As you prepare for the winter holidays, there's one more thing to add to your list: Start deal hunting for February school vacation.
I know what you're thinking—February vacation planning already? Can't I deal with that later, preferably after the new year? You could wait, of course, but you might miss a great deal. Travel providers are already offering special promotions for popular February locales, and if you start planning now, you may be able to snag an excellent value for your family.
"The challenge in planning family vacations is whether you have specific dates that you need to travel on," says Emily Kaufman, who operates the website The Travel Mom. "If you're going for a specific reason, school or work break, a wedding or other celebration, plan as far out as you possibly can so you can lock in the best types of fares [and] deals."
Not sure if a vacation is within your budget for next year? A host of possibilities are available on the cheap, and you may be pleasantly surprised with what's affordable in early 2010.
"What I'm seeing as a trend is added-value package[s] over deeply discounted rates," says Kaufman. "Hotels, resorts, and cruise lines are giving you credit to be used on property or on board. You pay your room rate at a fairly normal rate, but you're getting credit back for things like spa treatments, dining, or golf, so we're getting a lot more added value that way."
Here's just a sampling of current offers.
Beaches in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Florida
In many parts of the country, February is the dregs of winter. As such, many families use the week's vacation to escape the cold, and head straight for the sunny beaches in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Florida. Even though it's peak season in the southern, warmer climes, this year the deals are plentiful.
All-inclusive Club Med is offering Holiday Season Escapes specifically for peak vacation weeks, including deals over Presidents' Week vacation. Prices start at $1,099 per person for seven nights at participating resorts in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Florida, and include lodging, on-site activities, dining, beverages, kids' amenities, and more. Additionally, Club Med's prices for February vacation are the cheapest of all holiday weeks (compared to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's), offering an even better value for your money. A seven-night minimum stay is required for stays in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, and a three-night minimum stay is required at the Sandpiper Resort in Florida.
You may also be able to snag a good deal by getting a group of friends together and booking a vacation rental. You'll have extra space and can cook your own meals, and the per-night cost will be greatly reduced when divided among you and your travel companions. VacationRentals.com posts ongoing and last-minute deals for those looking to snag an even greater bargain. At press time, properties in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Rico, Puerto Vallarta, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (among many other sunny locales) were on sale for fall and winter travel; check back to see what offerings may be available for your February vacation.
America's national parks are always a good option for a family vacation: Low admission rates, healthy outdoor activities, and spectacular scenery and wildlife combine to create a memorable week that's easy on the budget. Whether you choose a park close to home or one that's a bit more far-flung, you'll find plenty of options from state to state.
The always popular Grand Canyon National Park has a family-friendly promotion tailor-made for February vacationers. The Grand Canyon Railway is offering packages including two nights at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, Arizona; one night at the Maswik Lodge at Grand Canyon National Park; four coach-class round-trip tickets on the railway; two dinners and two breakfasts at the Railway Hotel; one motorcoach rim tour of the park; and the park entrance fee. The total price for a family of four (two adults, two children ages 2 to 15) was quoted at $832, including all taxes. Some of the lowest prices of the season can be requested between January and March, so you'll get a great bargain for your February vacation.
This may be the year to take the kids to the slopes. Ski.com has posted a variety of savings possibilities, including:
- Early Booking Deals: Book by November 15 and get a discount for upcoming vacations, including February travel to Colorado and Canada ski destinations.
- Fly Free, Free Night Deals: Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado has partnered with Ski.com to offer a free airline ticket for every two tickets purchased when travelers book airfare and four nights' accommodations. Participating properties are also offering free night deals and lift ticket packages with minimum-night stay requirements.
- Fifth Night, Fifth Day Free: Resorts in Aspen have teamed up to offer free-night deals, even for popular travel weeks in February. At press time, packages started around $830 and included five nights' lodging and five-day lift tickets.
Visit Ski.com to view the latest offers for your travel dates.
Disneyland and Walt Disney World
A Disney vacation may be one of the most unexpected values for a winter vacation in 2010. Three providers have put together deals for traveling families, all valid for travel through March. You have to plan ahead for these promos, however, as booking deadlines are before the end of 2009.
- Southwest Vacations has partnered with Disneyland to offer discounted vacation packages for three nights or longer. Packages include round-trip airfare to Los Angeles, three to six nights' hotel accommodations, hotel taxes, and multi-day Park Hopper passes (dependent on the vacation duration). Package prices start at $396 for a family of four for a three-night stay and go up to $516 for a six-night stay. Book by November 26 for travel through March 12. A five-day advance purchase is required.
- Alaska Airlines focuses on Walt Disney World, and is currently sponsoring a "3 Nights Free" offer for travel. Packages include round-trip airfare to Orlando, seven nights' lodging at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, seven-day "Magic Your Way" base ticket to the parks, airport transfers, and 1,500 Alaska Mileage Plan bonus miles. Prices start at $909 per person for travel from January 3 through March 27 (with departures from Portland, Oregon; other cities available at higher prices); book by December 20.
- Book your stay directly with Walt Disney World and get three nights' free when you book four nights at participating Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts. Resorts tend to be larger than standard hotel accommodations and feature amenities such as kitchenettes, microwaves, mini-refrigerators, coffee makers, and more. Packages also include tickets for one theme park per day. Prices were quoted at $81 per person per day (or approximately $2,256 for a week for a family of four) for travel in November; you can expect slightly higher rates for peak February vacation times. Travel is valid through November 18, December 11 through 24, and January 3 through March 27. Book by December 20, and request rate code UJX when making a reservation.
San Diego may be the ideal destination for family travelers: It's easy to get to, with service from four low-cost carriers (AirTran, JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin America); it has lots of kid-friendly activities such as beaches, the famous zoo, Legoland, and whale watching; and it's home to a host of accommodations that suit any budget. For those coming from colder parts of the country, the sunny weather is also a welcome break.
Visit the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau website to start your trip-planning research. Here, you'll find a plethora of hotel deals, listings of family-friendly attractions and activities, and discounts for area retailers, restaurants, and more. You can also find airfare deals by searching the providers listed above.
Have you seen any good deals lately for February family vacations? Do you have any foolproof strategies for traveling during this popular time period? Share your expertise by submitting a comment below!