7 family holiday rip-offs – and how to avoid them

Photo of Cathy ToogoodPhoto of Cathy Toogood
By Cathy Toogood

13 June 2019 | Updated 28 September 20236 min read

A picture of two children running on a sandy beach carrying rubber rings enjoying a family holiday with bright sky and calm sea

Whether you're heading off on a staycation with the kids this October half term or are looking ahead to summer 2024 for a sun-filled family holiday, the thought of the cost of your next break may be (understandably) causing you to wince.

According to the Post Office’s Family Holiday Report, overspending levels on family holidays have risen by 53% since 2019, with more than three quarters of those who set a budget for their last family holiday admitting to overspending.

To stop this being you, we reveal seven common family holiday rip-offs and explain how to avoid them on your next holiday.

Rip-off #1: The cost of the holiday itself

If you’re restricted to school holiday dates, you’ll know that it’s trickier to find a bargain, especially when you’re likely to have more specific requirements and need more room. But there are ways to save big as a family.

One cost-saving trick is to consider flying from another nearby airport where term dates are different to those in your area. For example, if Scottish schools go back before those in the north of England, you can compare the prices at your local airport with those at the nearest Scottish airport. So long as the cost of getting to a different airport isn’t more than the savings you’ll make, you could pocket a substantial sum.

If you haven't booked yet, have a look at the different regional school holiday dates; you might be able to do the same next Easter or summer.

Other money-saving techniques include researching the destinations where you’ll get good value for money (the Post Office releases a yearly report on this) and to consider all-inclusive over self-catering stays so you don’t end up getting carried away with your spending money.

And always compare prices before you book to make sure you’ve got the best deal for you.

Rip-off #2: Car hire prices

When you have children, looking for a rental car becomes a lot more complicated. With pushchairs, lots of luggage and car seats to consider, you can't just opt for the cheapest vehicle. And then there’s the steep daily cost of renting car seats if you need them.

But family car hire doesn't need to cost a small fortune if you shop around. To find the best deals, book your hire car well in advance of your holiday. As well as saving you money, this will give you the peace of mind you’ll get the vehicle type you need. And, even if you’ve left booking to the last minute, always book your car in advance online rather than leaving it to sort at the airport.

Many airlines also let you take your own car seats from home free of charge so consider this as an option to save even more.

Rip-off #3: Hefty luggage charges

Travelling light becomes trickier with children and all of their possessions in tow. But if you’re not careful, luggage costs can soon spiral. A 20kg checked bag can cost up to £59.99 on a Ryanair flight if you book it online in advance, or up to £70 if you leave it until the airport. And, if you go over your weight limit, Ryanair charges £11 per extra kilo.

So, think carefully, be ruthless about what you need to take and weigh your bag before you set off to prevent any nasty surprises.

For example, if you’re travelling with a baby, nappies for two weeks can easily take up a big chunk of your suitcase. However, if you’re going to a resort with a supermarket nearby, you could probably buy the bulk of these when you arrive for a lot less than the price of an extra bag. Look at the toys your older children want to pack too and consider whether they’ll really play with them when there’s a beach and a swimming pool.

Rip-off #4: Expensive food in the airport or on the plane...

Food and drink costs for a family of four can soon add up, especially if you’re a captive customer in an airport or on a flight or train. When we looked at the price of food in airports, we found sandwiches that cost up to £5 in WHSmith – that’s a lot more than you’d pay in your local supermarket.

So, take food with you from home (but remember the 100ml liquid security rules) and bring empty bottles to fill up at free airport water fountains when you’ve passed through security. If you’ve not prepared, look out for offers such as the Boots £4.99 meal deal to save.

Rip-off #5: …plus pricey meals while you’re away

Unless you’ve chosen a cheap all-inclusive break, the price of food and drink while you’re away can quickly eat into your holiday budget too. So plan your meals and snacks in advance to avoid being stung.

If your kids are snackers, stock up from a local supermarket and take food and drink out with you to prevent lots of costly café trips. And take a picnic with you on day trips.

When you do eat out, look for fixed price menus, which are often cheaper than à la carte options, and drink local alcohol to keep costs down. Avoid restaurants on the waterfront or next to tourist hotspots if you’re looking for good-value dining – walk a couple of streets away instead.

Rip-off #6: Excessive costs for days out

Finding activities that all of the family will enjoy while you’re away can feel like hard work, and it’s tempting to book lots of excursions or visit big local attractions such as waterparks to keep your holiday running smoothly.

But this can add an unexpected expense to your break. If you’re going to a big attraction, look for advance ticket prices on its own website. Family tickets may save you money too.

It’s also worth looking up free attractions in your destination and using the local tourist board website to plan your own customised (and cheaper) excursions.

Rip-off #7: Budget-busting beach paraphernalia, treats and souvenirs

An inflatable for the pool, a bucket and spade, and treats to keep children happy while on a flight or out for a meal can be pricey, unbudgeted extras while you’re on holiday. So think ahead.

Consider taking an inflatable that you already own away with you – so long as it doesn’t take up too much space in your suitcase – to prevent paying for one every holiday and, before your break, head to a local supermarket or discount shop to pick up inexpensive treats to pull out at intervals over your holiday. A new notebook and pen, for example, will allow budding writers to document their travels, while a brand new card game will distract children on a flight.

You may also want to give the little ones some pocket money for your trip, so they can buy souvenirs and any other extras along the way. Not only will this teach valuable lessons about budgeting, but they may consider whether they really need that amazing stuffed donkey when they have to pay for it out of their own cash.

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