12 Tips for Cheap Family Holidays
Updated: Aug 7
Updated Aug 2020.
So what advice will help you work out how to afford family travel?
When you consider all the social, psychological and physical benefits of travelling it is undeniable that we should be factoring it into the annual household budget. But for many it is still a 'nice to have'.
Today, I am here to help you navigate the best options for finding the cheapest day to book flights, the perfect solutions for family accommodation and of course the tips that will save you thousands on cheap flights.
Here is your ultimate guide to keeping costs down when travelling so that as many of you can take a holiday as possible!
1. Travel Agent vs Do It Yourself
Don't be bamboozled into thinking you need a travel agent when you can and should book your travel online. Simply put, you pay more for someone else to do the hard yards for you and with the sophistication of online travel booking sites these days there is not much you cant do yourself.
Take it from me as a previous travel agent for one of Australia's biggest companies. Agents are highly trained at 'sales techniques' but not equipped from a time and resourcing perspective to spend the most time getting the best deal or finding the perfect solution for your trip. Agents are always incentivised with travel opportunities and bonuses if they sell a certain amount of one product which means you will be 'sold' what meets their sales objectives and not what you necessarily need.
Agent prices are consistently higher than what you will find online for most travel products so to look for cheap flights or appropriate family accommodation I also recommend online travel sites.
Apart from all this - planning and booking your own travel is half the fun and helps to build excitement for the big trip. The whole family can be involved and the anticipation builds for everyone as you research and explore the options for where you might go and what you might do.
If you really HATE doing the planning and research for your travel get in touch or check out my page on how I can become your personal trip planner. I LOVE researching destinations and finding awesome family accommodation options and exciting things for your family to do.
I have all the experience of being a qualified travel agent but I will always be looking at the best options for your ultimate family trip utilising online deals. Check out my personal trip planner services here.
I do all of the research and planning for you so you can simply book everything online giving you complete control and peace of mind that you are getting a great deal. All that is left to do is jump on the plane!
2. How to Choose Travel Insurance and Save Loads of Money
Travel insurance is a 'big ticket' sales item for travel agents with big commissions meaning you are paying way above the nett price. I always buy my travel insurance from travelinsurancedirect.com so shop here if you want great prices and high quality policies.
Insurance is the main thing I don't go for the cheapest option. TID is well priced but not necessarily the cheapest but does offer excellent coverage and we have claimed with them a couple of times and had a seamless customer experience in getting reimbursements.
When looking for good quality travel insurance don't skimp on the level of coverage. I always look for the top level of cover for the things that really count - unlimited medical, cancellation and repatriation costs.
I also like to have a decent level of hire car cover if we are going to rent a vehicle overseas as this will negate the need to purchase expensive rental agency insurances. Good travel insurance will cover anywhere between $4-$6K AUD on rental car excesses to cover you if you have an accident (don't take my word for it - read your car hire policy).
Pay one insurance premium and ensure it covers everything that you may be doing on that trip. If you are snow skiing - make sure your policy covers you - you will be surprised how many companies now omit many 'adventure' activities so read the full PDS to understand what you are buying.
Remember travel insurance for children is included by almost all travel insurance companies when taking out cover for parents but don't forget to add the children to the policy.
3. Split the costs over several months
If you are clever about the bookings you make you can cleverly tailor a payment plan for your trip. Wouldn't you rather money sitting in your account as long as possible offsetting a mortgage or getting you accrued interest than sitting in a travel agents bank account?
This might sound weird but generally the only upfront costs you might incur for a trip could be booking your flights to reach a destination and the travel insurance. Make sure you cover yourself with insurance as soon as the first payment for the holiday is made.
For everything else try to find deals through awesome sites like booking.com that allow you to pay nothing upfront or only a deposit amount.
If you want to defer accommodation costs you should look to book hotels or private accommodation that allows payment at the time of check in or a couple of weeks prior. This means you can keep your hard earned in your account for longer earning interest.
4. Family Accommodation - Options and Cost Savings
Apartments or holiday home rentals win over hotels hands down when it comes to family accommodation.
Private rentals allow you to self cater which can drastically reduce costs when travelling with kids and generally makes a long trip more manageable as you don't have to wander the streets with tired, cranky kids every time you need a bite to eat.
It makes travelling with infants simple as you can sterilise bottles or prepare pureed food with minimal hassle and it means the whole family can spread out and take some time for themselves when needed which is essential for harmonious family group travel.
Most importantly private holiday rentals are the budget friendly option for travelling families and for us is the difference between being able to take some amazing long term trips as opposed to short power trips. The money we save from accommodation we can use to extend our trips and take more holidays.
