School holidays are the rush hour of family travel. The second kids are released, prices rocket and resorts cram up.
And once uniforms are on again, the madness cools off.
While September is a holiday sweet spot for those without school-age kids, however – offering great weather and lower prices – the rest of us have to wait for mid-term (October 29 to November 2) for the next window of opportunity.
Already, prices are rising – as I write, one Irish tour operator has a bog-standard, two-star package to Lanzarote from €545pp departing October 19. A week later, it jumps to €683pp. Anyone looking to ski over winter holidays will see a similar spike.
So, what to do?
1. Check the airlines
One option is to look at early airline sales – Aer Lingus has autumn city-break routes from €34.99 each way, for instance, while Ryanair’s one-way fares to the UK start from €9.99.
Prices obviously depend on dates and availability, so try to avoid Fridays and Sundays. Those who travel against the traffic (i.e. midweek) reap rewards.
More: No-frills Factor: 10 tips for getting the lowest possible airfares
2. Book shorter packages
That applies to packages too. Rather than booking a traditional, Saturday-to-Saturday sun break, think outside the box. What about taking the kids to a city for three days, or asking your travel agent about short packages using scheduled flights?
GoHop.ie, for one, has flights plus three nights at the four-star Camping Village Roma (about 3km from The Vatican) from €275pp, or four nights in Barcelona from €336pp, over mid-term. TUI (tuiholidays.ie) has a four-star, four-night self-catering break in Alicante from €689pp.
Elsewhere, ClickAndGo.com has a three-night break to Disneyland Paris, including flights and a 3-star hotel stay (but not park tickets), from €749pp for a family of three travelling October 31.
Read more: September is the best month for travel, and here are 11 top places to go…
3. Think different (destinations)
Just as rush hour has its busy routes, so winter sun holidays have their in-demand destinations – in particular the Canary Islands. Sunway (sunway.ie), however, has a week’s holidays in Kusadasi, Turkey, from just €399pp over the mid-term.
4. Smart staycations
Of course, you don’t have to go overseas. A smartly booked staycation can give everyone a breather at a fraction of the cost (and without those airline baggage woes).
Over mid-term, Wexford’s Ferrycarrig Hotel (above, ferrycarrighotel.ie) has a two-night family break including one dinner and its kids’ club from €260.
Hunter’s Yard, the new accommodation at Kilkenny’s Mount Juliet, has a two-night family break with one dinner and kids’ club from €395 (mountjuliet.ie).
In Mayo, meanwhile, the four-star Mulranny Park Hotel has three-night packages in its three-bed courtyard suites from €540 (mulrannysuites.ie) – the hotel is right on the Great Western Greenway, too.
In Tralee, The Rose hotel has one-night breaks from €150, including B&B, dinner, kids’ club and a family pass to the town’s Aquadome (therosehotel.com).
More: 12 most unusual places to stay in Ireland – from bubble domes to a self-catering pub
5. Blow the budget
Got a vault in Gringotts? A final option is to blow the budget entirely… Ashford Castle (ashfordcastle.com) runs a Harry Potter-themed ‘Wizard School’ over mid-term, with Halloween-friendly treasure hunts, dinners, a cookery school, arts and crafts and other activities from €2,130 for two nights.
Accio, bank loan!
NB: All prices subject to availability.