How to find cheap half-term holidays
Family holidays shouldn't cost the earth
When your children reach school age, that's when travellers really find themselves at the mercy of the Laws of Supply and Demand.
Six weeks in the summer, two at Christmas and Easter and a week in October, February and May - that's your lot. Travelling outside of these times, taking the children out of school, is a no-no, so how to holiday as cheaply as possible? Follow Cheapflights.co.uk's tips:
Manage your expectations
There will be a beach and buckets and spades. Or a compact and easy-to-get-around European city. Or a ski resort. Or camping ground. Or theme park. Keep stress to a minimum with short(ish) flights and destinations that are just different enough. For these reasons Spain and Portugal are firm family favourites for beach holidays, France for a city break (Paris, Lille or Disneyland Paris - all accessible by Eurostar).
For older kids, those who are up to a 12-hour flight and can handle a bit of jet lag, Disney World in Orlando is a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.
Choose your destination carefully
Keep an eye on the news. If the euro is rising in value, you'll get better value outside the Eurozone. Destinations such as the Red Sea resort areas in Egypt (Sharm El Sheikh for example), Turkey and Bulgaria will be, in general, cheaper than Italy or France. Following a period of political unrest, there will be some bargains as tour operators seek to fill chartered planes and hotels in those destinations. We saw this during the trouble in Egypt in 2011; tour operators offered hefty discounts on holidays to the Red Sea resorts. Likewise, if a country is struggling economically (Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland for example), businesses there will work extra hard to bring in the punters.
Shop around as early as you can
Schools release the term dates every September so as soon as you get this, start planning your holiday. There may be early-booking discounts and free child places that you, as an early booker, can hoover up.
Compare the cost of a DIY holiday
Whatever price looks like being standard, see if you can do better by pricing the flights and accommodation separately. However, your DIY holiday won't be covered by ATOL should your airline or hotel go bust. If you're putting together your own holiday, pay for everything with a credit card (not a debit card) and ensure that your travel insurance policy includes "end supplier failure".
Be as flexible as you possibly can
So, if the children finish school on a Friday, the following day will be the busiest - and most expensive - day to travel. Obviously, a shorter break will always be cheaper to take than a longer one, but if you're putting together your own trip, you'll find cheaper flights on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. You may also net mid-week hotel discounts. Flights that depart very early in the morning or late at night will be cheaper than travelling during peak daytime hours.
It's a risky strategy, but if you're super flexible you can get a great last-minute deal.
Save on the extras - where you can
Car hire, airport parking, holiday money, theme park tickets, sun block. Make a list of everything you'll need and when you see a good deal, pounce on it.
Don't leave home without it. If you're holidaying in Europe, you'll need an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) too. It's free from ehic.org.uk and lots of travel insurance policies will only be valid if you have one. It entitles UK residents to state-provided medical treatment in another EU country and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Updated April 2013