Admittedly I roll my eyes every time I pick up the phone and hear a client say..."We're looking for an affordable family vacation - We want to go SOMEPLACE WARM AND CHEAP".
To be completely honest, just ONE time, I would REALLY like to reply by saying something incredibly cheeky like..." You know, Hell is always in season. It's always warm, it's really cheap and you can have WHOLE lot of fun getting there...so maybe you and your family should just go to Hell?"
I'm not trying to be rude or unprofessional here. Experience has taught me that these clients haven't given any real consideration to proper vacation planning. When I ask them to define the word "cheap"...either they haven't thought about a budget or they have completely unrealistic ideas as to how much things really cost. This is NOT the way to find a really affordable family vacation. Here is the right way to find family vacation deals....
1. Set a family vacation budget - This should be your very first step. There might be the sale of a lifetime at a particular five star resort but if it's way above your budget then why bother spending the time researching it. With a set budget you can stay on task and focus on finding the RIGHT vacation to fit your family's wish list AND wallet.
If it's been a while since your family has been on a vacation, do a little online homework and get a true sense of what airline tickets, hotel rooms or theme park passes actually cost. Be sure to factor in the cost of food, drinks, entertainment etc. Once you have a baseline for these prices THEN speak to a travel agent. Travel agents can be a huge asset helping you stay on budget and getting you the most vacation value possible. A good, ethical agent will do their very best to keep you on budget and even offer some payment plan options. If you end up working with somebody who keeps trying to upsell you or make you go over budget without a REALLY good reason then find someone else to work with. For example you might find a really cheap price online for a flight. A travel agent might look at that itinerary, see a very short connection time and recommend spending $50 per person more on different flights. The agent isn't trying to make you break the bank. Airlines don't pay the agents any commissions. A good agent knows if you miss that "cheap" connection, it will cost you perhaps a night or two stranded at an airport hotel, food costs for the family and a ton of aggravation.
2. Flexibility and Expectations - When it comes to affordable travel the words flexibilty and expectations definitely come into play. We may be able to find you a great cruise but are you willing to drive to port instead of flying in order to maintain budget? Maybe we can get you into your resort of choice for 5 nights but your initial request of 7 nights will break the bank. We may be able to offer you great pricing at a brand new luxury resort that just opened. Not only is the resort brand new but so are all 500 their staff. You may be able to get an unbelievably cheap deal to be one of the very first guests but are you willing to act as a guinea pig while the new staff members work out service kinks? You'll enjoy a great money saving deal but don't expect 5 star service.
3. Pick the right time to go - Bear in mind the travel industry is all about supply and demand. You won't find a cheap deal during spring break or December holiday weeks because there are plenty of other families out there willing and able to pay much higher prices. The airlines and hoteliers can fill spaces without having to offer any incentives or discounts. You'll find much cheaper pricing during off season like the first couple weeks of September when most kids head back to school. Travel demand isn't high so that is when you'll find cheaper rates or more ammenities (aka bang for your vacation buck). Make sure your calendar is clear and your boss has already approved your time off when you speak to a travel agent. The airlines and most hotels will only allow us to place seats and rooms on a 24 hour courtesy hold. No, we don't have a crystal ball to know if space will still be available next week. When you do find a good deal, you need to act decisively. Snooze or procrastinate and you will loose. Flexibility is wonderful but please don't come to us and say your family can travel any week between May and Oct. Murphy's law, we will quote you the ONE week your child is scheduled to be ring bearer in your twin sister's wedding.
4. Destination deals - Often the cost of doing business in Mexico or some Caribbean island is cheaper for a hotelier than it is in the US. This is why you see all inclusive resorts in these locations and not in the US. You can save money but passports are required to travel to these destination and this presents additional investments for some families. The more desirable a destination, city or hotel is, the more it will cost. Once again we're back to supply and demand. You may save money traveling to more off beat destinations but you may then end up breaking the bank with transportation costs to get there. Once again this is where a good travel agent can help you navigate thru all the pros and cons.
5. Last Minute vacation deals for families -Very Rare! The last time I saw any really great last minute family vacation deals was during the swine flu epidemic when everyone was afraid to leave home without a medical mask. We did have a number of families who trusted us and scored big time with luxury resort stays in presidential suites for pennies on the dollar. (everyone returned home happy and healthy!) Last minute hotel discounts are usually overshadowed by high priced last minute plane tickes. A last minute hotel deal that coinsides with a cheap flight AND has enough availability for everyone in your family comes along about as often as a full solar eclipse on a blue moon. We have a saying at Vacationkids..."planning a family vacation is just like planning a family...you need to work 9 months in advance". Airlines post prices and availability about 300 days in advance. Hotels and cruise lines post about 1-2 years out. If you wait for last minute deals, chances are you'll be disappointed. It's better to plan far in advance and purchase price protection insurance. If for any reason the price you paid drops, you're guaranteed the lowest price.
With proper planning and the advise of an experienced travel agent, it is possible to find affordable family vacations so that you CAN visit someplace warm and cheap. I tell people all the time that if I am ever lucky enough to win the Mega-Millions lottery, I'm going to move to the beach and build a hotel named "Someplace Warm and Cheap" because that is the spot everybody really wants to go.