Family Vacation Tips

12 Tips For Finding Cheap Flights For Your Family Vacation

[fa icon="calendar"] Oct 11, 2012 12:10:00 PM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

Cheap flights Family Finding Cheap flights for families can often be a determining factor between an exciting family vacation or a local road trip. Airfare is often the most costly component of a family vacation so finding affordable options is critical. Last minute airfare deals rarely work for families. It's hard enough to find one cheap flight deal, let alone a bunch of cheap seats for a family of 3, 4 or more people.

 

Here are 10 tips that will help you uncover some affordable airfares for your family...

1. Make Sure You Know A Great Deal When You See One - Reality check here people! Familiarize yourself with current airfare prices. Obviously, gas prices have been climbing. It costs a lot more to fill your tank than it did a year or two ago. Now translate that to filling the tank of a jumbo jet. If it's been a while since your family has been on a plane, you may be in for some sticker shock.

To start budgeting for your next family vacation start by  doing your homework. Go to one of the large online travel websites and do some price checking for flights. It will give you a current baseline so that you know what the average airfare cost will be to your destination. If you don't know the average cost of an airline ticket to your vacation destination, you won't be able to identify a great deal when and if you find one. Remember, there are thousands of other travelers who have read this and other similar articles. They are out there right now using this exact same strategy as you are. When you find a great deal, you will need to act quickly and decisively to get it. If you hesitate or stop to do research at that point, those cheap flights will definitely go to another family.

2. Know your Total Flight Costs - When shopping for cheap family flights, don't just look at the price tag. Be sure you also check all the fine print. Compare extra airline fees like preferred seat selection and checked luggage costs. These fees add to the total cost of your family's flight. By doing this you'll often discover that the cheapest flight isn't always the best deal. Take the time and do the math.

3. Do a Date Comparison - Family vacations are most often tied to the school calendar.  Airfare prices are all based on supply and demand. Airlines know when the demand is high, they can charge and get more money for their seats. This is why flight prices can jump 30-70% during high demand weeks like the December holidays or spring break when the kids are out of school.  So while you're researching average flight prices for the week that your kids our out of school, try a couple of alternative travel dates just for fun and you'll see what we mean. You will be paying a premium to fly during the times that your kids are out of school.

If you're kids are not yet school age, if you home school or if you can work with your kid's teachers and travel on a non-school vacation week you will save money on flights. Often one or two days of flexibility can add dollars back into your pockets.

There are some examples where the kids do not have to play hookey from school for parents to save big money on airfares. Take Europe for example. High season for travel to Europe is During summer vacation months of June - August. That is when flight prices are at their peak.  If you take your kids to Europe during President's week in February you can save 30-50% on airfares (not to mention hotel costs). You may need to wear a jacket but you'll also avoid many of the long lines into the sights and attractions your family will want to visit anyway so it's really a win-win.

3. Use Common Sense - Back in your college days when it was just you flying home for the holidays, it might have seemed perfectly reasonable to book a double connection to save a buck or two. Is it really a smart ideal to try the same thing now that you have a two year old?

We see it all the time, the lengths some families are willing to go to save a some money on their airfares. Trust us, we understand. If you can save $50 per person times a family of four that equals a $400 saving round trip! Still you need to balance the actual cost savings against your family's tolerance levels and sanity.

4. Know Your Airports - There are regional and charter airlines all over the planet that are not represented in any of the big online travel websites.  To snag these kind of cheap airfares for your family, first you have to know about them and then book them directly with that airline.  Go online and simply do a search for airport A and Airport B. See if you can find an airline that offers service to both of the airports that you plan to fly in and out of. If you do find a match ...ding, ding, ding we have ourselves a winner. Chances are you will have found cheap flights for your family. Go to the airline's direct website or give them a call and book your deal.

Sometimes you have to put a little more effort into this hunt for cheap airfares. Many of these independent airlines don't fly in and out of major airports. More often than not, they fly into smaller or secondary airports.  If you're not lucky right out of the gate with your initial airport city pair search, then try doing a search to find other local secondary airports nearby to your departure and destination airport. You might just find matching airport cities for an independent airline by using alternative airports.

5. Book Flights Far In Advance Of Your Travel Dates - This is probably the most important tip here so we'll say it again...BUY YOUR FLIGHTS EARLY!!!!  Most airlines will post their schedules and rates about 330 days in advance.  From that point on, the only thing we can guarantee is that prices WILL go up. Predicting how fast or how high prices will rise would be like predicting the stock market. You'll need a crystal ball to do that.

Beyond pricing, just about every family on the planet wants nonstop flights. By booking early you can get your choice of nonstop flights, your choice of departure times and even airline seat selection. If you wait, you'll end up paying more for connecting flights and you may not be seated near to one another.

We appreciate that some parents may have busy work schedules and responsibilities where they simply do not know if they can get away for vacation until the very last minute. In cases like this it is usually cheaper to go ahead and book flights far in advance and include travel insurance that will allow you to "cancel for any reason". If you do need to cancel at the very last minute you will loose just the cost of your insurance coverage. Still 9 times out of 10 this is a MUCH cheaper scenario than waiting to book your family's flights at the very last minute.

