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The Dark Side of Family Travel Deals

Flickr user 401K 2012, CC Licensed.

Let’s face it: All of us are looking for bargains when we travel with the kids. This is what makes family travel deals so appealing—these packages are designed to give you and the clan more for less. Often, however, deals instead deliver only the appearance of more for the appearance of less, locking us in to family trips with fine print that yields nothing but disappointment. Here’s an inside look at three of the most egregious conditions to avoid, and our advice for grappling with each.

Meal surcharges
Most package deals include a certain number of meals (usually breakfast and dinner) for a certain number of people (usually two grownups and up to two kids ages 12 and up) for the duration of your stay. If you’re traveling with additional family members (a third teen-ager, for instance, or grandparents) you’ll have to pay extra. Generally, per-person surcharges range from $10 at breakfast to up to $25 at dinner. Over the course of a five- or six-day trip, these fees can become exorbitant. Our tip: So long as you’re not booking through an aggregator, call the resort directly to add additional family members to the “covered” list.

Activities fees
Average package deals comprise lodging, food and something else: show tickets, free transportation, etc. Many, however, do NOT include resort or activities fees—additional charges that, depending on the resort, can be as much as $30 or $40 per family per day. These fees at some beach resorts are particularly ridiculous; it’s the same lump sum whether you rent a lone pair of goggles or you rent goggles and snorkeling gear and a kayak and a Stand-Up Paddleboard. Our tip: If you’ve got to pay a resort or activities fee, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Every single day.

Upgrade tariffs
The majority of family travel deals revolve around a specific type of room class—usually a standard room with two double beds. If you’re comfortable staying with your family in a room this size, you’re (either crazy or a saint, and also) golden. If you prefer (or necessitate) larger accommodations, you undoubtedly will have to pay extra. Sometimes this “extra” is a fixed upgrade tariff; other times it’s the actual difference in rack rate (which can be outrageously expensive). Often resorts even charge package customers extra for cribs. Our tip: See if they’ll give you a cot for free. Otherwise, suck it up and get the kids ready to share some beds.

Have you been skunked by a supposed family travel deal? Do you have other advice to share? If so, please provide your input in the comment field below.