Few of us volunteer for the job of family travel agent.
After all, planning a trip is a time consuming task which involves comparing fares and trying to get make you’re dollar go farther. It gets thrust on us with all those expectations: Grandma wants to fly in comfort while the kids want fun vacation cities and poor Mom and Dad try to keep it all under budget.
Relax, this will help.
1. Where to go
A smart family travel agent knows great vacations don't have to be expensive.
Old and new bargains: Longtime cheap destinations include Boston, Denver, New York and Los Angeles thanks to strong competition and significant discount carrier presence. Newcomers to the cheap list include Dallas, which is enjoying an ongoing airfare war after flinging off the restrictions of the Wright amendment, while Seattle and Salt Lake are enjoying increased competition.
Hub to hub: If your home airport is a big hub, consider flights of 90 minutes (give or take) to other hubs for generally good, stable prices. Examples: Dallas/Houston, Los Angeles/San Francisco (or Las Vegas), Boston/Washington DC.
Go where you want: As long as you compare airfares to be sure of getting the cheapest available flight, go somewhere you love.
2. When to shop
Family travel agents should shop for tickets on Tuesdays, when airlines launch sales and competitors rush to match prices. Start shopping for Spring Break trips now; for summer you can begin shopping three months ahead and complete purchases a month before departure.
Note: If summer vacation can wrap up by the first few days of June, you may be able purchase airfare now. Carriers like American have sales underway good for flights through June 3.
3. Cutting costs
Fees are a fact of life but a smart family travel agent avoids these two in particular.
Change fees: Four airlines now charge $200 per ticket to change a flight (unless the changes are done within 24 of purchase). Do not make flight arrangements unless you know everyone is onboard with the planned itinerary. If there are doubts about making a trip due to health concerns, consider travel insurance but be certain the policy covers what you need. Refundable tickets are so expensive it's often more cost-effective to buy a cheaper ticket and eat the cost if need be.
Bag fees: Only Southwest still offers free checked-bags but that doesn't automatically makes the airline the best deal. Always compare fares and factor in fees. You'll likely find using carry-ons can save a lot of money (and you don't have to worry about lost bags).
4. Where to spend more
Every family travel agent knows some fees are worth paying especially if it means a few more inches of legroom for your 6'6" brother or seeing that Grandma gets on the plane first. Extras can cost as little as $12.50 (Southwest's early boarding fee) but can increase exponentially so watch out. See what your airline offers and see if it's worth it for your family.
Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site