If shorter days, falling temperatures and holiday stress already have you dreaming of warmer weather, it may be time to book your family’s spring break vacation.
Most primary school spring breaks occur in late March or early April, which means now’s a great time to start researching and planning your trip. Plus, it’ll give you good fodder for small talk at holiday cocktail parties.
Related: 10 Great Spring Break Destinations for Families
Follow these tips to save:
Book soon. For off-peak travel, the best time to book is about a month and a half ahead of a trip. But given the popularity of vacations during spring break, the earlier you can book the better your price will likely be, according to an analysis released in February by CheapAir.com.
“Whenever you’re talking about a peak travel period, it’s a lot better to buy too early than too late, and with spring break you definitely run a risk if you wait,” says CheapAir.com CEO Jeff Klee. “The less flexible you’re willing to be, the earlier you should book.”
Last year, prices to the most popular spring break destinations rose by more than a third as peak travel time approached. Booking far in advance is also your best shot at using miles to cover a flight, since airlines only allow a certain number of rewards seats on each flight. See whether you’re getting a deal by dividing the ticket cost by the number of miles you need to purchase it. You’ll want a rate of at least a penny per mile.
Related: When to Book Your Flight for the Best Deal
Travel off-peak. For spring break travel, you’re usually beholden to your kids’ school calendar, but any flexibility you can find with your schedule can save you money. “If you can take the kids out of school for a day or two and move your trip to Tuesday to Monday, that can make a big difference on price,” says Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper.com.
Flying to or from a small airport or on a connecting flight also usually costs less. For North American flights, you might also save money by buying two one-way tickets on different airlines rather than one round-trip ticket. Use the booking tools at CheapAir.com and Google Flights to compare prices on one-way versus round-trip tickets.
Bundle your hotel and airfare. If your heart is set on spending spring break on the beach, you may be able to find a good package deal on sites that specialize in Caribbean travel or directly from the cruise lines, although sometimes you’ll end up with layovers over flights at inconvenient times. All-inclusive hotels can also be a great way for families to keep costs in check.
Before booking a package deal, run the numbers to be sure you are actually saving by making the purchase that way rather than a la carte.
Stick to the roads. If you have the option to travel by car, it’s almost always cheaper than flying. There’s no guarantee that gas prices will remain near their 10-year low of $2.20 per gallon (they typically start to rise in the spring), but even if prices rise by a dollar, you’ll likely still come out ahead over purchasing four round-trip airline tickets. Use the Web site TravelMath to run the numbers.
Skip the hotel. Hotel vacations can be tough with family. You’re either all crammed into one room or you’ve got to spring for multiple rooms or a pricey suite. A more economical option can be renting a house. Check HomeAway.com or AirBnB for options. Sometimes an individual owner will offer a discount for nonrefundable payment, in full and in advance.
Related: 8 Great Holiday Travel Trips for Procrastinators
“A lot of families like to have the space to spread out in a house, regardless of the price,” says Jodi Grundig, a founder and editor at Family Travel Magazine. “You can also save with a house by doing your own meal preparation.”
Use points. If you can’t find a suitable home rental, consider cashing in credit card or hotel reward points to cover your stay. Hotel points are most valuable during peak season when rooms cost the most.
Book the cheapest room. Sure, it’s nice to sit on your balcony and take in the view, but when you’ve got kids you’re likely not spending much time in your room anyway. Rather than spending a premium for a room with a view, pocket the savings by opting to overlook the parking lot or take an interior cabin on a cruise.
Check the local calendar. Unlike winter breaks, which all align with Christmas and New Year’s, there’s some variation in when schools close for spring break. Schools in the south and Midwest tend to be off in early March, while schools in the northeast generally let kids out in April close to Easter.
“Resorts tend to follow the spring dates for their region, so if you’re flying in from another area, you might be able to avoid the highest peak prices,” says family vacation expert Suzanne Rowan Kelleher.
Go non-traditional. The traditional spring break vacation is to someplace warm with an ocean, and those places tend to charge peak prices during spring break. If the goal is just to get away with your family, an international trip or a city vacation might be a good option. Flights to New York City, Los Angeles, London or Paris don’t fluctuate much during this time of year. “It helps to think creatively about your destination,” says Ryan Lile of the Frequent Flier Academy.
Another nontraditional option for spring break families is to hit the slopes. Mountain resorts typically have low fares outside of peak ski season and the summer rush. Ski areas located far north or in the West may still offer skiing through March, while others offer other outdoor activities such as hiking and biking.