Save $360 on Your Annual Summer Family Airline Tickets

Do price quotes for your annual family summer airline tickets have you scratching your head?

You’re not alone! Most of us have visions of last year’s prices dancing in our heads (which were at decade lows, to be specific) and are now seeing budget-busting shopping quotes, especially for nonstops.

Let’s not bore you with the details of full planes and pent up demand from last year’s “staycationers” and dive right into how you can tiptoe around the minefield of summer airfare increases (checkout our airline ticket pricing primer if you really want to dive deeper).

Every Little Bit Counts with a Family of Four

Economics are just not on your side this summer, so expect to pay a premium – the goal however is to minimize this premium or what I like to call in these situations getting “a better bad deal”.

There are two land mines in your path – sidestep them, and a family of four can save as much as $440 on a trip:

  • Checked Bag Fees
  • Peak Air Travel Surcharges

Airlines Nickeling and Diming Families Who Shop on Price

Let’s take the airline bag fees first, as that’s the simplest way to save.

And let’s say you are traveling as a family of four shopping for the cheapest tickets regardless of airline (yes you’re the one airlines are targeting for checked bag fees).

Bag fees typically run $25 for a first checked-bag – and remember, that’s $25 each way. So if everyone in the family checks a bag, you’ve just spent $200. Now that’s “plane” crazy – and as a man who enjoys vacationing with his family, I know what I’m talking about – and I know a ton of better ways to put that money to use at your destination.

Beat these bag fees by:

  • Packing Light – seems obvious, but most don’t consider it and when they finally do it – even just once – they are hooked (like me)
  • Achieving VIP Status – any family member with VIP airline status gets the entire families bag fees waived
  • Airline Branded Credit Cards – a few airlines waive bag fees if you use their airline branded Mastercard or Visa
  • Fly Southwest or JetBlue – they don’t charge 1st checked bag fees
  • Ship Bags Via Ground – if you’re staying for a month ship it ahead and avoid $100’s of dollars in overweight bag fees
  • All-You-Can-Eat Checked Bags – if you fly often with family, United for one (I expect others) allow you to buy all you can eat bags for a year
  • 24 Hour Check-In – at 23 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds, check-in for your flight to confirm seats and get in the first boarding group so you can find space for your really really big carryon

You’ll also get another added perk if you only carry on – no lost bags to interrupt your trip.

Avoid Expensive Peak Travel Surcharge Days

This is a little trickier but it can be done. What makes it tricky is that five legacy carriers have added peak domestic air travel surcharges of $10 to $30 (those are one-way prices) for departures every single day from June 10 through August 22, with the lone exception of the Fourth of July (these carriers are American, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways).

Tuesdays and Wednesdays have the cheapest surcharges ($10 one-way); travel on those days instead of Sundays ($30 one-way), and you can save $40 per person roundtrip which of course is a total savings of $160 for your family of four. Check out our handy surcharge departure day chart and choose the cheapest days, even if only for half your trip (departure or return).

Some other options include flying low cost airlines that typically don’t have these peak travel day surcharges or sneaking in a trip after August 22 when charges are dropped.

Literally Save Hundreds

Let’s review by pitting Family of Four #1 against Family of Four #2:

  • Family #1
    • Checks four bags: $50 each for a total of $200
    • Flies on Sundays: $60 each for a total of $240
    • Grand total (not including airfare): $440
  • Family #2
    • Checks 0 bags: total of $0
    • Flies on Tuesdays: $20 each for a total of $80
    • Grand total (not including airfare): $80

To recap: Family #2 beats Family #1 by $360. And if Family #2 had flown after August 22, they would have saved a total of $440. I’ll bet your family could find something to do with that kind of extra cash.


Published: May 25, 2010