The Cheapest & Most Expensive Destinations for Spring Break

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Overhead photo of beachgoers during spring break.
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Punxsutawney Phil has “spoken.” 

In other words, he didn’t see his shadow this Feb. 2, which means we’re due for an early spring. (Assuming you put stock in the meteorological skills of a groundhog.)

But regardless of an early spring or six more weeks of winter, spring break is inevitably around the corner. And if you’re stumped on where to go, we here at Wanderu — where you can compare prices on all your ground travel and flight options in the same search — have got you covered.

Most of the more trendy spots are notorious for cranking up prices, but we believe spring break shouldn’t be an experience exclusive to students who are bankrolled by mom and dad. That’s why we did some data crunching and ranked the top 50 spring break destinations from cheapest to most expensive. 

Starting with a list of the 50 most popular spring break destinations in the U.S. (plus Canada and Puerto Rico), we ranked each city in an assortment of cost-related categories and then averaged all the data to come up with a list of overall winners — and losers. The cumulative data for the cities included:

Ready to see the results? That’s what we’re here for at Wanderu … well, that, and actually getting you where you want to go, whether it means booking a train, plane or bus. (Pro Tip: Use the legend directly below the table to see the meaning of each symbol.)

The Cheapest & Most Expensive Spring Break Destinations

flight-symbol hotel-symbol-2 bars-symbol cocktail-symbol beer-symbol
1. Buffalo, NY $143.83 $99.90 429 $9.00 $4.00
2. Panama City, FL $152.30 $184.40 64 $9.00 $3.50
3. Sarasota, FL $182.26 $200.00 219 $11.00 $4.50
4. Orlando, FL $176.53 $65.90 727 $12.00 $4.00
5. Tampa, FL $158.36 $146.00 905 $11.00 $4.00
6. San Juan, PR $171.65 $155.20 159 $9.00 $3.00
7. Atlantic City, NJ $146.68 $148.70 108 $11.00 $4.75
8. St. Louis, MO $205.43 $89.00 743 $11.00 $4.00
9. New Orleans, LA $196.60 $121.70 602 $10.00 $3.75
10. Atlanta, GA $159.12 $70.00 907 $11.00 $4.75
flight-symbol Avg. price of a one-way flight to destination in March
hotel-symbol-2 Avg. price for a weekend night in a hotel room in March
bars-symbol Total number of cheap, high-quality bars
cocktail-symbol Avg. price for a cocktail in a downtown club
beer-symbol Avg. price for a pint of domestic beer

flight-symbol hotel-symbol-2 bars-symbol cocktail-symbol beer-symbol
11. Indianapolis, IN $188.18 $137.10 529 $8.00 $4.00
12. Anaheim, CA $145.25 $129.50 499 $12.00 $4.00
13. Monterey, CA $96.48 $168.90 81 $12.00 $6.00
14. San Antonio, TX $187.97 $117.60 557 $10.00 $3.62
15. Portland, OR $146.65 $98.20 973 $11.00 $5.00
16. Palm Springs, CA $210.58 $307.30 223 $12.00 $5.00
17. Columbus, OH $207.01 $102.50 568 $10.00 $4.00
18. Fort Myers, FL $206.80 $229.60 185 $12.00 $4.00
19. Fort Lauderdale, FL $158.18 $142.20 515 $12.00 $6.00
20. Dallas, TX $204.89 $69.70 925 $10.00 $4.75
21. Denver, CO $195.72 $83.80 970 $11.00 $5.00
22. Charleston, SC $210.82 $128.20 264 $11.00 $5.00
23. Minneapolis, MN $189.34 $81.50 761 $10.00 $6.00
24. Toronto, ON $123.22 $82.20 729 $10.00 $5.75
25. Kansas City, MO $236.47 $73.00 539 $10.00 $5.00
26. Savannah, GA $209.92 $314.88 130 $9.00 $4.00
27. Key West, FL $166.46 $326.10 96 $16.00 $4.50
28. Philadelphia, PA $197.25 $88.90 928 $11.00 $5.00
29. Daytona Beach, FL $275.42 $265.10 121 $10.00 $4.00
30. Charlotte, NC $198.44 $86.30 524 $11.00 $5.00
31. Austin, TX $195.98 $119.20 748 $11.00 $5.00
32. Phoenix, AZ $189.94 $151.30 931 $13.00 $4.00
33. Chicago, IL $129.35 $75.60 968 $13.00 $5.50
34. Las Vegas, NV $133.32 $127.50 906 $13.00 $6.00
35. Seattle, WA $134.68 $90.70 965 $14.00 $6.00
36. Nashville, TN $180.19 $123.60 468 $13.00 $5.00
37. San Jose, CA $96.48 $103.70 605 $14.00 $6.00
38. Boston, MA $107.50 $84.90 803 $13.00 $7.00
39. San Diego, CA $142.24 $108.40 982 $13.00 $6.00
40. St. Petersburg, FL $135.02 $631.67 413 $11.00 $4.00
41. San Bernadino, CA $176.83 $163.25 163 $12.00 $6.00
42. Pasadena, CA $163.72 $241.71 115 $14.00 $5.00
43. Houston, TX $233.65 $64.10 901 $11.00 $6.00
44. Los Angeles, CA $145.25 $105.70 978 $14.00 $6.00
45. Miami, FL $178.53 $131.50 888 $16.00 $6.00
46. Washington, D.C. $169.21 $87.00 893 $14.00 $7.00
47. San Francisco, CA $142.72 $126.50 979 $15.00 $7.00
48. Honolulu, HI $353.76 $147.70 318 $10.00 $6.00
49. New York City, NY $132.19 $120.80 991 $17.00 $7.00
50. Santa Barbara, CA $177.47 $200.30 122 $18.00 $7.00

