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WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- Good Friday is a lot better when it's a paid holiday, which is why Easter travel is a mixed basket of homeward-bound holiday observers and late spring breakers. The verdict: Most travelers should look for bargains just after the holiday.
The financial markets shut down on Good Friday, and those lucky enough to get the day off seemingly stream directly from their various financial districts and into stores in search of spring clothing, candy and pastel decor. Last year, 79.6% of Americans celebrated Easter and spent an average of $118.60 doing so, according to the National Retail Federation. Their combined $14 billion investment accounted for 6.1% of all holiday spending and made Easter the nation's No. 4 gift-giving season behind Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and the winter holidays, according to IBISWorld.
Most travelers should look for bargains after the weekend of Good Friday, experts say.
The only items the Easter bunny isn't throwing in with the jelly beans, hollow chocolates and plastic grass, however, are plane tickets and hotel keys. According to travel analysts, the reluctance of much of the working world to recognize Good Friday as a day worth losing productivity over (and Easter's stubborn refusal to fall on any day other than Sunday) has dampened that holiday's appeal as a weekend getaway.
"As for Easter travel, we generally don't see much of a spike like you would for the Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but you might see some higher prices with hotel and airfare in high-demand places -- Orlando comes to mind," says Anne Banas, editor of SmarterTravel. "Not much advice to give, except to plan early, compare prices and be flexible."
Travel site Travelocity tends to agree, noting that the week before Easter through Good Friday is when April hotel and airfare packages are at their most expensive. An average package to Las Vegas, for example, costs $429 that week despite fetching less than $375 for the overwhelming majority of the month. TripAdvisor, meanwhile, notes family holiday plans ensure that airports will be mobbed Thanksgiving-style from Good Friday through Easter regardless of whether fliers have that Friday off or not.
"While spring has historically been a fairly good time for finding flight deals, Easter weekend is one of the few exceptions, as it tends to be a peak period for travel over the weekend as families get together for Good Friday and Easter Sunday," says Jamie Counter, senior director of TripAdvisor Flights. "And with fuel costs on the rise and airline capacity still tight, it will be especially difficult to find bargain flights for Easter weekend travel this year."
Travelocity spokesman Joel Frey, meanwhile, says the lack of a solid, universal three-day weekend makes Good Friday and Easter less like the typical travel holidays and more like a certain February occasion that brought in $9.7 billion for retailers this year, according to IBISWorld, but didn't inspire folks to travel much farther than their local big box store or shopping mall.
"It's kind of like Presidents Day, where a certain percentage of the country has that day off, but not everybody," Frey says. "That said, a lot of schools tend to take that next week off as a spring holiday, so we know some people will be traveling."
It's those educators and, in some cases, those they're educating that airlines and their hotel partners aim for with week-after-Easter packages such as Travelocity's two-person, round-trip vacation from New York City to Orlando via
Delta(DAL - Get Report) with a stay at the
Walt Disney World(DIS - Get Report) Dolphin Resort for $975 per person. Travelers from Chicago, meanwhile, can thaw out in Tampa via round-trip tickets on
American Airlines(AMR) and a room at The Resort and Club at Little Harbor.
Much of Travelocity's data imply high supply and low demand in the week after the holiday. The $373 average cost of a travel package to Las Vegas between April 23-29 is the lowest for that city in a month, while packages to Orlando ($333), Miami/Fort Lauderdale ($311), Fort Meyers, Fla. ($334), Cancun, Mexico ($474), and San Juan, Puerto Rico ($403), are all at seasonal lows. As good as a Good Friday holiday can be, the biggest Easter treats await those patient enough to wait until the holiday passes.
"I think most people equate spring break to that early to mid-March time frame. Mardi Gras this year had huge crowds because it was late, bled into that March time frame and fit into a lot of schools' spring break, so that's really the sweet spot," Frey says. "That last week is the tail end of the spring vacation period and, because of that tie-in to Easter, some people may have forgone that spring trip until the holiday hit."
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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