Summer is coming. Maybe not yet in Ireland, but certainly so on the continent. However, with austerity tightening family budgets all around the country, a trip abroad has become a little trickier. Higher prices as a result of the departure of Thomas Cook are compounding the difficulties families face.
As a result, getting your spell of the sun during term time can be a cost-efficient option.
But what are the implications of taking children out of school and how much do you actually save by heading away during term time?
What sanctions might apply?
In the UK, where holidaying during school time appears to be more common practice, schools have responded by routinely applying fines on families who take their children out of school during term time, ranging from £60 per pupil per parent, rising to £120 if not paid within seven days.
So much so that one ski operator recently offered to pay these fines in a promotion captioned: “Are schools in the UK taking the piste?”
In Ireland, however, the legislation differs significantly.
According to the National Educational Welfare Board, schools are obliged only to report absences of 20 days or more to the Educational Welfare Service of the Child and Family Agency. Given that most family holidays would fall below this level, it’s not something that should be of concern on its own.
This is not to say, however, that individual schools condone the practice.
Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has previously suggested decreasing the 20-day limit, while the Child and Family Agency advises that taking a holiday during term time means children miss important school time – both educationally and for other school activities.
As such, it “strongly advises” parents against taking their children out of school for holidays during term time for this reason. And your children’s teachers are also likely to argue that it’s too disruptive to do so.
But if it’s something you’ve been considering, maybe it’s time to do the sums before taking any action.
When is it most expensive to travel?
According to Jacinta Doolan, director of Trident Holiday Homes, prices for holiday homes around Ireland begin to rise around June 21st, peaking on July 5th to the end of August.
“It is not as prevalent now, but the first two weeks in August used also be the ‘builders’ holidays’ and demand usually exceeded supply,” she adds.
For Irish holidaymakers, it's all about Irish school holidays says Marie Byrne of Abbey Travel, who estimates that holidays are about 20-30 per cent higher during the school holidays.
“It has nothing to do with the UK. Tour operators in the Irish market and airlines monitor what’s on home ground.”
So, taking your holidays in early July while UK students are still at school won’t offer much relief.
“When the demand is higher the price is higher,” says Byrne.
Indeed as Tanya Airey, managing director of Sunway Travel, notes, "savings can be massive" if you travel off-season, giving the example of a seven-night full package to a four-star hotel in Turkey – in May it would cost you just €399, but it jumps to €799 in August.
"If you take the family on holiday during term time, you will get the best value," Doolan agrees.
How much will I save?
But if there's no doubting that there are savings to be made by travelling during term time, how great might these be?
Well, a quick glance at the table will give you an idea of the extent of such savings. Travel to Trabolgan in east Cork during term time and you could get a week’s break for less than €500.
Wait until schools close, however, and you’ll have to pay 80 per cent more, according to its website.
You can also get a better deal on holiday homes.
Trident Holiday Homes, for example, offers two weeks for the price of one at selected locations between May 17th and June 21st.
It’s a same story with foreign package holidays. Sunway Holidays offers a week in Tunisia for €1,445 for a family of four in May – but this jumps by 31 per cent to €1,899 come July.
And, if you go during term time, you will also have a better chance of getting a free child place as part of a package. Byrne points to a holiday for a family of four to Salut in Spain departing from Dublin on May 27th.
Thanks to a free child place, the price comes in at €2,053. Fast forward to July however, and Byrne says you’ll pay more than €3,000 for the same holiday. It’s not just tour operators and hotels that hike prices.
If you’re booking your own holiday, you’ll still pay more during the peak season. Aer Lingus will charge 42 per cent more for a flight to Faro in the Algarve this summer for a family of four.
How can I keep costs down if I have to travel during school holidays?
Unsurprisingly, "book early" is the advice from travel agents, but while it might help their accounts look better, it may also help you save some money.
“Don’t book late if you have no option but to travel during school holidays or mid-term breaks. These holidays will always cost more the later you leave it so always book early and avail of the early booking offers,” says Airey.
One major advantage of booking early is that it may mean you’ll get a free child place.
According to Byrne, tour operators frequently bring out their brochures in August of the previous year – so if you’re booking for a holiday in summer 2015, you might see the first brochures in travel agents this summer.
But if you want to get a coveted free child place during school holidays, you have to book early.
“If you book in December or January you could still get a free child place. But after the month of January, you’ll probably lose your free child place in high season,” she advises.
“Planning ahead is absolutely key to a) getting the best value and b) ensuring you get the destination/property that you want for your holiday,” agrees Doolan.
Trident is offering an early bird offer of a reduction of €75 off the weekly rate from July 12th to August 29th, provided you book before March 31st. Repeat clients get a €35 loyalty discount on top of any other discount.
“Consider destinations that you normally would not go to. Experience some new destinations – often when destinations become popular they get expensive,” suggests Airey.
Another option is to ask your travel agent to “dynamically package” a holiday for you.
This involves the travel agent shopping around different airlines and bed banks and putting a bespoke deal together for you, which may end up cheaper, although airlines and hotels often hike their prices also.
And remember if you go for this option you’ll have to pay for the airline ticket up front, which could mean you’ll have to part with upwards of €600 straight away.
Booking with a tour operator, on the other hand may have a lower upfront cost, as you’ll need to pay an initial deposit of €100 per person.
And finally, shopping around is key. While some tour operators will hike up prices considerably, others won’t.
The Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone, for instance, is only 2 per cent more expensive during the summer months than in May.