Family Vacation Tips

How To Plan A Last Minute Family Vacation

[fa icon="calendar"] Jan 13, 2016 12:26:26 PM / by Sally Black

Sally Black


If you're like most parents, juggling a family schedules is about as complicated as rocket science. No wonder your stressed and need a vacation. Maybe an unexpected bonus or financial windfall suddenly makes a family vacation affordable. Whatever the reason, Sometimes when a window of opportunity opens, you just need to jump through it....head first!

That said, planning a last minute family vacation is a bit trickier than planning other types of spontaneous trips. There are three main reasons why...

1. Most families are tied to a school calendar. Unless you have young pre-school age children or you are homeschoolers, there is a very good chance your departure and travel dates will be limited to specific weeks of the year when the kids are off from school. Of course, there are millions of other families with school age kids that also need to travel at these precise times.

2. Because so many families are traveling during school breaks, availability becomes a key issue. Due to high demand it is more difficult to find enough seats for the entire family on the same plane. Hotel room and cruise cabin availability becomes tricky, ESPECIALLY if you need adjoining rooms, suites or space for a larger family.

3. The entire travel industry runs on supply and demand. Because there are so many families traveling during school break weeks, demand is high and prices go up.   Airline ticket prices rise the closer it gets to departure time. Multiply this by the number of family members you have and yes, you're going to pay more for a last minute family vacation - period.  Sure, there may be a last minute deal on a great tour or cruise but remember, you'll probably need to pay higher flight prices to get there.

We have a saying around the office..."Planning a family vacation is just like planning a family - you really need to start working 9 month in advance". Parents "get", remember and chuckle at this analogy.  In a perfect world, it's great if you can plan ahead but let's face it, "life happens".  It is often impossible for some families to plan that far in advance. 

We understand!  That said, if you REALLY want to score the best possible deal on a last minute vacation, there are a few things you'll need to understand in order to make it happen...

1. Be Ready - With a last minute trip there is no time to double check schedules or get approval from your boss to take off from work. You need to have done your homework in advance.

2. Reality Check - Speaking of homework, you'll need to have a realistics vacation budget in mind. Sure, we all want to fly our entire family to Hawaii for two weeks for $2000. I'd also like to ride a flying horse but let's be honest, neither is really going to happen.  Don't do crazy because time is of the essence, but do a little research and understand how much some family vacations costs.  Sometimes it's easier to start with your budget and then "backwards engineer" a fun filled vacation that's affordable instead of starting with a preferred destination and trying to pay for it.

2. Be prepared to act FAST and decisively -   We're not trying to sound pushy here, really we're not.  But  "thinking about a last minute vacation" is frankly a huge oxymoron. Either you want to go or you don't...there is no time to "think" about it.  Airline seats and hotel rooms can literally disappear as we're trying to make a reservation.  If you want a last minute trip, be prepared to make on the spot decisions.  There is NO time to talk it over with your spouse when they get home from work or "sleep" on it.  Either one person is crowned the decision maker or both of you need to be available and ready to make on the spot decisions. It's all about Carpe Diem!

3. Be Flexible - Last minute vacation planning is not for picky people.  You are must be able to prioritize and compromise.  We may be able to find you a last minute balcony cabin on the cruise you want but it may be aft on deck 8 and not mid ship on deck 12 like you want. Sure, we can get you to Disney but you may not be able to eat with a Princess. Flexibility is the key to finding great last minute deals.

4. Know the full legal names of all Passengers and their dates of birth  -  

We need all this before we can give you any prices -Why?...

Because with last minute trips, by the time we work up a quote, call, text or email the details to you, there is a VERY good chance that either the prices have gone up or space is sold out.  This is frustrating and frankly a waste of time for both of us. By having full passenger details, we travel agents can often put space on a limited courtesy hold.  It may be until close of business that day or in some cases a 24 hour courtesy hold is allowed. In some cases, we may not be able to hold any space and work with you directly over the phone.

IMPORTANT - it is your responsibility as the traveler to have proper ID when you show up at the airport or cruise terminal.  You can book an international vacation PRIOR to obtaining a passport but the names used on your tickets much match your passport EXACTLY. If this is a very last minute trip and there is ANY possibility that you may not be able to get either a passport or permission to travel from a co-parent, MAKE SURE  you purchase "cancel for any reason" travel insurance. Otherwise, if you don't have the necessary ID and travel documents at the time of departure, you'll be out of pocket for the entire cost of your vacation. 

IN ADDITION - Many popular family vacation spots in the Caribbean and Mexico now require visitor passports to have expiration dates valid for 6 months beyond your travel dates.  Always double check and be aware of the expiration dates on everyone passports.

5. Your trip will need to be paid for IN FULL - Make sure you have enough of a line of credit on your charge card.  If using a debit card, call your bank in advance. Some debit cards have a daily limit that you're allowed to charge. Often you can call your bank, tell them you'll need to pay for a vacation and they will work with you.  Sorry, there is no such thing as "lay away" with last minute trips...that's simply not how it works. Most airline tickets require payment immediately. Cruises, hotels and theme parks all have different rules but generally want final payments 60- 45 days in advance. Again, we just want you to be prepared so if we are lucky enough to find your family a great last minute deal, it's not lost while you're trying to monkey around with payments...we've seen it happen and we hate seeing folks disappointed.

6. You May Need to Pay In Advance - As hotel space gets limited, rooms are put on a "wait list".  This means we can see pricing but we are not allowed to put space on a courtesy hold.  In these situations, will need to speak with you immediately and collect your credit card details. We cannot put any hotel space or airline seats on hold.  We can call either our whole sale company or the hotel directly.  If that room is indeed available, it must be paid in full for ON THE SPOT.  This is why we need to have your credit card details in advance.  Please know if that specific room is not available or has sold out, nothing will be charged to your credit card.  

7. Consider Travel Insurance -  Many airline tickets are non-refundable once you pay for them. The terms and conditions for hotels, cruises, tours and theme parks vary but the closer you get to departure there is a good chance you're under full penalty.  This means if you need to cancel or change your plans for any reason, you would be out of pocket for the entire cost of your vacation. 

Family life is often so chaotic. Parents need to grab any possible chance to enjoy a fun filled break from reality with their kids.  We're on your side and we want the very best for you.  We hope that by giving you a little glimpse into how the travel industry works, that understanding will help us better serve you.

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Topics: Family Vacation

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of 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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