6. Book Early Even When Using Airline Miles - Some parents who are frequently flyers can rack up a substantial amount of airline reward mileage that they plan to use towards flights for their family. The problem here is that the airlines only allocate a limited number of seats per flight that can be booked with reward miles. So to avoid disappointment remember to book early. (refer back to tip #5).

7. Use credit card reward programs - Many families pay all of their monthly household bills each month via credit cards just to rack up reward points. In turn, they use these points each year to off set their vacation costs. Know the fine print rules associated with your credit card. Often if you call and let the card company book your travel you end up "paying" full price (which will eat up as many reward points as possible). Come credit cards will allow you to book your own travel and then call and apply your points toward those travel costs. Book in advance and use these strategies here to help stretch and get the most out of the miles you have earned.

8. Midweek Magic - The analytic systems the airlines use to help part us from our money is way beyond the realm of explanation here. The airlines have years of consumer buying information. They know that folks are often more likely to buy airlines tickets over the weekend, when they have the time to devote to price shopping and research. The airlines can adjust their pricing accordingly. Use reverse psychology to get the best deal possible. Most experts suggest that Monday evenings and Tuesdays are the best days to find the cheapest flight prices. These are busy days for most of us so this is when a smart shopper can score cheap flights for their family.

9. Saturday Shuffle - Business flyers like to be home for on the weekends. They usually need to fly out early in the morning and return as late as possible in the evening. This is why if you fly weekdays and do not include a Saturday, flight prices tend to be higher. Airlines know they can charge more money based on the demands and expense accounts of business travelers. Vacationing flyers normally like to fly weekend to weekend so that their time off doesn't effect their work or school schedules. Deals can often be found by flying midweek to midweek with a weekend stay. If you're vacation schedule has some flexibility, flying on odd days at odd times can save your family money.

9. Price Protection - We appreciate that there are a lot of folks out there with commitment issues. In the back of your mind, you keep thinking if you wait, you'll be the one to get that fabulous, mind blowing last minute deal. Please know there are many travel companies now that will offer price protection on your family vacation. If the price that you've paid for your trip drops, you are guaranteed the lowest price. You will be reimbursed the difference. Two things to bear in mind here is that A. The price drop must be on the absolute, EXACT itinerary and B. You must ASK for the refund difference, you just don't get it automatically.

To be honest with you, we've only seen price protection come into play during a few particular instances. During the swine flu scare a few years back folks were afraid to travel, demand dropped so there was an abundance of empty airline seats and prices plummeted. Folks who were willing to travel got some great refunds.  We've also seen price refunds come into play after weather events like hurricanes. Even though areas are operational, travelers might face inconveniences. Demand and prices drop while smart, intrepid travelers score refunds. Still knowing in advance that you will be guaranteed the cheapest flights for your family often gives folks the confidence to book their travel without the fear of over paying for their airfare.

10. Social Media - Use social media to stay in touch with airline deals. Every once in a blue moon some good deals will be broadcast this way.  It's also a good way to watch for things like customer service, delayed service etc.

11. Last Minute Deals - Just like some folks still believe in the Easter bunny and Santa Claus, others do believe they can still find last minute cheap flights for their family. Who am I to crush their dreams?  This approach may work for those times that you want to visit your relatives in Des Moines last minute over a long weekend that you're kids have a teacher's in- service day. Do not expect to find a last minute deal to popular vacation destination spots during high season. Even if you do find that needle in a haystack, chances are it will be extremely difficult to find affordable hotel accommodations to line up.  The more people you have flying with you, the more difficult it will be to find last minute cheap flights for your family.

12. Use A Travel Agent - First off, please understand travel agents no money from the sale of airline tickets. The airlines no longer pay sales commissions to travel agents. To make up for this, most travel agents charge a fee for booking airline tickets for their customers. Their time is money and their business is not a hobby so this is understandable.

Vacationkids does not sell stand along airline tickets so we don't charge any booking fees. We  sell airline tickets as part of a vacation package (again, with no extra fee) or we can sell just a land package (hotel & transportation). This way our clients can find their own cheap flights or use their airline or credit card miles.

I explain this here so that you understand our motives. We just want to see our parents get the best deals possible.  We appreciate that most folks like to book their own flights and often think they can do a better job.  The reality is for the dozen or so tips listed here, experience has taught our staff many more insider secrets. We have access to many charter flights that are not listed online. There are a lot of shady tricks out there that will bring down the costs of airline tickets...travelers may think they've scored a great deal but in reality they are opening themselves up to a world of grief and hassles. This is why we love it when our clients come to us informed and understand we're on their side, watching out for their best interests. We know if we can help you find cheap flights for your family, you'll tell other families about just how great we are. We think that's the right way to fly!

Topics: Affordable Family Vacations

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Vacationkids.com Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

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