NEW YORK — No one wants to spend more than they have to on a vacation. But with the family in tow, it's even more important to keep the budget in check.
Whether it's taking a trip to Grandma's for the holidays or planning on a larger vacation, families can make a lot of money-burning mistakes if they're not prepared. From packing too much to choosing overpriced dining spots, here are the biggest mistakes to avoid on your next family trip.
1. Fixed vacation dates
Flexibility is the single most important money-saving factor when planning a vacation, but arranging your getaways around school vacations can be a burden. Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly, but that often means that kids miss class. If you're traveling with the family, try flying on Saturday — another traditionally cheap day to fly. Avoid Fridays and Sundays, which are the most expensive.
Even if you're not flying, flexibility with travel dates is the best way to avoid paying big bucks on hotel rooms and car rentals. Check multiple sites with several different combinations of dates to ensure you're getting the best deal.
2. Booking separately
When booking a vacation, most people lock in a flight and then decide on everything else. But by reserving each part of the trip one by one, you may end up spending hundreds more than you would with a package deal. Airlines, hotels and rental car companies often offer fire-sale prices in package deals because they generate a lot of interest and the companies don't have to show what they're charging for each individual piece. That way, they can keep travelers who book separately in the dark about what similar options are going for.
Package deals with huge discounts can be found in a number of places, from online travel sites like Expedia to the airlines' websites themselves. Deals like these are especially prevalent in the fall, a traditionally slow season for travel.
3. Forgetting discounts and promotions
Hotels and car rental companies frequently offer discounts to members of AAA and AARP, and to government workers. They also have deals to offer special rates to the employees of certain companies. It never hurts to ask. Signing up for loyalty programs may pay off as well. Some offer a free night's stay for as few as two or three spent at a chain hotel. A week-long road trip could easily enable you to earn a couple of free nights to bank for your next vacation.
4. Using (or not using) frequent-flier miles
Most parents wouldn't think about signing a preschooler up for frequent-flier programs, but the miles can easily add up if your family travels frequently — especially on an airline like Delta where miles don't expire. Each airline has its own rules, but many let kids rack up points before they're out of diapers. American Airlines, for example, doesn't have a minimum age.
Once you rack up those miles, though, be sure to use them wisely. George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com recommends only redeeming miles for flights that cost more than $300, especially particularly expensive international jaunts.
5. Ignoring hotel add-ons
Although a free breakfast or Wi-Fi might not be a deal breaker for a hotel stay, try to choose hotels with these services to avoid piling up extra fees. Breakfast for four could easily add $40 to your bill. Internet access may be another $10 a day. Parking at city hotels can run from $25 to $50 per night. Some hotels add fees for a roll-a-way cot or for extra guests, even kids.
"Families that don't do proper pre-trip research around what is or is not included in their hotel rate could end up losing nearly $100 a day," notes Chris McGinnis, editor of Best Western's travel blog You must be trippin'.
6. Packing too much
Although you probably are already calculating what your family's checked luggage will cost, don't underestimate the chance your bag will be overweight. While most airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag, they charge about $100 if the bag is over 50 pounds. When packing for a family, that can be a surprisingly easy weight to reach. Before you go to the airport, throw your bag on a bathroom scale to make sure you're not close to the limit. If you are, divide your belongings in carry-ons or even use a second piece of luggage — which will still cost you less than that heavier bag.
7. Favoring airports
Convenience is king, especially when you have kids. But if you live in a small town, it might pay off to go the extra mile (or 50). Smaller airports often have higher fares than major metropolitan airports. By driving to an airport in a bigger city, you could save hundreds in airfare. Multiply that for a family of four — and imagine all the extra souvenirs or special dinners you could enjoy.
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