Oh, Buffalo wasn’t on your radar for a spring break vacation?

Maybe it should be. Sure, if you measure your spring break in degrees Fahrenheit, then in March it’s a little lacking. But if you measure your spring break in savings, the data is definitive: Buffalo is the place to be. 

New York’s “Queen City” reigns supreme on our list of cheapest spring break spots thanks to a well-rounded performance, including excellent prices on hotel rooms and alcoholic beverages. It’s also just a short bus or train ride to Niagara Falls, if you’re in the market for a low-priced outdoor excursion.

But if you feel like spring break just isn’t spring break without a beach, there are also warmer options than the lakeside beaches near Buffalo. Florida rounds out the top five cheapest locations with standards like Panama City, Sarasota, Orlando and Tampa.

In particular, we want to shout out spring break sleepers San Juan and Atlantic City. The former has both better weather and smaller crowds than its Florida counterparts, and the latter has both beaches and casinos — two spring break staples.

On the opposite (i.e., more expensive) end of the spectrum sits that other New York city, New York City. The only spring break destination on our list more costly than Manhattan? Santa Barbara, California. (Also known as the town six miles from Oprah’s house.)

For a glimpse at how these different destinations rank by category, keep scrolling.

Cities With the Cheapest Flights for Spring Break

flight-symbol
1. Monterey, CA (Tie) $96.48
1. San Jose, CA (Tie) $96.48
3. Boston, MA $107.50
4. Toronto, ON $123.22
5. Chicago, IL $129.35
6. New York City, NY $132.19
7. Las Vegas, NV $133.32
8. Seattle, WA $134.68
9. St. Petersburg, FL $135.02
10. San Diego, CA $142.24
  • Average flight price is based on the average for incoming one-way, domestic fares in March found on Wanderu over a 30-day period.  

Today, Monterey may be best known as the beautiful backdrop for HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” (Cue Michael Kiwanuka’s haunting score.) 

Long before that, it was depicted in multiple John Steinbeck novels. (Hey, maybe your English prof will give you some extra credit for visiting!) Today, it’s more about culture than it is about canneries. It’s also right down the road from the scenic 17-Mile Drive that hugs the coastline near Pebble Beach. 

Monterey is just an hour south of San Jose, the two of which tie for the cheapest cities to fly into over spring break. The reason they’re tied: Because you fly into the same place, Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport.  

And for years, spring breakers have flocked to Daytona Beach: By day, for sun, sand and surf. By night, for DJs, dancing and drinks. But if you’re not within driving distance of Florida’s Atlantic coast, you might rethink joining them. That’s because the average plane ticket to Daytona Beach International Airport in March is among the most expensive for popular spring break destinations ($275.42), only outdone by Honolulu ($353.76).

