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).
Fortunately, some simple tricks can help you fight back and turn the tables on sky-high prices for family trips abroad. Here are nine 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, in 2019 most Leicestershire schools broke up on 12 July, while most others do so this week (the week starting 22 July). When we checked in January, we found a week's holiday in a three-star hotel in Corfu, including flights from Birmingham, for £308 per person leaving on 15 July. On 26 July, the same holiday jumped to £546 per person.
Most schools in Scotland break up earlier (this year it was around 28 June), so if that's you, consider going away sooner rather than later.
Inset days are one-off mid-term holiday days which vary by school and are usually for teacher training. These 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:
- Use the Gov.uk 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.
- Then search Google for other schools' dates – this Skypark Secure blog has a summary of the different 2019/20 dates in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- Work out where your school differs from the norm. It might start a week early, finish a week late or have 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 and booking in advance, it's usually worth jetting off in 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, when we checked in January, we saw a week in Majorca for a family of four that was £564 per person from 27 July-3 August, but just £413 per person from 20-27 August.
Though being flexible is key. Right now late deals can be cheaper, so if you're booking right now July may be cheaper than the last two weeks of August. There's more on this in the Package holiday guide.
- 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 January, we 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. Instead, look at villas and apartments. For example, over October half-term I stayed for a week with my husband and two kids in this lovely two-bed apartment in Sicily for £335.
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.
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.
Here's how it worked for me (on another half-term trip to an Italian island):
Last May half-term 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.
- BA Avios points can offer fab value over the school holidays. BA Avios points can be your golden ticket to cheap school holiday flights. Yes, the number of points you need increases at peak times. But while you need slightly more Avios points (10-30%), it may be nothing compared to how normal flight prices can spiral.
As an example, a London to Athens return in the first week of August – peak time – costs 20,000 points (plus taxes). In off-peak periods, it's 17,000 points (plus taxes). That's an 18% increase in the number of points you need.
Yet when we searched in January, the same BA flight was £208 in the first week of June (off-peak), and the cheapest BA flight in the first week of August £354. That's a mega 70% increase.
Avios flights are limited and seats at peak times vanish quickly, so plan ahead. The ideal time to start checking is around a year before, when seats start to be released.
Use the Avios Reward Flight Calculator to check peak dates and how many points you need. Also see our full Avios Tricks guide.
- It pays to check other countries' holiday dates – especially for Disney World. Resorts popular with locals can empty out once their kids head back to school, meaning falling prices. Term dates vary from country to country, so it's worth a quick check before picking which week to go.
US term dates vary by region and state, but many go back in early or mid-August – a boon for Florida-bound UK families.
When we checked in January, a week at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort for a family of four was £819 in the last week of July. In the last week of August, it dropped to £585. So consider later rather than sooner for Florida trips.
Similarly, German schools go back in the first week of August this year. We found a two-bedroom cottage at a German Center Parcs (Park Hochsauerland) for £830 for seven nights in the last week of July. In mid-August, the same break costs just £480.
To check where other countries' term dates differ, visit the PublicHolidays website or just Google it.
- Fly from Scotland in the last two weeks of August – even if you don't live there. Going away in the last two weeks of August? Fly your family out from Scotland – even if you live elsewhere in the UK. Scottish children generally have an earlier summer break than the rest of the UK, with most returning on 13 August this year.
Thus exactly the same package holiday flying from, say, Edinburgh can sometimes work out cheaper than one from, say, Manchester.
To prove this, when we search in January, we found a week's three-star all-inclusive holiday in Zante for a family of four, leaving on 22 August. Flying from Manchester, the holiday cost £2,700. Flying from Glasgow, the trip was £2,150. That's the same hotel, same date and same room type – £550 less.
One MoneySaver, Wendy, who commented below on the first version of this blog, told us she had great success with this trick:
On 16 August our family went to Crete, staying half-board in a lovely hotel. Although we live within spitting distance of Heathrow, we saved thousands by flying out of Glasgow.
Same hotel, board and dates flying from Gatwick was over £2,000 more.
Definitely worth the drive up the M6!
- Ditch posh resorts for camping parks. Fancy a cheap holiday outdoors, but not ready to embrace pegs and canvas? Check out mobile home breaks in European parks.
You've probably heard of Eurocamp, but Canvas Holidays, Al Fresco and others do a similar thing.
Expect entertainment, water slides and playgrounds full of potential pals. While most are still more expensive in school holiday periods, they generally work out cheaper than hotels, as the price was less in the first place.
For example, when we searched in early July, a two-bedroom Eurocamp mobile home in a site at the Italian Lakes was £683/week for a family of four in late August. Two rooms in a similar quality, three-star hotel with a pool nearby cost £1,547.
See my full 13 Eurocamp and Other Holiday Park Tricks for more pointers.
- Have your 'summer' holiday at half-term. Another quick way to shave £100s off your holiday is to jet away over May or October half-term to grab shoulder-season prices.
When we searched in January, we found a week's three-star holiday in Greece that was £287 per person in May half-term, compared with £605 per person in the first week of August.
Some spots, such as Sicily or the south of Spain, may be more pleasant for little ones to visit in May before the summer heat kicks in anyway.
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 free (or very cheap) fun to be had in the UK, and what your kids really value is time with you...
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