If you are looking for a family holiday without breaking the bank, now can be the best time of year to book.
Naturally, Martin Skelly, managing director of Navan Travel and president of the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA), promotes going to a travel agent rather than booking for yourself online and he believes he and his colleagues are the best option for value-conscious families, not least because of flexible payment options.
“If you book flights directly with the airlines, you have to pay the full price immediately. Your travel agent will make a booking with a small deposit and then open an account so you can pay off the rest in instalments.
“Agents will also be able to cater to different family sizes, rather than only selling packages based on two adults and two children.”
In recent years, the organisation has put a lot of time and effort into their website, www.itaa.ie, and Skelly recommends checking there for special offers.
He warned that with sun destinations like Tunisia and Egypt no longer options for most, more traditional locations such as the Canaries are at a premium and booking up fast. Flexibility is the key to getting good value.
“If you begin with an exact date and location in mind, you will pay more,” Skelly said. “If you can go in with flexible dates and are open to different destinations, your travel agent will be able to offer you better value.
“If you can, be open to travelling on midweek days rather than at weekends, as those flights can also lead to savings.”
He said value for money is an important concern, but these days it is about more than just price.
“Irish travellers are looking for the best accommodation possible, especially families,” he explained. “Where once a family might have gone for two- or three-star, they are now looking for higher quality.”
Skelly believes holiday campsites on the continent are an ideal option for families who want plenty to entertain children.
They are most plentiful in France, but there are a growing number in Spain and some in Italy.
“Holiday parks are a fantastic family option, especially for people with stressful jobs,” he said. “Once you get there you can relax, knowing there are great facilities and sporting activities right on the doorstep.
“Many who choose this type of holiday end up returning to them again and again.” Companies such as Eurocamp and Europarcs have also been organising these holidays for years.
Skelly’s final piece of advice: “Check all the family passports as soon as you book. Not just that they are in date; some destinations require them to be in date for at least six months after the date of travel”. Remember children’s passports need more frequent renewal than an adult’s.
If you want to organise your holiday online, check out skyscanner. net to compare flight prices, sign up to Aer Lingus and Ryanair online for details of upcoming sales and remember you can save enormously if you organise car rental at this time of the year.
And the biggie: book minimal cargo baggage and pack cleverly as you can dry kids’ clothes on a balcony in an hour or two.
There are also ways to save money if you prefer to stay in Ireland. Keeping younger folk entertained can be the most expensive part of your trip so plan your holiday around the wealth of free and low-cost activities available.
Fáilteireland.ie offer suggestions for activities. For instance, if you have a trip to the South-East in mind, why not head for the new Waterford Nature Park, a 50-acre oasis in the city that’s great for walking, playing and exploring wildlife.
Under 14s go free at Waterford Treasures, three museums in the Viking Triangle at the heart of the city, all telling the 1,100 year old story of Waterford from its foundation by Vikings.
If a trip to France is on your wish list for the summer, Brittany Ferries is currently offering Irish holidaymakers a discount on early bookings.
Book your holiday by February 9 and save 15% on both your accommodation and return sailings. The offer includes trips booked during the school holidays and the company promises a fortnight in France from as little as €199 per person. Accommodation on offer includes including chalet camping, apartments, cottages, and hotels.
A bonus for parents is the company promise that your holiday begins on board. Children’s play areas, live entertainment, and cinemas showing the latest films should keep the small folk occupied en route.
Departures from Cork are on Saturdays at 4pm, arriving in Roscoff at 7am on Sunday. Return sailings depart from Roscoff at 8.30/9.30pm on Friday and arrive in Cork at 09.30/10.30am on Saturday. Book via www.brittanyferries.ie or on 021-4277801.