Is spring break broken? Maybe not entirely, but the recession has left many families questioning whether they'll be able to afford a getaway anytime soon.
A recent survey by CheapTickets.com and SmartMoney.com found that 63 percent of consumers are so worried about the economy that they've reduced spending in all areas of their lives, including leisure travel. A poll by Allstate suggested that almost half of Americans plan to cut back their travel expenses this year.
Such findings prompted Christopher Elliott, a columnist with National Geographic Traveler, to observe that the situation appears even bleaker than last year, when many people opted for a "staycation," meaning they stayed close to home. This year, Elliott wrote, is shaping up to be the year of the "naycation" -- "as in, nay, we're not vacationing."
Some wanderlust-afflicted consumers aren't willing to throw away their itineraries just yet, though. The CheapTickets/SmartMoney survey ranked travel second -behind dining out - among the diversions that people are still trying to afford. In fact, two-thirds of respondents said they'd cut back on electronics, cars and clothes before they'd give up vacations. "People are still traveling," said Bill Purpura, a spokesman for AAA Ohio. "What they're doing is looking for ways to cut down."
One way to cut down is to search for true bargains, a task that, paradoxically, has become easier lately. Call it the travel industry's answer to the law of supply and demand: With fewer people able to afford vacations, many vacations have become more affordable, Purpura said. "It's a buyer's market." Purpura said would-be vacationers can maximize savings by traveling in the off-season. Visiting the Caribbean in August, for example, might make you sweat - thanks to the heat and the threat of hurricanes - but you'll save a bundle. Purpura also suggests sharing accommodations with friends or relatives and negotiating for freebies, such as a room upgrade, health-club access or complementary breakfasts. It never hurts to ask, he pointed out.
Other suggestions, courtesy of Consumer Reports:Be flexible when it comes to flights. "Departing very early or very late in the day can mean a much lower airfare, as can flying on Tuesdays and Wednesdays." Check airline websites. Although it's smart to start with a site such as Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity, don't press the "buy" button before you consult the carriers themselves. Some airlines save their best deals for their sites, and a few low-cost carriers, including Southwest, don't offer tickets via third-party sites. Pay with a credit card. Using plastic allows you to dispute discrepancies and limits your liability for unauthorized charges. It also boosts your chances of getting your money back if you book travel on, or through, a company that goes out of business before your trip.