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9 Disturbing Facts About the Crazy Economics of Spring Break

The financial headache is worse than the hangover.
 
 
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The beer-soaked blur of spring break is a rite of passage. And at least since the 1980s, when MTV dropped in on the party, it’s been corporate America’s bootylicious wet dream. With the potent mix of inebriated young people and cultural pressure to have the most off-the-chain experience, there’s big money to be made and beaucoup merchandise to be moved. If the kids aren’t careful, a financial headache worse than the hangover will follow them home.

1. Scam season:There are as many scams engineered to rip off spring breakers and their families as there are beaches in sunny Florida. Popular frauds include the “grandparent scam,” where grandpa gets a call from someone saying that young Johnnie has landed in a Mexican jail and needs bail money wired immediately. Also ubiquitous are fly-by-night operations that offer the trip of a lifetime, and then split with the money. Various hidden cost hustles get students to pay a low rate for a hotel room but upon arrival they find that various fees like “season rate” charges and gratuities have been tacked on. Students who post their whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook may also wake to find that burglars have been assiduously following social media.

2. The big swipe:Credit card companies encourage students to rack up charges during spring break, advertising their wares with pictures of attractive tanned bodies lounging under palm trees. When they aren’t conjuring fantasy, they’re marketing products with “safety first” admonitions that cards are ever so much less dangerous than carrying cash. Until the bill comes, of course. Forbesmagazine offers a handy list of the “Best Credit Cards For Spring Break Road Trips,” which praises the Discover More Card for its APR teaser and a transfer fee of 3 percent. Chase is applauded for offering rebates for big spenders, while Bank of America lets students link the card to savings or checking account so they “can top off the tank and load up on snacks.” Not to mention debt. 

3. Predator’s paradise: Of all the shady characters who have enriched themselves at the expense of spring breakers, Joe Francis, the founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" empire, deserves top billing in the Slimeball Hall of Fame. Francis discovered that exploiting and humiliating young women in sleazy videos was the road to riches, and set about haunting spring break locales and luring barely legal (and sometimes not) women into baring their breasts and performing suggestive acts. Francis has battled the courts over consent issues, and recently filed for bankruptcy, noting in the disclosure that his company, like American Airlines and General Motors, just needed a little restructuring. Greed, apparently, conquers all.

4. Billion-dollar party:Hotels, cruises, jam-packed restaurants, spray-tanning sessions, all-inclusives and rivers of booze. Between Florida and Texas alone, college students blow an estimated $1 billion on spring break. The travel industry estimates that over than 1.5 million students take part in the annual bacchanalia. That’s a boatload lot of wallets, and plenty of ways to empty them.

5. Marketing mayhem: The marketing frenzy surrounding the spring break has achieved scientific precision, deftly adjusting to evolving trends.  This year, savvy marketing departments are pushing computer-related items, video games, movies and TV shows, along with a mind-blowing cornucopia of other youth-oriented consumer products. The site Boozinggear.com purveys must-have accoutrements such as the “Double Down Beer Bong” and the “Bouncing Boobs Red Can Cooler Set.” The app industry intensifies the party experience with everything from Beach TV, which streams the party in Panama City Beach, to Happy Hour Finder, which guides you to the nearest tiki bar.

6. Costly fantasy:College students can find fantasy spring break packages offering such wonders as 12 hours a day of free booze in exotic locations at websites like StudentCity. Celebrity DJ? Check.  24/7 party staff? Check. Express club entry? Done. The catch is that it can cost more than a semester’s worth of tuition. And kids probably won’t even remember it.

7. Spring broke:The average student now graduates with over $20,000 in debt. The average cost of a trip for two to Florida, including airfares and seven nights in a hotel, is around $2,000. For Hawaii and Caribbean destinations, add another $1,000 or so. And that doesn’t include the beachwear, booze or the money to pay the bail bondsmen and attorneys who are always on hand to get spring breakers out of jail – for a price. On South Padre Island, representatives of Bad Bing Bail Bonds distribute T-shirts emblazoned with their number for just such an occasion. So common is the need for bailouts that the plot of the new movie Spring Breakers is set in motion when a group of gals takes bail money from a local hustler.

8. Vegas, baby: Casinos have long had their eyes on college wallets, and getting them to trade the strand for the strip for spring break has been a recent obsession. Marketers have faced a challenge in overcoming the small matter that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to gamble in the state of Nevada. But never mind. The lure of supercheap hotel rooms and other perks are working their magic. Who cares if the hotel loses money on the room? They’ll more than make it up in the casino. This year, MTV is hosting spring break in Las Vegas for the very first time at the Palms Casino Resort. StudentCity.com raves that the Palms is “the center of all the insane nightlife action in Sin City” and offers “specialty drinks galore” and “A-lister” celebrities. And what better way to get primed for a “little casino action” than a 2-for-1 drink voucher in the casino lounge? Whoo-hoo!

9. Daytona sings the blues:The spring break sun may be setting on Daytona Beach. This Florida town, where spring break has injected an estimated $120 million into the local economy, is witnessing a slump in the action this year. Businesses are taking a hit as revelers head to other locations like Panama City Beach. Some locals, though, are reportedly glad to see the puking crowds head somewhere else. Was it the constant fights breaking out? The piss-filled stairwells? When the “Daytona Beach 2013 Spring Break Guide” on About.com finds it necessary to warn of spinal compressions from balcony falls, you know the party’s over.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.