Taking a family vacation can feel more like work than a holiday when you have two kids under the age of four. Still, I think it’s important to get away from our routine every few months, even if it’s just for a short trip.
Last week, after packing what seemed like the entire contents of our house into the car – while still leaving room for the four of us – we headed off to Banff, AB for three nights of rest and relaxation.
As stressful as it was for me and my wife to haul everything (and everyone) around for a few days, it was worth it to see our kids have such a great time in the Rocky Mountains.
Finding appropriate accommodations can be a challenge because we like to have a kitchen and a separate bedroom for the kids. A family room at a decent hotel can cost over $200 a night.
Here are three ways to save money on your family vacation while still enjoying some of the comforts of home:
I first heard about Travel Zoo when I worked in the hotel industry. Travel Zoo is an online deal site with over 26 million subscribers across the globe. They publish a weekly list of the top 20 travel, entertainment and local deals.
To get listed in the top 20, a hotel needs to offer a significant deal off its best available rate. So you can expect to save between 30 to 50 percent off the best rate you can find online.
The deals are only offered for a specific period, so there’s limited availability and they tend to fill up quickly.
Our Banff getaway was a Travel Zoo deal for a resort with a full kitchen, 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms for $123 per night (regular $239 per night). They even included a gift basket and a bottle of wine.
I checked online to make sure we were indeed getting a great deal and the best rate I could find was a web special for $179 per night. So the Travel Zoo deal saved us 30 percent.
Travel Zoo is a great resource for saving money on your vacation but I’ll admit that most of the time I delete the weekly email because the destinations don’t interest me.
That’s where Travel Zoo’s local deals section comes in handy. They list the latest deals for hotels, restaurants, golf courses and other entertainment options in your local area.
We love camping in the mountains but it’s a challenge to ‘rough it’ when you’ve got two young kids to look after.
Last summer we rented a lakeside cabin in Moyie, B.C. (just west of Cranbrook). We found it through a website called VRBO.com.
VRBO is Vacation Rentals By Owner and you can find over 265,000 vacation rentals around the world.
The cabin was just off the lake and had 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and plenty of space in the living room and kitchen. It also had a large balcony with a BBQ and a great view of the lake and mountains.
It cost $150 per night, which is a far cry from spending $28 per night at the camp site. However, depending on the location and time of year, you can rent a cabin for under $1,000 a week.
Where you can really save money with VRBO is if you have a large family, or when you stay with another couple or family.
Years ago, before we had kids, we rented a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom cabin on Kootenay Lake just outside of Nelson, B.C. We stayed with two other couples and the cabin cost $1,000 for a week. When you break that down we spent less than $50 per couple, per night.
My experience with Priceline comes more from the industry side than the consumer side. With the Priceline ‘Name Your Own Price’ option, you pick the location and type of hotel you want to stay at and then set the price you’re willing to pay.
Priceline is different than Expedia or Travelocity because the name of the hotel you select isn’t revealed until you confirm and pay for your reservation.
That’s the reason hotels are able to offer much lower rates on Priceline than they can on their own websites or through other online booking sites.
Expedia and Travelocity require hotels to offer them the same rates that they advertise on their own hotel websites. They call this ‘rate parity’ and it ensures that you always get the lowest published rate when you book on Expedia or Travelocity.
The advantage of Priceline is that, because the hotel isn’t revealed until the time you book, hotels can offer rock bottom rates to fill up their inventory without getting any grief from the other online booking sites.
So if you don’t care where you’re staying, but you know that you want to be in a specific location (downtown, south side, etc.) and have certain amenities available, Priceline can save you a bundle.
A quick search of downtown Toronto hotels shows that the average room rate for a 4-star hotel is $217 per night. I entered a bid for $65 a night and got a match. It can be that easy.
One caveat is that Priceline doesn’t really allow for special requests (like a family room, for example) so you’d be on your own to negotiate that with the hotel once you book.
*Note: If anyone has experience using Priceline to book a flight please share in the comments section.
When I worked in the hotel industry I was able to stay at any of our sister properties across Canada for as little as $39 per night.
I no longer have that luxury, but with a little bit of research I can still save money on our family vacation using resources like Travel Zoo, VRBO and Priceline.
Related: Are Road Trips Cheaper Than Flying?
What’s your go to source for saving money on travel?