The private rental market is super hot these days and with the competition of major booking companies like booking.com, stayz and airbnb on the market property owners are really furnishing places beautifully and providing authentic experiences to make stays special.
My favourite part of staying in private rentals is that you often get to experience the true culture of the place you are visiting by receiving fantastic local advice, choosing an apartment with a little local character or staying in the heart of communities.
5. Cheapest Day to Book Flights - how to find cheap flights for family travel
It is no secret that airlines have higher and lower prices for flights dependent on the season. But did you know that flying on certain days of the week can also significantly affect your prices?
Let's start with Seasonal Flight Prices. First things first - your flight price is most heavily impacted by your departure date out of your home country. Historically the return date didn't matter too much but airlines are getting savvier with this and there can be some price hikes with returning in the middle of peak season dependent on the airline you fly with.
A good guide though is to find a date of departure that falls into a lower season as this will lower your overall fare.
Seasons for travel correspond with both weather patterns but also holiday periods in differing countries. Travelling to Europe the high season falls over the European Summer with the highest prices seen from mid-June to early September. Depending on the country you live your prices are also affected by any significant holiday periods in your home Country. For Australians, our most expensive period to travel is in the July school holidays for obvious reasons - everyone trying to escape the depths of winter and get away for school holidays.
Super Tip for Families - if you are looking at a trip for the July school holidays check out dates a week or so before school breaks up. The kids may have to miss a week of school but it can literally save you thousands for any significant trips to long-haul destinations.
Peak seasons for destinations can dramatically increase costs but this doesn't mean you have to pack your ski boots for a long awaited European beach vacation. Find the balance between great weather and great prices by booking in the shoulder seasons. A ticket to Europe in May or even early June will still ensure you have the summer vacation you dreamed of but saves you big bucks on your flight tickets.
Note that all International destinations have a major price hike over the Christmas period. Depending on your airline and personal flexibility with dates Christmas travel is best priced if you are able to leave earlier in December - think the week before school breaks up again.
So let's return to the idea that there is a cheapest day to book flights. The answer to this is a very strong YES. Peak pricing for both domestic and International flights is generally travelling on a Friday to Monday because people like to package their travel neatly into their work schedules.
Book flights on a Tuesday or Wednesday if you can and you will see significantly better prices. Thursdays can be good as well be traditionally not as cheap as flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
So how do you navigate this to book cheap flights for your family trip:
If travelling for school holidays plan your departure date for before school dates break up (dont forget to consider if other states finish a week or two earlier than where you live)
Check multiple dates around the time that you may travel (flexibility is key to best prices) and likely that a Tuesday to Thursday will be cheaper than leaving neatly at the end of a school week ;-)
Check out the rest of my tips below to save more on your flights!
Refer to this article to help you navigate the best travel sites for travel with kids
6. Book Your Trip Early
This advice still rings true year in and year out. The earlier you plan your trip and start booking the better the deals and the greater the availability so you can be flexible in your arrangements. Generally speaking airlines will release seats for sale a little under 12 months ahead of time. Accommodation and tour providers will vary depending on the country you are travelling to.
Car rental is a major cost saving if pre-booked well in advance. For a recent car rental in Canada I booked ten months in advance and found an awesome deal. When I needed to reduce the number of days on my booking the site dealt with this as a new booking and searched for the new dates. With less days rental and the same locations the cost of the car rental two months out was more than double that which I had originally booked. Needless to say I kept my original booking and returned the car early!
Being prepared means you can be ready for seasonal sales and act quickly to secure great deals as soon as they go on sale. If you know you are wanting fares to Europe you can bank on amazing sales between September to November for summer dates the following year. And North America sales are frequent with airlines competing for the share of the market to popular destinations throughout the year. (For Australian travellers).
The early bird definitely catches the worm and when you are booking for a family of four or more these savings can be significant.
7. Travel With Your Own Baby Travel Gear
When travelling with babies you unfortunately don't get to travel too lightly. You become a little more high maintenance than the free roaming nomad you might have been prior to kids. This doesn't mean you can't pack smart to cut down on costs. Check out my packing for kids checklist if you need help remembering everything you need for travel with kids and infants.
These days there are a huge range of compact travel equipment for babies and hands down the best money we spent that allowed us to travel anywhere was a Phil and Teds traveller portacot.
Why was this such a valuable puchase you might ask? Because it fit inside our suitcase and weighed next to nothing. Particularly when we were travelling with our first child this meant no upgrades for family rooms or additional costs for a cot or rollaway bed and it was one less thing falling from the baggage trolley at airports because it was nicely packed into existing luggage. This travel cot meant we were completely self sufficient.
