This is the latest of the series “Dear Deal Mommy” where, you guessed it, I answer readers’ questions. If you have a travel related question, please send it to me at email@example.com or via twitter @thedealmommy.
I got a great question via twitter this week from Steve: @thdealmommy: I want to take my family to Europe for 1st time. Would you ever recommend a Groupon for someone with no miles? Is $5,000 doable?
I’m going to try my best and lay out the trip I would plan if it were my family. I’m not expecting Steve’s family to take all, or maybe not any, of my advice verbatim. What I am hoping to do is inspire some creative thinking skills that may make the trip more obtainable for his family. I also hope you get some inspiration for planning your own adventures!
The short answer about Groupon is: maybe, so I needed more info. We’re talking about a family of 4 with kids being 9 and 12. They’re not picky about hotels. Paris is a must, London and/or Rome are desired, Date is flex between Mid June and end of August, 10 day vacation. Departure city Washington DC.
He sent me a link to this deal: Groupon to London, Paris, Rome. It’s so bad I didn’t even bother to put an affiliate link in it. They want 12k for 4 people RT in summer, for gems like the Holiday Inn Express in Rome. No wonder people are afraid of traveling!
Of course, my first thought was “let’s get Steve some miles!”, but since I write as “The Deal Mommy” and not as a miles/points blogger, let’s see what we can do with just some old fashioned sleuthing in this post. Even without miles, we’ve got to do better than 12k!
I’m going into this post blind, meaning I’m researching as I type. I do have some knowledge as I’m still pretty fresh from Camp Mom 2013 and have been planning my own 2014 European Vacation, but don’t know for a fact if I can pull off 5k without miles in summer. I’m also talking only airfare, intra-Europe transport, and lodging here. I’ll be sharing my thought process as I go along and post my “top tips” at the bottom of the post.
Thoughts on first time Europe with Kids
My first thought when I saw the Groupon and Steve’s wish list was “Griswold”. I totally get the rationale: travel is expensive, not only financially, but in time– a resource even more valuable! With kids 9 and 12, it’s your first trip to Europe and who knows when you’ll get back?
My response: Chuck it. (Actually, it’s something less polite, but you get the drift.) Travel is for the memories you make together as a family. You’ll make a heck of a lot better memories if your kids are not overtired, overmuseumed, and on their third bus tour in four days. I’d suggest at least 3 days of a more relaxed environment: beach, rural, town, castle, etc. as that’s where kids get to see “real” Europeans live their lives. My kids have learned more from the grocery stores than you can imagine!
In 10 days, I would suggest the following itinerary:
Day 1 Depart
Days 2-6 Paris
Day 7 Paris-Transit-Marseille
Days 8 -10 Marseille (or region)
Day 11 Home
Also, Steve mentioned that he had been following my blog for a while now, so with time he will have more tricks up his sleeve!
I learned booking my ticket to 2014 European Vacation think in segments, not round trips, and be flexible about gateways. Using ITA Matrix, I did a search within 250 miles of DC and Paris (our must see destination) for a one way ticket a month at a time between June and August 2014. Doing that I saw that Icelandair departing out of JFK was a possibility with lots of dates at $456 with a free stopover in Iceland. Steve also found a fare on XL Airlines for around $420. Budget airline Norwegian Air could also be a good option, as could “fifth freedom flights” on airlines transitioning to more exotic destinations but stopping over in Europe.
Fortunately Steve has family in New York so we don’t have to budget for a hotel and parking, but we do have to budget $100 for gas and tolls.
Here’s where a good aggregator comes in handy for booking. I like CheapOair and have used them before. Use Promo Code TRAVEL20 for $20 off 2 of more tickets.
Using June 22 as a Departure date to Paris the price on XL Airlines Nonstop is $1437.68.
Using July 2 as a Return Date from Marseille on XL Airlines Nonstop is $2152.88.
The price is the same return from Paris as from Marseille so you could do round trip from Paris. I would use this as an opportunity to take a train between cities and enjoy the culture!
On Rail Europe I found a Paris to Marseille family ticket for $295 first class. I think that will be cheaper, but summer tickets weren’t available yet so I was looking at last minute pricing.
So on transportation we’re at $3985.56.
Yikes. I’m down to $1014.44 for 9 nights lodging for a family of 4, with 5 of those nights in Paris! I told you I was going into this post not knowing if I could get it exactly right. Well, I’ll try my best and share with you my thoughts as I go along.
I know from recent experience that family rooms in Paris are a BEAR. If their stay was longer I would go with Endless Vacation Rentals as they’ve got some great deals in Paris. Since it’s 5 nights, my default is the Accor Hotels. They often have book early or free night promotions and have more family rooms than most, or at least rooms cheap enough that you can book 2.
I found a family sized suite with a pull out couch at the Suite Novotel Paris Porte de la Chapelle for $698.46 for 5 nights June 22-27. I’d grab that puppy and run!
Marseille (or environs)
I picked Marseille for a bunch of reasons, even though I’ve never been. It’s not where I would suggest they actually stay, but it where the train ends and where the airport is, so let’s call it the gateway. The options are wide open for relaxation: we could do a beach kinda thing, we could head up into Aix for Provence, but the bottom line is that we are providing a whole different taste from Paris for only a three hour train ride and no extra airports. My preference with the Deal Kids? Take a jaunt to Cannes, no doubt, for Boardwalk fun, French style!
For this kinda rental I’d use Booking.com as they have a wide variety of stuff that doesn’t show up anywhere else. Tons of options all over the area show up under $400 for June 28-July 2, including a one bedroom apartment “Cannes 2031” at $397 that I would grab.
How Did I Do?
Well, I’m $80 over budget, but ebates I can get $28 back from Accor, $8 from Booking.com, and $10 from CheapoAir so I’m pretty close!
I could have gone cheaper with the rental in Marseille, but I didn’t want Steve’s wife to reject the idea out of hand! I’m also fudging a bit in that they would have to get to Cannes, but I’m thinking the tickets to Marseille are overpriced now so that will come out in the wash.
Top Tip #1 Remember why you want to travel in the first place. What I mean is: are you really just trying to check off a “must see” list or do you want your kids to actually enjoy themselves? I’m not saying you have to indulge their every whim, but if you overschedule, you will pay for it in the end.
Top Tip #2: Stop Thinking in Circles. The standard round trip is unnecessary. Have some fun! Try an open jaw: arriving into one city, taking a train, leaving into another. Got a layover? See if you can make it a free stopover and add a destination to your trip. Icelandair is the king of the free stopovers!
Top tip #3: Think about promotions you can use NOW to cash in LATER. I immediately had Steve register for the Marriott Megabonus as I knew registration closed Nov 15. I ended up not using it this time, but didn’t want to miss the opportunity and if Steve picks different cities being registered may come in handy.
Please share your thoughts, and thanks for reading this edition of Dear Deal Mommy!