Cities With the Cheapest Spring Break Hotel Rates

hotel-symbol-2
1. Houston, TX $64.10
2. Orlando, FL $65.90
3. Dallas, TX $69.70
4. Atlanta, GA $70.00
5. Kansas City, MO $73.00
6. Chicago, IL $75.60
7. Minneapolis, MN $81.50
8. Toronto, ON $82.20
9. Denver, CO $83.80
10. Boston, MA $84.90
  • Average hotel prices are based on averages from Hotels.com for each city, in which we averaged the 10 cheapest hotels available.
  • Prices are based on the cost of a room for a Saturday night in mid-March.
  • Average price is for hotels that have a pool (essential for spring break), and at least 3 stars on Hotels.com.
  • Listed average prices don’t include taxes or any applicable resort fees.

As the band Futurebirds sings: “Hotel parties are exactly what we need.” 

And in a city like Houston, you can have one for just $64 a night, which is about a tenth of what you would spend on an average hotel room in St. Petersburg, Florida. And those are weekend rates, so expect to save even more for weekday bookings.  

Meanwhile, in Mickey Mouse’s stomping grounds (aka Orlando), you can snag a room for about $66. Rooms in other southern cities like Dallas and Atlanta also cost $70 or less. And don’t worry. All the hotels we included in our calculations have pools. After all, if there’s not a pool, does it even count as spring break? Did your New Year’s resolution to get swole even matter?

Cities With the Most Cheap, High-Quality Bars Per Capita

bars-symbol Per Capita
1. Palm Springs, CA 48,142 223 1 for every 216 people
2. Sarasota, FL 56,994 219 1 for every 260 people
3. Key West, FL 25,208 96 1 for every 263 people
4. Monterey, CA 28,639 81 1 for every 354 people
5. Fort Lauderdale, FL 183,076 515 1 for every 355 people
6. Atlantic City, NJ 38,429 108 1 for every 356 people
7. St. Louis, MO 297,520 743 1 for every 400 people
8. Orlando, FL 303,933 727 1 for every 418 people
9. Fort Myers, FL 79,943 185 1 for every 432 people
10. Tampa, FL 411,849 905 1 for every 455 people
  • Rankings are based on the total number of bars in each city rated at least 3 stars on Yelp, with no more than $$ and at least 20 total reviews.

You don’t need to be by open water to drink like a fish over spring break. And when it comes to determining where to go, finding a destination with a lot of options is practically a prerequisite. Which is why we calculated what cities have the most good, cheap bars relative to their population — so you’ll never be turned away by the bouncer because the bar is full. 

In that regard, Palm Springs and Sarasota top the list, with sleepers like Atlantic City and St. Louis also slipping into the top 10.

On the absolute opposite end: New York City, which has 1 bar for every 8,701 people. To make matters worse, Gotham is known to be one of the most expensive drinking cities in the U.S. On average, expect to pay $8 for a pint of beer and twice that for a cocktail when you’re in the Empire City. So, if you’re not trying to blow next semester’s tuition on your bar tab, best to steer elsewhere. (Perhaps Buffalo?) 

Spring Break Cities With the Cheapest Cocktails

cocktail-symbol
1. Indianapolis, IN $8.00
2. San Juan, PR (Tie) $9.00
2. Panama City, FL (Tie) $9.00
2. Savannah, GA (Tie) $9.00
2. Buffalo, NY (Tie) $9.00
6. Chicago, IL (Tie) $10.00
6. New Orleans, LA (Tie) $10.00
6. Columbus, OH (Tie) $10.00
6. Daytona Beach, FL (Tie) $10.00
6. Dallas, TX (Tie) $10.00
  • Average cocktail prices for each city come from data found on Expatistan.com, based on the average price of a cocktail in a downtown club.

Whatever your spring break mood — whether you’re trying to hit the club with your crew, find some liquid courage to talk to your crush, or chill with your girls — the cost of a few (or more) cocktails can quickly add up. 

Back east, a cocktail in N.Y.C. will set you back about $17, and it’s not that much less as you head south to Florida. In a city with “hundred-thousand dollar cars, e’ybody got em,” it should come as no surprise that an average cocktail in Miami runs about $16. But don’t expect to save when you’re riding jet skis, “loungin’ in the palm trees” of Key West: Cocktails in Florida’s southernmost point (also $16) are just as likely to max out your credit card.

Looking to save? If the beaches of Florida are still what you’re after, try Panama City for cocktails that cost single digits. The same is true in Indianapolis and Buffalo, where you can use booze to warm up from the frost bite. 

