Money-saving tips and tricks for family travel

The Fees of London

I’ve mentioned occasionally in the past that when using frequent flyer miles to travel abroad, you’re often better off avoiding London.  The reason for this?  Crazy-high carrier-imposed fees when using London’s airports (regardless of whether London is your destination or you’re just changing planes).  By crazy-high, I mean $200-300 is common, and $300+ happens a lot.

Pretty lame, especially because we LOVE London.  It’s a fantastic place to get started abroad.  The people speak your language (more or less), it’s easy to get around, there is an incredible amount to see, and TONS of the top museums are free for all, and many that aren’t free are at least free for kids.  We’ll be writing more about London in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.

But back to those nasty fees.  The thing that makes those fees particularly frustrating is that they apply whether you’re on a paid ticket or an award (frequent flyer) ticket.  So you might find a great round-trip itinerary using 40,000 American AAdvantage miles this winter (that’s American’s wintertime rate, which is quite a steal!), but then you get to the payment page and notice that it’s 40,000 miles PLUS another $196.  Pick a slightly different itinerary on AA’s website, this time using British Airways flights, and YIKES, you’ve just upped your fees to a ridiculous $697.  Not joking.

How can these fees be avoided?  The easiest way is by avoiding London.  I’ve never seen taxes and fees over $250 to other airports in the UK or Europe.  But let’s face it, that’s not really what we want to hear in many cases.  London beckons.

So here are a few tricks—

  • United tends to have slightly lower fees than the others, in my experience.  $200 is normal, but I’ve never seen it much over that.
  • If you fly through Ireland on Aer Lingus, which works well if you’re in Boston or New York, your fees will be very low to non-existent on award tickets (and you can use British Airways frequent flyer miles, called Avios, to do so).
  • Play around with one-way tickets.  Since many airlines allow one-way award tickets, you might be able to save a bit by getting two one-way tickets, either with the same airline or with different ones.  Just know that if you plan to have some award tickets and some paid tickets, mixed airlines can be disastrously expensive.
  • Lastly, while these London high fees may not go away (ever), there was recently some upbeat news on the topic, particularly for family flyers!  The taxes and fees I mentioned above are composed of several chunks, some of which are taxes, some of which are fees.  One of those buckets is the “U.K. Air Passenger Duty,” or APD, and for transatlantic flights from the UK, that duty is about $100 per person.  The good news is that the APD is being eliminated for kids under 12 beginning in May 2015!  And in 2016, that exemption extends to kids up to age 16.  WAHOO!  Good news for family travelers to London!  Read more about this change here and here.

So don’t skip London.  Just be informed and find ways to save, even when using frequent flyer miles to get there.

And mind the gap!

Christmas Abroad

Traveling at Christmastime can truly be an adventure.  Last year we took the family to Portugal, and you may recall the harrowing experience of getting there after some storms caused flight delays.  While it’s true that Christmastime is a busy time to be on airplanes, it can be a wonderful time of year to visit Europe (though perhaps not Scandinavia—save that for sunshiny summertime).

Portugal was not crowded at Christmas, the streets of Lisbon were adorned with lights and decorations, and we had the beach to ourselves! Read more

Tuesday Travel Trouble: Train-a-palooza

Last Christmas we packed up the family and headed to Portugal to visit Emily’s parents for a week.  It was a wonderful trip, in spite of the challenge getting there and the added stop on the way home.  As we geared up for our trip, our train-loving son, Peter, was particularly excited to hear that we could probably ride a train while in Portugal.  Yet with access to Grandma’s car for most of our trip, we found ourselves nearing the end of our stay, not having been on a real train.

Since Emily’s parents were only a few blocks from the train and trolley connecting Belém to central Lisbon, we decided that we would treat Peter (and the other boys) with a little train adventure—an activity we dubbed Train-a-palooza!  We’d catch the train from Belém, head into central Lisbon, transfer to the subway for a couple of stops, and then hop on the trolley back to Belém.  A perfect activity for our train lover, and pretty low risk as far as adventures go. Read more

Tuesday Travel Trouble: A night in Frankfurt

Sometimes frequent flyer miles are hard to use.

Sometimes it’s because you start planning your trip a bit too late.  Sometimes it’s just a busy route or a busy time of year.  Sometimes your frequent flyer miles are split across accounts and you need to take what you can get.  And sometimes it’s all of the above.

With these obstacles and plenty of others, you may find yourself in to less than optimal situations during your travels.  The good news?  It’s free travel—so let’s not forget that!

I suppose today’s Tuesday Travel Trouble column is a bit different than those we’ve featured in the past.  This week’s is something we knew we were getting into—right from the start. Read more