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Rob Griffin

How to cut the cost of a family break during the school holidays


Home or abroad, holiday price hikes are common during school holidays. We look at ways to pay less.

Family walking on beach

It's that time of year when us parents are forced to choose between paying hugely inflated prices to go away during the school holidays or running the risk of fines or prosecution for heading off during term-time.

We’ve become used to shelling out a small fortune for flights and hotels to take our little darlings abroad when there’s a spike in demand. 

But the bad news is that it’s now just as financially punishing if you stay in the UK.

Holiday price hikes

Even a quick comparison of costs illustrates the problem with some prices rocketing 200% in the school holidays.

Little wonder, therefore, that so many people consider pulling their offspring out of school a few days early.

Among the most shocking hikes I found came from Centre Parcs.

The price of hiring a three bedroom woodland lodge in Woburn Forest, Bedfordshire, shot up from £429 for four days in the week before the February half-term to a staggering £1,299 after schools break up.

Family by pool

It’s a similar story for those wanting to book the same resort during the Easter holidays. However, Centre Parcs is certainly not alone. 

The price to hire Blencathra, a luxury lodge that sleeps four at the Thanet Well Lodge Retreat up in the Lake District, for four days the week before the February half-term, was £170 on the Hoseasons website.

A week later the same accommodation would cost £381 – a rise of 124%.

Fines for term-time holidays

In recent years the rules regarding absences have become far tighter with the government having put pressure on schools to take a tougher stance over requests for term-time holidays.

Currently, the regulations stipulate that you must get permission from the head teacher if you want to take your child out of school and there must also be an exceptional reason for making the request.

As an added kicker, you can be given a fine of £60 for taking your child away from school without permission.

This rises to £120 if you don’t pay within 21 days and you may be prosecuted if you don’t pay after 28 days.

‘Social and emotional benefits’

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils across the country, is calling for a reasonable, common sense approach to term-time holidays.

It believes head teachers should be allowed to give reasonable consideration to term-time leave requests.

Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Giving families time to be on holiday together can have social and emotional benefits which are of lasting value and support to children.

“It should not be something for which they are unduly punished.”

Family walking in countryside

Five ways to pay less

So, if you’re left wondering what to do, the good news is you can still cut the cost of your holiday – even if you obey the rules.

Here are five ways to take the kids away for less this year.

  • Book a trip towards the end of summer. 

Prices tend to be a bit cheaper at the very end of the summer holiday period.

So, if you’ve got some flexibility, see what’s available – especially if your school has an inset day at the beginning of term.

  • Consider a home swap. 

You could also consider swapping your home with a family from a different part of the country.

It’s flexible, cost-effective and you can get the inside track on where to eat and what to see.

Check out the likes of Homelink, Home Exchange and LoveHomeSwap.

  • Research free activities. 

Doing your research to find out what free local activities are available in the areas you’re holidaying also makes sense.

You can find discounts for everything from hotel bookings to days out on money saving websites such as Vouchercloud.

Check out our guide for some cheap and fun activities to help you make it through the holiday period.

  • Book a long time in advance. 

According to Justin Modray, founder of Candid Financial Advice, nothing beats doing your homework.

“Booking a long way in advance or at the last minute is usually the best way to bag a decent deal and save yourself some money,” he says.

  • Be adventurous with your next holiday destination. 

Finally, you may actually find better value for money by heading abroad instead, particularly if you’re willing to be a bit adventurous. 

According to travel money company No. 1 Currency, the likes of Argentina, Brazil and South Africa have become top-value holiday destinations for Brits in 2016

Granted, flights may be costly. However, the strong performance of the pound against some of these lesser-known currencies means your holiday spending money may go just that bit further once you’re away.


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