Whether your family seeks sun or snow, winter brings fantastic travel opportunities — and deals, too. We’ve pulled together our favorite ways to save this season on everything from airfare to cruises to snow adventures.
How to save on airfare and hotels
1. Travel when kids are (supposed to be) in school. An easy rule of thumb is that airfare and lodging prices increase during school breaks and decrease when kids are in school. If you can get a hall pass, you can save big on airfare, lodging and attractions.
2. Try Hawaii in November. Plane tickets to Hawaii are at their cheapest in November, as low as $300 per person. Go well before Thanksgiving, though; prices shoot up again around the holiday and stay high through December. Alaska, United and Hawaiian Airlines typically run the best rates in the fall before holiday travel kicks in.
3. … And Europe in January. Stop thinking sun and start thinking croissants and culture. In fall and winter, you can save on travel to Europe, northern Asia and other nontropical climes. If you want to head south, try Baja, since most sun-seekers head farther south or to the Caribbean side of the country.
Deals on Cruses
4. Cruise in the low season. Off-season depends on the destination. Try the Caribbean from September to early January (excluding holidays); Hawaii from September to mid-December; the Mexican Riviera from October to November, early January and May; Europe in March or late November to December; and South America in April and October.
5. Get a freebie on MSC Cruises. This Mediterranean cruise line — well known in Europe — is offering a “kids 11 and under sail free” special as well as discounts for children ages 12–17 on many of its European and Caribbean cruises.
6. Take an Un-Cruise. If your family tends to choose eco-vacations over cruises, consider booking with Un-Cruise Adventures, a Seattle-based line that offers small-ship sailings focused on wildlife. Upcoming “Kids in Nature” sailings include a Baja cruise that promises sightings of whales, sea lions and more. Save 25 percent on kids’ fares March 7–21.
7. Grab some Disney magic. In January pop down to Florida to embark on the Disney Magic cruise (Jan. 11) or Disney Wonder cruise (Jan. 23); both offer savings with deals as low as $135-$150 per person per day. You will get the magic of a Disney theme park, along with Caribbean breezes.
8. Find deals on cruise sites. Three especially good websites for up-to-date information on cruise deals are CruiseCritic.com; Trekaroo.com, a large family-travel review site that devotes a week each year to cruise content; and AllThingsCruise.com, which covers large and small cruise questions at one handy portal.
How to save on theme parks
9. Go south for theme parks. Most theme parks in the south are open year round. Beyond obvious choices such as Disney World or Disneyland, consider Dollywood (Tennessee), Busch Gardens (Virginia and Florida) or Legoland (Florida and California locations.)
10. Pick packages. Look for package deals that include hotel and theme park tickets. This is always the easiest way to save a little money. Travel agents can also hook you up with decent package deals that save on airfare, hotels and tickets. Shop around and play with dates.
11. Ditch the souvenir stands. Avoid buying souvenirs onsite; instead, shop at local shops outside of the theme parks for T-shirts, stuffed animals and other memorabilia.
Great ski deals and hacks for families
12. Ski around the edges. Try night skiing and fringe-season skiing (spring and autumn) for the best lift-ticket prices and packages. Lift-ticket prices at Crystal Mountain, for example, steeply decrease in April.
13. Buy early. If you know you want a season pass to one of the local mountains, buy as far ahead as possible. Many mountains offer nice discounts for preseason sales and returning season-pass holders.
14. Look for newbie deals in January. January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard month. Check local mountain websites for incentives to get newbies on the slopes.
15. … and at Snoqualmie Pass. For ages 9 and up, the Summit at Snoqualmie offers an EZ-2-Learn program that includes two days of lift tickets, rentals and lessons for $99. Non-beginners can take advantage of the More-2-Learn package for $199 that includes two days of lift tickets, lessons and rentals.
16. Book a stay-and-ski package. Many resorts offer discount packages of lodging and lift tickets, including Whistler Blackcomb, where kids sometimes stay and ski free.
17. Save everywhere with Liftopia. If your family likes to ski at a variety of ski areas, consider buying passes at Liftopia. Its Mountain Collective Pass will get you 14 days on some of the best mountains in the country for less than you would pay if you bought day passes. It can also save you 50 percent on additional days.
18. Use your REI membership. This season REI members can save on day passes to local mountains, including Whitefish, White Pass, Crystal Mountain and Stevens Pass (availability varies by store). Ticket prices will be available online starting in November.
Travel apps for saving
19. SkyScanner.net. This addictive site offers handy tools from an option to search for deals from your home airport to a calendar that advises on the cheapest deals to fly to a specific destination.
20. HipMunk.com. A cool tool for searching an array of flight and hotel consolidator sites at once, as well as airlines that might not show up in consolidator sites. You can also sign up for price-drop alerts.
21. TheFlightDeal.com. Up for a spontaneous trip? Every day the Flight Deal newsletter sends a list of flights from key cities (Seattle and Portland among them) that have bargain airfare (5 cents a mile or less) to spots across the globe.
22. HotelTonight.com. Just like it sounds, HotelTonight.com has an easy-to-use app that helps you locate last-minute hotel rooms on the cheap.
24. TripIt app (free and pro versions). Automatically create itineraries by forwarding your travel confirmation emails to TripIt. The free version allows you to customize itineraries with maps and directions, travel notes, photos and more, or pay a bit more for added features.
25. WorldMate app (free). Built mainly for business travelers, WorldMate brings all of your travel documents and plans into one convenient app, builds itineraries and recommends hotels based on your past trips.
26. Microsoft OneNote (free). This addition to the Office 365 suite lets you import Excel spreadsheets, build itineraries, add photos and save tickets and flight info all in one virtual binder.