In Savannah and San Juan, the average price of a cocktail will set you back less than a Hamilton — a price we believe the Ten-Dollar Founding Father would approve of. And if your spring break spans St. Patrick’s Day, Savannah should get bonus points for its open-container policy, which allows visitors to get green eggs and hammered as they stumble along the cobblestones of River Street.

Spring Break Cities With the Cheapest Price for a Pint

beer-symbol
1. San Juan, PR $3.00
2. Panama City, FL $3.50
3. San Antonio, TX $3.62
4. New Orleans, LA $3.75
5. Buffalo, NY (Tie) $4.00
5. Columbus, OH (Tie) $4.00
5. Indianapolis, IN (Tie) $4.00
5. St. Louis, MO $4.00
5. Savannah, GA (Tie) $4.00
5. Anaheim, CA (Tie) $4.00
  • Average pint prices for each city come from data found on Numbeo.com, based on the average price of a 16-o.z. pint in a neighborhood bar. 

It’s estimated that in 2018, U.S. adults consumed more than 26 gallons of beer and cider per person. That’s about 208 pints. And if you drank them all in Boston, N.Y.C., D.C., San Francisco or Santa Barbara, you’d probably end up spending close to $1,500 over the course of a year. Pints average $7 in those cities, the most expensive of any spring break destination.

That said, there are quite a few locations where you can do 16-ounce curls for under $5, and the good news is that they’re quite literally all over the map.

Of them, San Juan holds the title for the cheapest beers, ringing up at $3 a pint. Worth noting: It’s also one of only two cities on our list where the drinking age is under 21 (Toronto is the other). Even though it’s technically under U.S. jurisdiction, you only need to be 18 to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages in Puerto Rico, so you can leave that fake ID at home.

City-to-City With Wanderu

Spring break is a state of mind — a mental space that should be about celebrating a much-needed week off, not about emptying your bank account. 

Maybe the icey rush of saving cash in Buffalo draws you there, or one of Miami’s more reasonably priced neighbors (Panama City, Sarasota, et. al.) is calling to you. Perhaps you’re in the market for a more unconventional spring break, in which case we’ve got a list for that, too. 

Whatever the case, Wanderu is primed and ready to help actualize your adventure. On Wanderu.com and the free Wanderu app you can compare prices on ground travel and flight options all in the same search results, making it easy to discover the best possible deals to your destination.  

In the market for something completely wild and different? In just seven days — the length of spring break — you can circle the entire United States in one giant train loop.

Methodology

We analyzed the following categories to determine the cheapest and most expensive spring break destinations:

  • Popular spring break cities
  • Average cost of a plane ticket in March
  • Average cost of a hotel room in March
  • Number of cheap, high-quality bars per capita
  • Average price for a cocktail
  • Average price for a pint of beer

Data Sourcing

  • For popular spring break cities, we used data published by booking platform Priceline listing their “Top 50 Most Popular Spring Break Destinations.”
  • For average cost of a plane ticket in March, we looked at the average price for one-way, domestic fares found on Wanderu over a 30-day period.
  • For average hotel price, we looked at each individual city on Hotels.com for a Saturday in mid-March, limiting our results to hotels with pools and at least 3 stars. From there we filtered by price, and averaged the 10 cheapest hotels to determine an average.  
  • For most cheap, high-quality bars per capita, we looked up the total number of bars rated 3 stars or higher and with no more than $ on Yelp for each city. We then pulled the population for each city from the 2019 World Population Review, and divided the number of bars by the population to determine the per-capita totals.
  • For cheapest cocktails, we looked at the average price of a cocktail at a downtown club for each city, using the data available on Expatistan.com.
  • For cheapest pint of beer, we looked at the average price of a pint in each city, using the data available on Numbeo.com. 
  • After collecting and analyzing the numbers, we normalized them for each individual category. 
  • Finally, we combined the category scores into an overall score to rank all 50 cities from cheapest to most expensive.

You are welcome to use the information on this page, crediting Wanderu. If you do so, please link back to this page, so that wanderers around the world can see all the data and find out how we came up with the rankings.

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About the author
Rachel Landen

Rachel Landen

It's probably fair to call Rachel a digital nomad. But don't; she hates that term. Still, it hasn't stopped her from embracing the remote work lifestyle, whether it's led her through California wine country, to the Carolina coast, or somewhere in between -- always with her dog by her side. Her writing has been published by The Week, Modern Healthcare, and her clients’ Twitter accounts.
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