Three Ways To Save Money On Your Family Vacation

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.

RelatedInside Tip – How To Save Money On Hotel Rooms

Here are three ways to save money on your family vacation while still enjoying some of the comforts of home:

Travel Zoo

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.

Related: Instead of a Vacation, Plan a Staycation

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 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.

Related: 10 Great Canadian Outdoor Summer Adventures

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.

Related: Is It A Good Idea To Buy A Timeshare?

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.

Related: 6 Free Mobile Apps That Make Travel Easier

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.

Final Thoughts

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?

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  1. Barbara Mackay on April 29, 2013 at 5:45 am

    I booked flights through Priceline For a Nov 1-8 vacation to La Jolla California on the coast 10 minutes from San Diego;) very easy process, flew out of Buffalo, direct flight, fantastic flying times & about $300-$400 cheaper than Toronto (I live 25 minutes from the border in Canada)..although i did not know the carrier when booking, it said “major carrier” so I felt comfortable with it..ended up being Southwest which I love & it was easy..I always fly out of Buffalo & have for 20 years..I would definitely use Priceline again for discounted flights!

    • Echo on April 29, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      @Barbara – thanks for sharing your experience booking flights with Priceline. It’s good to know it works similar to the hotel bookings and you can save big money.

  2. Glen Craig on April 29, 2013 at 5:50 am

    We used VRBO last summer when we travelled to Portland, OR. We found a great townhouse in wonderful part of town that we we able to share with friends. It was like having a second home for the trip.

    • Echo on April 29, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      @Glen – We’ve found some really interesting cabins and B&B’s on VRBO. We’re planning another trip to interior BC this summer and looking at VRBO for something affordable by the water.

  3. Gary on April 29, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    I have had absolutely no luck in booking reduced fare flights using Priceline. I’ve even bid up to $100 less than asking price and still denied. Not sure that this is a viable option for booking cheap flights.

    • Echo on April 29, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      @Gary – Interesting. Is it just one particular flight you’ve tried to book on Priceline or have you tried to book multiple destinations with no luck?

  4. Barbara Mackay on April 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    try for cheap flights
    You also won’t know carrier until you confirm but will be a major carrier & I prefer this website to any other…just got the cheapest direct flights to Florida last month for next week with great flying times;)

    • Echo on April 29, 2013 at 10:05 pm

      @Barbara – thanks for the tip about I’ll check it out!

  5. Joe on April 29, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Great overview of these three websites. I’ve been watching Travel Zoo since you mentioned it, but still find Priceline is reliably the best place to get a deal on any given night of the week. There’s some tactics that help when bidding on rooms, too.

    • Echo on April 29, 2013 at 10:10 pm

      @Joe – I agree that Priceline is the best way to save money if you don’t care about the exact location.

      I like TravelZoo and VRBO when I have a specific destination in mind.

  6. Bryan Jaskolka on April 29, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I love that you came up with practical tips, and not things just like “pack sandwiches for along the way instead of buying food.” Thanks so much for these sites. Unlike many of the other commenters, I had never actually heard of them before and today, when family time is so important but there’s also such a huge debt problem around the country, these are great and so timely. Thanks so much, I’ll definitely check them out!

    • Echo on April 29, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      @Bryan – thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you found the post useful.

  7. Bet Crooks on April 30, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    We spend a lot of time on TripAdvisor when going to a new location. (We’re getting good at seeing through the fake reviews.) Then we contact the hotels/accomodations we’re interested in directly to see what we can work out. For work reasons, we can’t easily commit to fixed dates more than a few days ahead of a trip, so bidding etc would not suit us as well.

  8. Shafi on May 4, 2013 at 9:24 am

    For vacation, we take to the road. Highway travel is also a part of our vacation. We stop at rest areas every 2 to 3 hours. We are never in a hurry.

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