Trying to book your spring break family vacation (or travels throughout the year) but feeling overwhelmed and nervous about your budget? You're not alone. Family of 5 here. Traveling can cost an arm and a leg but you're in luck cuz I work my butt off finding and reviewing the best family vacation spots, and am always looking for the best way to save money (and also featuring which things are worth splurging on!), so here are some of the hacks I use, wrapped up in one handy dandy "How to save money on your spring break family vacation" blog post!! Let's go!!!
Disclaimer: There are some affiliate links included below, noted with ** You don't pay more but I receive commission from qualified purchases or registration after clicking.
No Frills Budget Airlines
When I say no frills, I mean no frills. Which means if you pick the right day, you can get tickets for dirt cheap! You'll pay extra for everything other than a basic seat and small personal item (i.e. purse or small backpack). BYO food and drinks (or purchase in flight), don't expect in-seat TV or power outlet. If you need a carry on and a checked bag for every passenger, or need to guarantee family sits together, you're better off booking with a regular "full service" airline, because the price will be the same and they have more flights and partner airlines. The no frills airlines usually don't have partner airlines, so if you miss a flight or it gets cancelled, you can really run into trouble re-booking, especially if you have a large family. Having travel insurance here is key and worth the extra expense (we always use Allianz Travel Insurance), though it can't save the time and hassle of re-booking, it can save you having to pay out of pocket for same day flights with a different airline or couple nights hotel waiting for the original airline to find seats for you.
Some "no frills" budget airlines include Spirit, Breeze, Allegiant, Frontier (if you're single with a flexible schedule, look into their "Go Wild" annual pass - you pay $599 for unlimited domestic and international flights, or $149 for their monthly pass), and a newer international budget airline we just booked our upcoming spring break travels with is Play! I played around with the dates (this is key because you'll see one set of dates is 3x more than another set, so you really have to spend some time looking at all of the options), and I got us tickets from Stewart Airport in NY to Iceland for spring break in March for $280 round trip per person! CRAZY!!! It's $120 extra per 44lb checked bag round trip though, so we purchased ONE for our family of 5... packing will be interesting (or we may have to splurge for a 2nd bag at the last minute).
For 2022 spring break we got great priced tickets with Spirit to Cancun ($290 per person roundtrip from NYC), and in 2023 spring break we saved huge with Frontier flying to Phoenix. Had a really great experience with both of them - we were careful to pay for 1 checked bag (the five of us shared!) and made sure each of our "personal item" was a small backpack each well within their size limitation. You hear some horror stories on TikTok about getting charged a huge fee to check your "oversized" personal item at the gate, so you really REALLY have to be careful with that!!
When searching flights, not all travel websites include every no frills airline... Expedia** and Kayak do include Play, whereas Google Flights does not. So, check a few places and sometimes it ends up being on the airline's website where you can play around with dates to find the absolute best deal.
Miles & Points Hacking
If you're about to be applying for a mortgage or car lease, or if you are working hard to increase your credit score, you may not want to consider this... but for everyone else, I'll go on a (non-professional non-expert) limb and say that the benefits of "smartly" mile and/or point hacking with credit cards outweighs the risks of little short term credit score dings (consult a professional if concerned!!).
I generally go for the credit cards that are free for the first year, to get the huge sign on bonus - this year I got 60k miles and 2 lounge passes from United's Chase card** and 100k points with Hilton's AmEx card**. Then before they renew and charge me, I cancel and sign up for another program/card. You really have to set reminders so you don't miss the chance to cancel before you get charged, and there are limits to how many times you can sign up to a certain type of card in a specific time frame, so be careful and read all the fine print! People who travel a LOT may find that some of the platinum card benefits with huge annual fees (we're talking $695) more than pay for themselves with all of the "free" benefits they offer. It's not worth it for me or my family, but I have a lot of travel creator friends who find theme extremely worthwhile.
While we're talking about earning points, make sure however you're shopping, you're getting cash back or earning points or miles with your purchases through a great credit card AND cash back through Rakuten** (yes, double dipping FTW) - I have Rakuten installed as a Google extension and it activates every time I'm on a site they're partnered with. We're talking 10% cash back shopping on Hotels.com**, 8% back booking tours with Viator, up to 3% back on Walmart.com**, heck, I even got 2% cash back buying our new fridge on Lowes.com last month!! One of my credit cards gives me 3% cash back for groceries, and Rakuten gives me 1% back when I shop Aldi on Instacart - boom - 4% cash back!!
