How to have a cheap family holiday during the school break

Travelling Well | Sarah Marinos | Posted on 18 September 2019

How to take a family break during the school holidays without spending a small fortune.

It’s an all too familiar headache faced by families across the country. No sooner do school holidays approach than it seems airfares and accommodation prices soar. A survey by TravelOnline earlier this year found flight and accommodation prices can jump by as much as 60 per cent during school holiday periods, which punches a hefty hole in a holiday budget.

But for families who don’t want to disrupt their children’s schooling, the school holidays are the only opportunity to travel. So how can you minimise price hikes during this popular travel period?

Kids playing on sandy beach at dusk

School holiday guide: How to have a budget-friendly family break

Decide on your destination early if you’re going overseas

“Last-minute deals for overseas don’t present themselves as much as last-minute deals within Australia. People think they’ll leave it to the last minute so they can get a good overseas deal – but that won’t usually happen,” says Jayson Westbury, chief executive of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents. If you’re going overseas, booking as early as possible will save you last-minute price rises as accommodation and airfares become more in demand.

Be flexible 

If you want to snare a last-minute break, be prepared to travel without much notice – and you’ll be more likely to travel within Australia, says Jayson. So if you and the kids don’t mind whether you dive the Great Barrier Roof or camp in the shadow of Uluru, then your travel agent or online travel sites may offer you a reasonably priced, eleventh-hour escape.

Book self-contained accommodation 

The accommodation cost won’t necessarily be cheaper, but you can save money by having your own kitchen. “You won’t have to go out to dinner every night and you can cook breakfast,” says Jayson. “Breakfast is often a budget challenge for families on holiday – you can pay up to $45 per head in a hotel. But in an apartment, you can make toast and cereal and save money.” 

Book your flights early

“Once a plane is filled to a certain percentage – say around 70 per cent of seats are sold – that becomes a cost-effective flight. Every seat filled beyond that is cream so remaining seat prices will be high,” explains Jayson. So, book flights ahead of time.  

Look beyond the popular

If you want to go to Palm Cove during holiday season, expect to pay top dollar. But there are other destinations in Queensland just a little further afield – such as Trinity Beach – that don’t attract as high a premium. Similarly, spending a week in a house overlooking the Great Ocean Road will cost you, but you can rent a holiday house a 10-minute drive from the beach for much less. Look for towns a little off the beaten track to find a bargain.

Pre-buy attractions

This has dual benefits – it will save you money and you’ll skip the queues. “If you are buying tickets for Disneyland or to enter the Colosseum in Rome, when you buy from Australia you transact in Australian dollars, so you know how much you are spending,” says Jayson. Look for special offers like two-for-one entries or discounted early-bird tickets

See what you can do for free

Visit destination websites to get ideas on free activities and attractions. Tourism Canada, Discover USA, the Singapore Tourism office, Destination NSW and Tourism Victoria list things to do that are no cost or low cost. Local council websites are another good resource.

Download the Australia Free app

Don’t have time to spend hours Googling free things to do? There’s an app for that (of course). The Australia Free app is the ultimate budget-friendly resource, listing hundreds of free-access swimming spots, parks, gardens, walks and waterfalls, free-to-enter museums and some 1500 of the best free roadside rest areas and camping spots. It’s available from the iTunes Store or Google Play for $5.99.

Look for kids eat free or stay free deals

Some resorts or hotels ease the costs for families by letting kids eat for free or stay for free when sharing a room with parents. Some places also run free kids’ activities and kids’ clubs to give parents a break.


Travelling around Victoria or interstate? Members save on accommodation with 25 per cent off at RACV resorts, as well as reduced rates at Mantra, Marriott and ArtSeries hotels. They can also access exclusive discounts on a range of events, attractions and activities.

Plus: 11 of the best RACV spring discounts and travel deals