Another great cost saver is to travel with your own child restraints where possible. Car rental places can charge hefty additional fees for restraint hire so we usually found it easier to take our own. Most airlines include baby gear at no additional luggage cost. Of course you may want to weigh up how much of your trip is not with a car cause you then are left lugging car seat/s about which may not be worth the hassle. Something to consider in your planning.
Another invaluable piece of baby travel gear that we couldn't have travelled without is a heavy duty stroller or car seat bag to protect the gear. Airlines are rough on baggage as we all know and without this type of protective bag the seats and strollers will be randomly thrown into cargo hold and sustain a lot of damage. Most airlines will not even put these items into a marked plastic bag so it also means that if the pieces go missing you are more likely to be re-united with your missing items as you will have a luggage tag.
Essentially the more prepared you are to take your own gear the more budget friendly your trip will be.
8. Go Incognito
A handy tip when searching travel websites is to ensure you always opt for an incognito search (using google chrome) which will mean websites cannot detect when you spend a significant time looking up one destination or one set of dates. Not doing this can mean prices will fluctuate in response to your queries so you may not be getting the best price.
The more interest you appear to have in an item (such as flights on particular dates) the more likely that prices will rise before you get to the point of booking and paying.
If you aren't on google chrome ensure you regularly clear your past searches and caches as well.
9. Choose destinations with affordable ground costs and good currency exchange
If low budget is an important factor in your travel plans it is best to consider destinations where the currency exchange is favourable and the cost of living once you hit the ground is good. This is a big reason that south east Asian destinations are a big favourite for Aussie travellers.
Although flight costs can be quite comparable there is no doubt that a week in Thailand will cost a fraction of the money as a week in America or Canada.
Be careful when you are booking anything online that you check the currency conversion you are paying in. Sometimes it pays to shop around to pay using a more preferable currency based on current exchange rates.
10. Don't Forget About Frequent Flyer Programs
We have booked many of our trips using frequent flyer points and it is certainly true that value in frequent flyers is nowhere near what it used to be. However even with exorbitant taxes on frequent flyer seats the cost of taxes are still cheaper than a full fare.
We get all of our frequent flyer points from either travel or using our FF credit card for everyday purchase we would be making regardless so essentially this is still a win for reducing travel costs.
Note that Frequent flyer seats are also more attainable by looking at dates a week or two before the end of school terms AND booked as far in advance as possible. Same rules apply.
11. Shop Around
This one is common sense. Once you find a place you like the look of get in touch directly to see if they give a better deal or try a few different sites. Like any shopping experience, often the same product (place) can be found on several different sites but the price can vary dramatically.
12. Packing Light With Kids
Over the years we have travelled with our kids on numerous airlines and have learnt the tricks of the trade when it comes to keeping luggage costs down. Many lower cost or regional airlines will charge you per piece of checked luggage. So take this into consideration when booking your flights and planning your packing.
When travelling with babies and toddlers, research what items are checked for free by your airline (usually prams, car seats). If you invest in a good quality pram bag you can add some beach towels or other bulky soft items to pad around them. This will mean more space in your suitcase and less suitcases overall if you pack smart.
A key trip for travel with kids - pack plenty into your carry on luggage. We had to learn the hard way to start packing more in our carry on. Leaving Sydney on a hot January day we headed to Queenstown New Zealand with our then 7 month old. Hard to believe as we only flew for a few hours but managed to land amid a snow storm and freezing temperatures.
Unfortunately this was the trip that Qantas baggage handlers lost our bags, pram and all the baby gear as nothing made it from our domestic connection onto the International flight. Two days later, with very frost bitten toes and an even frostier bill on our credit card to outfit us in winter clothes we were finally reunited with our luggage.
If only we had been smart enough to put a few essentials into our carry on. We now always pack decent carry on bags with enough supplies to last the first two days of a trip particularly with kids gear.
The good part about learning to pack more substantially with our carry on bags is that it often saves plenty of money. Now that our kids are a little older it means they can have their own backpacks for carry on and means we can usually fit all our packing into just two suitcases or backpacks. No need to pay for four bags when airlines charge by the bag.
Don't forget that some airlines charge by the weight of your bags as well. Keep things simple, pull everything out on the bed for your trip and then attempt to halve what you put in the bag. There is nothing more burdensome than lugging excess baggage around that you don't use or need and costs you more!
I hope these handful of hints help to make travel attainable and affordable so you can start looking for the best family holiday deals. Please remember that at the end of the day our time here on earth is short. Work hard, save hard and when the time comes make sure you kick back, relax and have fun on your trip.
If you would like some more help to travel with your kids read this article on making travel with kids fun - ignore the excuses and plan your next trip.
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