Sooner or later many of us find ourselves searching for the best travel deals. This is particularly true when traveling with kids. Family travel is costly and stressful.
The key to almost stress free travel with kids or without is planning. Know before you go! Avoid surprise charges; know luggage fees and limits; know airline, car rental, and hotel policies and amenities. Pack wisely and make a budget.
I’m a travel agent always planning and searching for the best deals for my family and clients. Here are a few tips to help you plan.
(We learned these things when making travel arrangements for our family a few summers agp, our party included 2 children ages 6 and 12, and a 9 month old infant. Airline policies change constantly so check with them before you buy airline tickets.)
Making travel arrangements:
Inform yourself about ticket options for kids and know what to expect. Infants on your lap will save money but can be challenging. Infants and toddlers travel with lots of gear; strollers, diapers, and feeding supplies. Not only do you have to carry and keep track of baby, you must carry her stuff as well. Toddlers aren’t much easier, but at least they can carry some of their things.
Plan and reserve ground transportation and room accommodations at your destination. Compare your options and their rates.
- Child fares can cost more than discounted adult fares, especially from consolidators like Orbitz.com. Compare fares between consolidators and the airlines’ sites.
- Consolidators don’t allow online booking for unaccompanied minors – you must call them or the airlines for instructions on how to proceed.
- Infants under 2 traveling domestically on your lap usually travel free but may not have any bag allowances. Check with the airline to avoid surprises.
- Know checked luggage fees, first and second bags are about $25 and $35 respectively. A third checked bag can jump to $100+. Airlines constantly change luggage fees and policies check them before you purchase and check again before you pack.
- If you have a “lap” child and purchase your tickets online, you must notify the airlines so that a “lap ticket” can be issued.
- “Lap” infants under 2 traveling internationallyare charged an infant fare. Infants paying a fare can usually check and carry-on bags.
- First checked bag is usually free on international flights but, infants may have a lower weight limit. Check with the airlines to be sure. (Flights within certain regions may not be considered international therefore international luggage policies may not apply. i.e. domestic weight limits are applied on travel between Barcelona and London on British Airways. But if your flight originates overseas with a layover somewhere, i.e. US to London to Barcelona, international policies will apply until you reach your final destination.)
- Consolidators do not show a “lap” child fare for international travel, you must call them or the airlines for the fare.
- Booking on the airline’s site, such as United.com, allows you to include your “lap” child with your reservation and will quote the child an international fare. They will also issue a “lap ticket”.
- A “lap” child may be assigned a seat at if the flight has empty seats. This seat assignment will be given at the gate just before boarding. Check with your airline if this is among their policies.
- Children 2 and above must pay a fare and must have a seat. They have the same luggage allowances as adults. Check with your airline to be sure.
- You may purchase a seat for your child under 2, in this case the child will have luggage allowances.
- Check luggage dimensions and weight limits. You’re usually allowed 2 carry-on bags, a small suitcase and a personal item (purse, laptop case, or camera bag). Items must fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you. When traveling with lap infants check with the airlines if the non-paying infant is allowed a diaper bag as well, if not you must pack creatively.
- If your child has a paid seat his FAA approved car seat can be strapped to the plane seat. The car seat must be labeled “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft”. Flight attendants look for this label, you may run into problems if it’s missing.
- To fit a coach seat the car seat should not be wider than 16”, lifting the armrest may accommodate a slightly wider car seat. Check with the manufacturer for instructions on how to install it on an airplane seat.
- Some airlines offer child meals on international flights it must be ordered before your flight.
- Some airlines provide portable cradles for infants to use during the flight. Check with your airlines to see if they have them. Make sure your seat assignment will accommodate its placement.
- Check your seat assignment when you get your ticket. Children are not allowed to sit in exit rows. If you’re seated in one of those rows you will be moved, it’s easier to change seats before your departure date. If that’s not possible, the gate agents will re-assign seats, but you may not get what you want, or large groups may be separated.
- Exit row seats and those in front of and behind them are sometimes cooler than the rest of the plane. If you’re in any of these rows you might want to bring a jacket or blanket to keep warm during your flight.
- Car Seats and strollers are checked free at check-in or at the gate. Be sure tags have your name and contact information. Consider purchasing a cover or bag for your gear to keep them clean in transit. Luggage handlers rarely treat items with care. (If you didn’t check in your car seat in the hopes of getting a seat assignment for your child you can check it in at the gate if you don’t get that seat.)
- Strollers, car seats, and other luggage can be gate checked just before you enter the plane. Leave your tagged item just outside the aircraft door. Pick up your gate checked items as you exit the aircraft at your destination. If you have a lay over and are changing planes your gate checked item must be retrieved every time you exit an aircraft. You must gate check them again on your next flight.
- Strollers and car seats are considered “special” cargo and may not have the same lost luggage allowances as “regular” luggage has. In short the airlines may not compensate you for a lost or damaged stroller.
- Strollers and car seats checked in anywhere else but the gate can be picked up at baggage claim, they may not be on the carousel with the other luggage, you may have to go to the over size bag claim located in the baggage claim area.
- If you don’t bring your own car seat you must contact the car rental or car service to request one. You can add car seats to your car reservations, there is a daily rental fee. Most car services I have used provide car seats for free, just let them know you need one.
- Rental Car facilities are generally located off airport property. Rental Companies usually provide a free shuttle to their facility. Shuttles are located outside of baggage claim. Look for signs to their stops.
- Car Service Drivers wait outside baggage claim. They will have a sign with your name on it. Look for your driver as you exit baggage claim.
- Check children’s sleeping accommodations – some hotels provide cribs, and cots but may charge extra for them.
- You can bring your own portable crib; you must check it in at the airport. It will be considered luggage and may incur fees. Check with your airlines.
- Domestic hotels usually have larger rooms than foreign hotels. They usually allow kids to stay free with parents. Foreign hotels may charge per child and may limit occupancy to 3 people per room.
- If you don’t have ground travel arrangements some hotels offer airport shuttles. Check with them before you book. Hotel shuttles are generally located outside of baggage claim. Look for signs to guide you to their stop.
- Consider hotels that include breakfast with the rate. It’s easier to know where breakfast is every morning than having to look for a place to feed hungry kids early in the morning.
- Consider a suite or executive level room. Included extras like breakfast, cocktails, and snacks might be worth the higher rate.
- Hotels closer to attractions may have higher rates but this may be offset if you don’t need ground transportation and have to pay for parking.
- Some hotels have an extra charge for parking. Check with your hotel for parking fees when you book.
For more travel tips, recipes, and activities read my blog savvynana.com.