How to BEAT school holiday travel price hikes

There's a collective 'GRRRRR' from parents about holiday price hikes when term ends – the cost of flights, hotels and package holidays always seems to rocket. Yet the law's plain. You can't take kids out of school for unauthorised vacations without being fined (see our Term-time holidays 60-second guide for the full lowdown).

Update 20 August 2018: This blog was first written back in May, but while these tricks may be too late for this summer, the logic is still correct for the next school hols. 

Fortunately, some simple tricks can help you fight back and turn the tables on sky-high prices for family trips abroad – and with summer looming, this is the time of year they're most needed. Here are four to get you started:

  • Find hidden cheap booking dates. Every so often, your school's term dates may differ from everyone else's. This could be due to inset days or just because your council's chosen different dates. These hidden dates can mean huge savings.

    For example, this year Leicestershire schools broke up on 13 July, while most others did so on 20 July. We found a week's holiday in a three-star hotel in Ravello in Italy, including flights from Birmingham, for £324pp leaving on 16 July. A week later the same holiday jumped to £608pp.

    Most schools in Scotland broke up around Friday 29 June, so Scottish families should consider going away sooner rather than later.

    Inset days – one-off mid-term holiday days which vary by school and are usually for teacher training – can be a boon for long weekends away. For example, some MoneySavers report nabbing cheap stays at Center Parcs through careful forward planning.

    To spot these hidden dates:
  1. Use the school holiday dates tool to find out when schools in your area are off, and check directly with your school too, as inset days and term dates can vary. 
  2. Then search Google for other schools' dates – this Holiday Lettings blog has a summary of the different 2018/19 dates in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 
  3. Work out where your school differs from the norm – whether it starts a week early, finishes a week late or has a tempting Friday or Monday inset day which means you can make a long weekend of it. If your school's off and others aren't, chances are you'll find a bargain.
  • Booking a package holiday? The last two weeks of summer are usually cheaper. If you're looking for a sunny getaway in a traditional holiday resort, a good old-fashioned package may still smash DIY holidays – see our Cheap Package Holidays guide for tips on how to find 'em.

    And if you're travelling with school-age kids, it's worth waiting until the last two weeks of summer if you can. Travel body ABTA says prices drop rapidly at the end of August/early September – likely because most people want to go as soon as they can. For example, we saw a fortnight in Tenerife for a family of four that was £852pp from 21 July-4 August, but just £488pp from 17-31 August.
  • The 'book the wrong date' trick. Easyjet's 'Flexifares' let you switch dates by a few weeks without paying anything extra. So you can bag cheap term-time flights, then swap for your chosen school holiday dates.

    Unfortunately, since we first told you about this loophole in 2014, Easyjet seems to have made it harder to exploit. However, when we checked in May we still managed to find a one-way Nice-Gatwick flight that was £246 on 1 September, but could be had for £170 by booking a Flexifare for 5 September and switching it.

    This isn't 100% straightforward though, so follow our Easyjet Flexifare trick step-by-step help. Plus, see more tips on locating the cheapest flights in Cheap Flights.
  • Cheap villas can undercut hotels – price hikes are smaller and owners more willing to haggle. Big family groups may need multiple hotel rooms. So instead, look at villas and apartments. We found a three-bed Sicily apartment for £380/week in the school hols – a similar-level hotel was £1,800 (without food and drink).

    Plus while villa prices rise in the summer, they don't always climb by quite as much as a package holiday and negotiation is often possible. Here's how it worked for me:

Last year we found a three-bedroom villa in Sardinia over the school hols advertised for £880 – I sent one message politely asking if there was any flexibility in the price, and she immediately cut it to £570. This wasn't even last minute.

Direct booking sites let you quickly search for holiday rentals – see full help in our Cheap Holiday Rentals guide. Be careful though: if you book directly with an owner, there's less protection.

That's a few tips to get you started – but we want to hear from you. Please let us know how you save on school hols prices in the comments below.

And remember, DON'T feel under pressure to spend on an all-out foreign holiday if you can't afford it. There's plenty of cheap and free fun to be had in the UK, and what your kids really value is time with you...