How to save money while holidaying with kids

Create magical memories without the big price tag

Felicity Hannah - Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Felicity Hannah | Independent Money Mentor

Award-winning personal finance and consumer affairs journalist


Travelling with kids doesn’t need to be expensive: it’s possible to have an unforgettable holiday without breaking the bank – it just takes a little more planning and a few handy tricks.

Here are some top tips for saving money on a great summer holiday with the kids, home or away. You may even be able to get an even more exciting and unique adventure by going a bit off the beaten track in search of a bargain.

Holidaying in the sun

Going abroad doesn’t always mean a big price tag. Do your research and plan in advance and you could enjoy a wonderful family getaway for a fraction of the cost.

Book online and book in advance

You may believe the best chance of getting a good deal is a last-minute booking but as a parent that’s usually not an option as you may need specific details like ground floor rooms or kids’ clubs.

That means your best bet for a good price is to book online and in advance, so you can compare prices from a range of providers and airlines. [Editor’s note: you may find our article, The insider’s guide to booking, useful.]

And the same goes for any day trips too. If you book before you travel you can often get much better prices than if you simply rock up on the day. 

Thanks to the internet, you can book many activities directly and in advance – and it also takes the pressure off the trip if everything is booked.

Find cheaper flights

Often a package holiday can be much cheaper if you agree to travel at the less popular times. That’s not always ideal for families but if you can manage late night or very early morning flights then the saving can be substantial.

Midweek flights are often less in demand than weekend travel, so if you can be flexible and compare prices then you can probably spend less.

And if you’re booking your own travel then there are many websites that help find the best prices, including SkyScanner, Kayak and many others. [Editor’s note: you may find our article, The best time to book flights, useful.] 

Be prepared

Make like a scout and get organised before you go. Could you buy snacks and make sandwiches before you get on the plane? Could you buy cheaper pool toys in the UK rather than from the hotel shop? 

If you’re going to Disneyland, could you buy a few branded toys and treats in advance so you don’t spend a fortune in the shop (ditto Legoland and Lego kits)?

And by exchanging your holiday money well in advance rather than in the airport at the last minute, you can usually get a much more competitive rate.

The more planning you do, the more you can do for less. Although do bear in mind this next point…  

Don’t fall foul of the baggage allowance

Make sure you know exactly how much you can bring and check the weight in advance. There are suitcase scales that allow you to check you’ve not gone over your allowance. After all, the penalties for exceeding the allowance can be pretty severe and undo any savings you’ve tried to make by packing more.

Make more of ‘kids go free’

Competition for your holiday business is pretty strong so you can use that to your advantage. Many package holiday chains offer ‘kids go free’ deals, especially if you’re booking well in advance.

Taking advantage of those can save hundreds of pounds off the cost of a break. Just make sure you compare prices of other deals as well to be sure it really is a bargain. [Editor’s note: you may find our article, How to make your holiday spending money go further, useful.] 

Make sure your kids will be entertained

Before booking, take a look at what a destination offers for children. If there’s nothing to do for the kids then you might end up shelling out for day trips and extras, whereas if it has entertainment and activities included then both you and your wallet can relax.

Review websites like TripAdvisor are pretty good for seeing what previous families thought of particular holidays, so be sure to check them out before you book.

Book travel insurance ASAP

It’s not as much fun as browsing beaches but travel insurance is essential. If you take out a policy as soon as you book your break then you get the extra benefit of cancellation insurance, if something happens that means you can’t go. Don’t leave arranging your travel insurance until the night before you travel or you’ll miss out on this protection.

TOP TIP: While the UK remains in the EU, a European Heath Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to medical care under the same conditions as a local – which, in many countries, means free care.

EHICs aren’t a substitute for insurance as it won’t necessarily cover all costs – if you needed to return to the UK for medical reasons for instance – but would cover treatment for most minor conditions whilst you’re away.

Just remember they are free – don’t fall victim to an intermediary company that makes you pay.

Holidaying at home

Some of the best holidays happen right here in the UK and they can be a great way to save because you aren’t forking out for plane tickets. Here are my tips for saving.

Ride the rails

If your dream summer holiday with the kids involves travelling through Britain by train then a Family and Friends railcard can save you a fortune. It gives you a third off adult fares and 60% off the kids’ tickets, and costs £30 a year.

TOP TIP: Children only need a train ticket after they turn 5 years old. If your kids are younger than that then buying them a ticket anyway so you can still use a Family and Friends Railcard will almost certainly save you money overall.

Tickets usually go on sale around three months in advance, so if you know what your plans are then book fast to scoop the cheaper tickets before they sell out. If you sign up the Trainline’s ticket alert system then you’ll be first to know when they are available. 

Also, remember that buying two single tickets is sometimes cheaper than buying a return so try both to see which is cheaper. 

You may also be able save money by ‘splitting’, which is when you buy a separate ticket for different legs of the journey even if you stay on the same train. Websites like Trainsplit.com can help find the cheapest fares.  

Use ‘go free’ deals

Kids don’t just go free on certain package holidays, there are loads of deals and offers in the UK as well. For example, if you’re treating the family to a meal out then it’s worth looking for a ‘kids eat free’ deal because many chains and some independent restaurants offer those to entice adults in.

If you’re planning to visit a theme park then it’s worth picking up a ‘grown-ups go free’ voucher from Kellogg’s, saving you an adult’s fare into some of the country’s top attractions.

When booking a UK break it’s worth choosing a destination close to decent deals, so you can be sure there’s plenty to occupy the kids when you’re away.

Consider a house swap

If you’re booking a UK break with children then quite often it’s easier to hire a house than try to manage hotels that have set mealtimes and potentially noisy other guests (or worse, quiet ones and it’s your little ones that make the noise).

You could even try a house swap company, saving you the cost of accommodation. There are some established house swap websites now, including Homestay.com and LoveHomeSwap.

Just remember that these aren’t regulated and you need to feel really comfortable with whoever you allow into your home – and whose home you take your kids to. Also, make sure your insurer and mortgage provider are okay with it.

More planning means more fun for less money. I hope you enjoy your money-saving family holiday.

Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.