Whether it's taking a trip to Grandma's or planning on a larger vacation, families can make money-burning mistakes if they're not prepared.
From packing too much to choosing overpriced dining spots, here are seven big mistakes to avoid on your next family trip.
1. Fixed vacation dates
Flexibility is the single most important money-saving factor although arranging your getaways around school vacations can be tough. 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, the most expensive.
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 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 at online travel sites like Expedia or the airlines' websites.
3. Forgetting discounts or 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 weeklong road trip could easily enable you to earn a couple of free nights 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 miles, but they can easily add up if your family travels frequently, especially on an airline like Delta where miles don't expire.
Many let kids rack up points before they're out of diapers. American Airlines, for example, doesn't have a minimum age.
Be sure to use the miles wisely. George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com recommends only redeeming miles for flights that cost more than $300.
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 pretrip 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
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 surprisingly easy to reach.
Before you go to the airport, throw your bag on a bathroom scale. If you're near the limit divide your belongings in carry-ons or a second piece of luggage -- which will still cost you less than that heavier bag.
7. Favoring airports
If you live in a small town, it might pay 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 . Multiply that for a family of four -- and imagine all the extra souvenirs or special dinners you could enjoy.
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