed decisions about your travel plans and be aware of the laws of the country you're planning on visiting.
  • Save the local U.S. Embassy’s contact information, print copies of your passport and other important documents, and leave details of your travel plans with family or friends.
  • Understand which medical services your health insurance will cover while abroad and what travel protections you may get with your travel rewards credit card. Consider purchasing travel insurance to ensure coverage for unexpected medical expenses, including medical evacuation, which can cost upwards of $100,000 depending on location and condition.


Tips for Traveling During Spring Break

Fly at the Right Time

If you want to avoid the worst crowds and longest lines at security, flying on off-peak days is the way to go. Many travelers leave for their trips on Thursdays or Fridays and come back on Sundays, and business travelers head out for work on Mondays and come back on Thursdays or Fridays.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are the slowest travel days throughout the week, and that means they're the best, slowest days to fly – and typically the cheapest days to fly, too. Airlines are eager to fill more empty on those off-peak days, so that's when you're most likely to see lower prices, not to mention fewer people at the airport. If you can schedule your trip around those days, you'll be in for a less-hectic airport experience and some savings, to boot.


Miami Beach Florida at sunrise


To minimize the chances of your flight getting delayed or canceled, book the earliest departure you can. Data shows the earlier your flight departs, the better odds you have of getting on and off the ground on time. That's because airlines' (or airports') problems can stack up throughout the day, resulting in disruptions in later flights.

Avoid a connection, if you can. Booking a nonstop flight, while not always the cheapest option, undoubtedly makes for a smoother travel experience. The more stops you make on the way to your final destination, the more opportunities there are for something to go wrong.


Sign Up For TSA PreCheck or CLEAR

TSA PreCheck and CLEAR are two trusted traveler programs that make the process of getting through airport security faster and far less stressful. And they can be invaluable during busy travel periods like spring break season.

TSA PreCheck is a government-run security program that gets you in a shorter, dedicated queue at the airport. You get to keep your shoes, belt, and a light jacket on. Plus, there's no need to take your laptop or carry-on approved liquids out of your bag.


TSA PreCheck


Unlike TSA PreCheck, CLEAR is a privately run security program that cuts you to the front of the security line after both a fingerprint and retinal scan. You can enroll online and finalize your membership at the airport. It's not available everywhere yet, though, so check if your home airport has it before signing up.

Weighing TSA PreCheck vs CLEAR? While they sound similar, they're drastically different … and it could make sense for some frequent travelers to have both programs. But the differences start with the price.

PreCheck costs $78 for a five-year membership after a recent price cut while CLEAR has a steep annual fee of $189 per year. Unfortunately, discounts for United and Delta flyers recently shrank.

With the right credit cards in your wallet, you can sign up for both programs for free. A growing number of popular travel credit cards will cover the cost of enrolling in TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Meanwhile, *amex platinum* and American Express® Green Card both come with a credit of up to $189 a year to cover the cost of CLEAR.

Just pay for your application (or for a buddy!) with one of these cards and it should automatically trigger a credit that will cover the cost.


Track Your Flight

While we always hope any trip will be smooth sailing, some things are just completely out of your control with air travel. Changes can happen without warning, so it pays to be vigilant.

If your spring break trip is coming up soon, start keeping tabs on whether there have been any changes to your reservation. Downloading your airline's app to monitor your flights is a must, but one tool is even better to track your flights: Flighty Pro. You'll get instant push alerts about any schedule changes, delays, or cancellations to any flights in your queue.

Read our full review to see why the Flighty Pro app is our favorite travel tool right now!

It also pays to monitor FlightAware.com‘s daily dashboard of delays and cancellations to scope out your airline in the days leading up to your departure for potential warning signs. If you're flying on Wednesday and FlightAware shows your airline is struggling on Monday and Tuesday, there's a good chance those disruptions are going to continue.


FlightAware dashboard on March 8, 2024


Bad weather in the forecast? Watch to see if your airline offers a “weather waiver” allowing you to rebook your flight to depart earlier or later, or try again another time.

If the worst happens and your flight is delayed or canceled, don't just stand in a long line to speak with a gate agent or employees at check-in. Call up your airline while you wait and slide into their DMs on social media, too. If you've got airport lounge access, it's also worth heading to the Delta Sky Club or American Admirals Club to see if a lounge agent can help you.

Don't forget: If an airline cancels (or significantly delays) your flight, you can cancel your reservation and get a full refund – not just a voucher or credit that expires in a year, but your money back. You can use that money to rebook a last-minute flight to get where you need to go or pocket it for a future trip.


Arrive at the Airport Early

If you're traveling in the next few weeks, give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport. It's better to have more time at your gate – or relaxing in an airport lounge – than risk missing your flight and ruining your trip.

While TSA says it's prepared for the influx of spring break travelers, airport security checkpoints inevitably get backed up during busy travel periods – and having TSA PreCheck or CLEAR isn't always a guarantee for a speedy trip through security. To be safe, add at least 30-45 minutes to your typical airport routine. And if you have to fly on a peak travel day, arrive two hours or maybe even two and a half hours before your flight.


TSA security lines and bins


Before you leave for the airport, it's worth checking the wait times at TSA checkpoints so you know what to expect when you get there. Some airports list current TSA wait times on their website, or you can download the MyTSA app. The app gives you an estimate of how long you'll have to wait and will even let you know when it expects wait times to peak throughout the day.

Save yourself even more time by checking in online and having your boarding pass and ID ready to go when you get to the front of the security line.


Travel with Only a Carry-on Bag

No matter where you're traveling or how long you'll be there, we always encourage readers to pack in just a carry-on bag. Leave the big checked luggage in the closet.

There are plenty of good reasons to make the switch. While nearly all major airlines recently raised their checked baggage fees, it's almost always free to bring a carry-on bag. You get through the airport faster, and you don't have to worry about the airline losing your luggage. Trust us: No one wants to travel from Minnesota to Florida only to find out their swimsuit and shorts didn't make it.

Especially during peak travel seasons like spring break or the holidays, opting not to check a bag means you won't have to wait in line to drop it off or wait for it at baggage claim.

Not convinced you can fit it all in one suitcase? Follow our tips for how to pack a carry-on bag for any trip


Bottom Line

Spring break travel in 2024 is expected to be the busiest yet, meaning even busier airports and fuller flights than in the past few years.

Whether you're heading somewhere later this month or not for several weeks, it'll pay to prepare and plan ahead for a smoother travel experience.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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