Spring Break Travel: Expectations and Pain Points
March 21, 2023 By Jamie Mageau, Director of Research Products, U.S. Travel Association
The demand for travel during the American spring break timeframe is substantial—and demand remains strong despite higher prices. Let’s break down the expectations, pain points and opportunities for the industry.
There are approximately 50 million kindergarten through twelfth grade students in the U.S.—and nearly all them have a spring break between mid-March and mid-April.
With most spring breaks including school aged children, family and multigenerational trips are popular. According to AAA, more than four in 10 Americans with spring break plans are traveling with three generations.
At the start of the year, just over half of all Americans (52%) and 79% of leisure travelers were planning to travel for leisure in the next six months. What’s more, as of early March, one-quarter of American travelers had travel plans in the next 60 days— right over the spring break time frame.
Where are They Going and What’s Trending
As usual, warm weather destinations top the list for spring breakers. Beaches in Florida followed by Hawaii top the list of domestic destinations. Yet, many Americans are looking forward to more urban sightseeing trips this year as Las Vegas, New York City, Nashville and New Orleans are also trending.
Another new trend this year is that travelers are stepping out of their comfort zones. Sticking with what is most familiar and revisiting places they’ve previously traveled is less appealing today than during the pandemic when many Americans preferred familiar destinations.
Americans are displaying higher comfort levels with shared transportation options such as planes, trains and car rentals, rather than relying on their own vehicle.
Additionally, Americans are looking to travel outside of the U.S. The strength of the dollar, coupled with decreased health concerns and reduced COVID-19 restrictions has led to increased demand for international destinations. Even with increased costs overall, the U.S. dollar has more spending power overseas.
Factors Impacting Travel Plans
Inflation and higher prices are having an impact on travel decision making. Unrelenting consumer demand has increased prices on nearly everything from airfare to gasoline to lodging to activities. While gasoline is down 6% from a year ago, it has been steadily increasing largely as a result of increased demand.
And two-thirds of Americans admitted to being priced out of at least one of their top destinations, accommodations and/or car rental choices for spring break travel. Seven in 10 spring break travelers are altering their travel plans and driving instead of flying (32%), shortening their trip (25%), choosing a less expensive destination (24%) or eliminating excursions or activities (20%) to make it more affordable.
But cost isn’t the only deterrent. The air travel experience was rated as sub-par for nearly half of Americans (45%). Nearly four in 10 leisure travelers (36%) would travel more in the next six months if the travel experience was not so much of a hassle today.
This isn’t surprising—expensive fares, flight delays, cancelations, crowds and a cumbersome air travel process makes air travel frustrating. That said, in addition to travel discounts, increased flight availability and flexible booking terms would encourage more leisure travel by air in the next six months.
Flexibility is a top consideration when booking transportation and accommodation for eight in 10 Americans, and many travelers would be willing to pay more for flexible cancelation policies.
Airlines for America estimates that an average of 2.6 million people will fly during March and April each day—a 1% increase from 2019, while capacity remains about 10% below 2019 levels. And while airlines are anticipating and preparing for record air travel demand this spring, pilot shortages, outdated technology and capacity constraints remain.
As we look to identify opportunities to improve the air travel system and advance seamless and secure travel, we find that many Americans are open to new technologies and programs if it results in a more positive travel experience.
- Over half of Americans are comfortable sharing biometric data such as fingerprints and facial recognition with TSA to check in for a flight, get through airport security or board a plane.
Additionally, existing programs have had positive outcomes for travelers. Americans who are enrolled in expediated airport clearance programs—such as TSA PreCheck or CLEAR—were more likely to have a positive experience getting through airport security than those who are not.
- More than half (54%) of people enrolled in these programs rated their experience as good or excellent, compared to just 35% of people who are not enrolled.
- Yet, nearly half of Americans (49%) are familiar with expedited airport clearance programs such as TSA PreCheck but are not enrolled.
Looking beyond spring break, strong travel demand is expected for the foreseeable future—underscoring the urgent need for the federal government to make investments to improve the strained U.S. air travel system.
In This The Itinerary
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