Family vacations are a great way to spend quality time together while expanding your horizons, but let’s face it: Travel isn’t cheap. Fortunately, there are ways to save. Check out our tips for saving money when traveling with kids.
This is key, especially if you are flying. According to CheapAir.com, the sweet spot for saving on airfare is 54 days in advance. Of course, getting the best deals is not an exact science. The bottom line is this: The fuller the flight, the more expensive the ticket. Googleflights.com allows you to save your itinerary and then track fares in order to swoop in and grab the best deal. Booking well in advance also gives you more options when it comes to connections and seat choice, which is essential when traveling with young children.
Hotel rates also go up as demand increases. Start your search early and look for rooms that offer free cancellation. This will cost you slightly more than a non-refundable room, but allows you to snag a good rate and then rebook if a better deal arises.
If you can manage some wiggle room with your travel schedule, it can make a big difference – especially with airfare. Flying Tuesday to Tuesday or Wednesday to Wednesday can save a family of four hundreds of dollars in many cases. The fare calendar on Googleflights.com gives a good overview of the rates for specific travel dates. Or type in your preferred schedule and an alert will pop up if you can save money by shifting your dates slightly.
Choose accommodations wisely
When booking a hotel room, be wary of hidden costs for things like WIFI and parking. Be on the lookout as well for the resort fee some hotels charge to cover amenities like the pool and gym. A room that includes a refrigerator and microwave, or, better yet, a kitchenette will help cut down on the cost of eating out.
Also consider renting a home through services like Airbnb and HomeAway. Not only do rates rival those of area hotels, many come with all the comforts of home, including a kitchen and laundry room. Airbnb offers a filter for family-friendly accommodations, many of which include everything from board games to bouncy seats.
Enlist some help
According to the American Society of Travel Agents, enlisting a travel agent can save an average of $452 per trip, plus four hours of planning time. How is this possible? Because travel agents have mastered the art of the bundle and can negotiate the best rates by booking your hotel, flight and rental car together.
Another perk of having a travel agent is price monitoring. If a promotion is offered after you book, a travel agent can often go in and apply that promotion to your reservation. “If you book directly, the resort is not going to call and say, ‘Hey, I can make your vacation quite a bit cheaper!’” says Heather Lipe, an independent travel consultant with Mousekeplanner, whose planning services are free of charge.
Travel agents make it their business to know the little ins and outs of travel that can add up to big savings. “If you have a large family you may only think to look into a two bedroom suite or villa, while a travel agent may know that if you try a different resort and do two adjoining rooms, you may save money,” adds Lipe.
Note: Most AAA offices offer free travel planning services to both members and non-members.
When visiting an amusement park, purchasing a multi-day pass online can offer huge cost savings. At Busch Gardens parks, for instance, a 3-day pass purchased online costs just $17 more than a single-day ticket purchased at the gate – that’s a whole lot more bang for your buck. Also consider purchasing an annual pass for one person in your party – this will score you free parking (up to $20 per day at many parks) and discounts on food and merchandise. Many AAA offices also offer discounted amusement park passes for their members.
If you are heading to a big city like New York, Atlanta or Chicago, check out CityPASS, which bundles admission tickets to 5 of the top tourist destinations into one convenient booklet, saving you roughly 50 percent over purchasing admission individually.
Stock up on snacks and drinks
Frequent stops at convenience store and fast food chains can quickly add up. Combat these extra costs by loading up on drinks and snacks before your leave. If you are flying, hit the grocery store once you arrive.
Check the policy at any amusement parks you will be visiting and carry in what you can – especially high-protein options that keep energy levels in check. Most parks will also offer free water anywhere they sell fountain drinks. “We like to take drink flavoring packets in our backpack so that we keep hydrated, but can have something with a little bit of flavor,” Lipe says.
If you are taking a cruise, check to see if they offer a BYOB policy. “Disney cruise line lets you bring two bottles of wine or a six pack of beer per adult on board with you,” adds Lipe.
Keep souvenir spending in check
Set daily souvenir spending limits before you leave. This not only keeps spending in check and helps minimize whining; it also offers your kids a valuable lesson in budgeting. Save even more by stocking up on souvenirs before you leave. “The dollar store is your best friend before visiting Disney…ponchos, glow sticks, Disney-themed coloring books, etc.,” says Lipe. “These will all set you back a pretty penny once you’re inside the parks.”
Family vacations don’t have to break the bank. With a little planning and research, you’ll soon be making valuable family memories while sticking to your budget.