I love a good five star hotel or all-inclusive resort, absolutely LOVE them, but they're not always the best choice when it comes to finances and convenience. A rental home may be a better choice when vacationing as a larger family, with multiple families, or as a multigenerational travel group - plenty of separate rooms and bathrooms, a kitchen, you name it! VRBO** and AirBNB are the most popular sites for finding vacation homes, they have great features too in case you're looking for a more unique stay, like a tiny home, treehouse, house boat, ski-in, yurt, you name it!
If you feel comfortable having others stay in your home, you could even consider house swapping casually or through an agency like Home Exchange where it doesn't have to be a simple 2 house swap (that can be hard to coordinate regarding time and destination), instead you earn points when you rent your home and use those points to rent another home, can be at the same time or another time.
If you're up for roughing it, camping is always a very budget-friendly option, especially after the initial investment of tent and gear (or RV). We had a fabulous spring break staying in a cabin at Verde Ranch RV Resort last year (read about it and watch our video here)! KOA (Kampgrounds of America) is our favorite nationwide family-friendly chain of campgrounds, most have a pool, bounce pad, and even have cabins if you prefer being in a proper structure (with kitchen, tv, and mattresses!). Read about our experience at KOA Newburgh, just north of New York City, here!
When I say drive, I mean two things...
One is that driving to your destination, instead of flying or cruising, can really help you save a TON of money, especially for bigger families!! Bus and train are also options to consider. Back when we were a family of 3 living in Brooklyn without a car, we took the bus and train to a ton of places, as far as Montauk, Canada, and North Carolina! Now as a family of 5 with a car, driving is MUCH cheaper.
By driving, I also mean: consider further away airports and cruise terminals. This week I was researching cruises out of New Jersey and New York and I found one out of Boston that would save our family about $2k as opposed to the same cruise out of NJ!! Yes, it ads a 4 hour drive for us but TOTALLY worth the savings!!
When flying out of the NYC area, we generally look at Newark, La Guardia, and JFK. But did you know, there are a few other airports in the area we don't generally consider, but you can find some super cheap flights! For example:
Travel Writing, Content Creation & UGC:
My final "hack" is something anyone can do but not on a whim, per se. It's takes a lot of work to score free or even paid travel as a freelance travel writer, travel creator, or UGC (user generated content) creator. Outsiders sometimes belittle us "influencers" like we're just running around trying to get free stuff. But it's not like that at all. The value we offer (and hours we put in) is more than equal to the value of goods or services we receive (whether that's a comped week at an all-inclusive resort or a 2-hour glassbottom boat tour). It's always a very fair exchange of goods and service, or service and service. We spend hours filming, shooting, editing, and/or writing - spending much of our "vacation" behind the screen in order to deliver high quality content and "earn" our "freebies".
As travel creators, we provide a personal point of view, helping potential travelers feel better about booking their trip, giving our communities and followers inspiration about activities, hotels, you name it! We also help the destination have a more varied and relatable marketing approach. Having a photoshoot and running an ad in a magazine, filming and running a commercial on Netflix, and hosting an influencer or content creator for a few days at your hotel all have vastly different budgets and goals in mind, but they all have value and ROI (return on investment).
Whether you want to publish yourself or sell your content for someone else to publish, you have to spend a LOT of timing growing your skills, building a portfolio, building a following (if posting yourself), and be able to pitch yourself, your skills, and your content to people in the travel industry. When I'm planning a trip for my family, I sometimes end up pitching 20+ hotels, tourism boards, and activities.
I've worked with Discover Puerto Rico, Hilton, LEGOLAND Resort, Crystal Springs Resort, Woodloch Resort, just to name a few. Back in October, tagged along my husband's business trip to Hawaii and was on my own. I pitched and was able to get comped tickets to 3 luaus, and aquarium, and 2 boat tours! When we went to Arizona for Spring Break last year, we were provided 5 nights accommodation, comped a week long rental car, and several amazing activities!
But to get these amazing "free" activities, meals, or full on vacations, I spend HOURS and hours researching and pitching before the trip, spend a good portion of the trip behind the camera (and evenings editing and uploading daily coverage to Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube), and DAYS after the trip organizing everything in a blog post and 10+ minute youtube video. Furthermore, the days spent editing and publishing content after the trip are days I cannot be working earning actual money, which is its own cost to consider. This is a reason that selling your UGC for actual money in hand comes into play.
So... yeah... it's all WORK! But it's fun work, and work that can help my family (and yours, if interested) to travel for less, potentially get paid to travel, or even have some adventures that you might never have had the chance (or budget) to take otherwise.
Have any tips on saving money while traveling? Want to know more about how we save or anything mentioned in this blog post?? Leave a comment below!!!
I'm a NYC metro area mom blogger living in NJ with my Japanese husband & our 3 kids (twins plus 1), focusing on fun and honest product and travel reviews, saving moms time finding the best for their families! Find what you need in the menu bar or search section above!