How to Save Money on Family Travel
The cost of traveling with kids can add up quickly. I know because I have three children. But over the years as we have traveled to numerous spots across the U.S. and even overseas, I’ve learned several ways to keep costs under control. So the next time you take a trip with your family, here’s how you can save on accommodations, flights, meals and entertainment:
SEE ALSO: Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World
Consider a vacation rental property. Renting a condo, apartment or home when traveling typically will give you more space than a hotel at a lower price. For example, the average nightly rate for a vacation rental in New York City listed on Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO.com) is about $219; whereas, the average nightly rate for a hotel is $350. Plus, you’ll have access to a kitchen where you can cook your own meals to keep food costs down while on vacation. To learn more, see How to Save Money on Vacation Rental Properties.
Get the best deal on a hotel. With so many travel sites that can help you find a deal and a variety of discounts you might be able to take advantage of, there’s no reason to pay full price for a hotel room. For example, the recently launched Last Minute Travel app offers travelers access to wholesale prices for hotels in more than 150 countries. We found that the prices of hotels in several cities we checked typically were lower -- by at least $10 but as much as $100 or more -- on the LMT app than on Hotels.com, Expedia and Priceline. Or you might be able to take advantage of discounts offered by hotels if you book directly through them. Many hotel chains, such as Marriott, offer discounts to government employees and members of the military. A AAA or AARP membership can also get you hotel discounts.
Join a loyalty program or use a rewards credit card. If you’re loyal to a particular hotel chain, sign up for its loyalty program or get its branded credit card to rack up points for free hotel stays. Usually you can accrue points faster with a hotel-branded card because you get them for everyday purchases, not just hotel stays. In the year since I got the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa, I’ve scored four free nights for my family. See our picks for the top hotel rewards cards.
Score free flights. Airlines, like hotels, have branded credit cards that let you earn points when you make purchases and redeem them for free flights. However, if you’re not a frequent flier, you’ll earn points faster through a travel rewards card that isn't tied to a particular airline, according to a recent study by MileCards.com. That’s because travel rewards cards attach a higher point value to most purchases than the airline-branded cards do.
To learn more, see How to Choose the Best Travel Rewards Card for You.
Avoid baggage fees. When booking a flight, consider whether the airline charges for checked bags. Most airlines other than JetBlue and Southwest charge $25 for the first checked bag. Even if you find cheaper flights on airlines other than those two, your savings could be wiped out if you have to pay $100 to check bags for a family of four.
Bring your own food. The best way to save money on food is to pack sandwiches, snacks and drinks for road trips or flights so you don’t have to buy pricey meals at the airport. To make it fun for kids, you can buy a few trinkets at the dollar store and put them in bags along with their food to replicate kids meals from fast food restaurants.
Dine (or stay) where kids eat free. You can save money when dining out by taking advantage of kids-eat-free deals. Visit KidsMealDeals.com to find restaurants where kids eat free or check restaurants’ Facebook pages for special offers. Several hotel chains offer free meals for kids -- and for adults. For example, up to four children ages 12 and younger can eat for free at Holiday Inn restaurants.
For more tips, see 10 Secrets to Saving Money When Dining Out With Kids.
Take advantage of freebies. Many museums waive admission fees on certain days of the week, so visit the Web sites of those you plan to visit beforehand to see if you can get in for free. Some credit cards can help you score free admission to attractions. For example, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission to 150 museums in 85 cities on the first weekend of the month. And American Express membership rewards can be redeemed for concert, theater and sporting event tickets, as well as Universal Studios Hollywood tickets.
Cash in on memberships. In addition to hotel discounts, AAA membership entitles you to discounts on tickets to sporting events, museums, attractions and theme parks such as Legoland. Southwest Rapid Rewards members get a 20% discount at Sea World. Hilton HHonors members can use points for free admission to Busch Gardens, Sea World, Aquatica, Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. More than 160 zoos and aquariums participate in a reciprocal program that entitles their members to get free or discounted admission to the other zoos and aquariums participating in the program. Check to see what perks your memberships offers.
Score discounts. Daily deal sites such as Groupon aren't just a great way to get deals at fancy restaurants (to which you’d never take your kids). They are a great source for savings of up to 50% on attractions and activities. Also check supermarkets in the area you’re visiting because many sell discounted passes to attractions. If you're visiting a big city, you can save up to 50% on the cost of admission to several top attractions by purchasing a CityPASS. Many attractions offer discounts or free admission for members of the military and their families. And some offer discounts for educators. For example, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago offers one free pass to educators from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Teachers from other states can receive $3 off admission by showing a school ID or paystub.