The topic comes up over and over on long distance parenting forums. Travel is expensive and every dollar counts when you could be spending thousands a year on travel. Whether you are splitting travel expenses with your co-parent or not, the cost of travel adds up quickly, with several visits a year. Here are some ways to save money on travel expenses for long distance parents.
Lower Cost Accommodations
1. Use Extended Stay Hotels or rent an apartment
Use extended stay hotels or rent an apartment or a house for long visits. Airbnb has become a long distance parenting staple. Extended stay hotels, apartments and airbnbs tend to be cheaper than hotels for long visits. They also have a homier atmosphere with more long term stay amenities.
Like a kitchenette, for example! That is not only nice to have but, by grocery shopping instead of eating out, you can cut costs even further. Not to mention the ability to do stuff like baking cookies together for movie night.
2. Stay with Family and Friends
Spend a few days with family and friends. Although perhaps not as private as your own space, it has the added benefit of letting your child build connections with your people. When your child spends all their time with your co-parent, that’s a rare treat.
Cost of Airline Flights
3. Plan Ahead
Plane tickets can represent a hefty portion of the cost of travel. Buying plane tickets at least 3 months in advance can cut a lot of the expense of flying. Too far in advance, and you’ll get a pretty standard rate across the board. But as the date gets closer, flight rates go down in order to attract passengers – and then as flights get full, the rates go up again.
4. Snag a Low Price Guarantee
Look for a program that gives you a price guarantee so that if the flight price drops, you are guaranteed the lower rate.
5. Take that voucher for a later flight
I’m not sure how many free flights I got by accepting airline vouchers to get off a flight but it was a bunch. Usually I’d fly in the day before I was to see my son so I had some wiggle room in my flight times. So when the airline invariably offered flight vouchers to boot people off an overcrowded flight, I’d jump for the voucher.
6. Of course – Frequent Flyer programs
Keep a frequent flyer account on every airline. I kept a record of my son’s account numbers and mine for every airline. Because we alternated buying flights, my co-parent had his own frequent flyer accounts for our son. If you book travel through a travel site that is not the airline, add your frequent flyer information to your account so you earn miles.
Very often you can retroactively add flights to a new frequent flyer account. So if you must buy tickets without one, go back and add them later.
7. Fly Into/Out of A Different Airport
This isn’t an option everywhere but often there is another major airport within a couple of hours drive of your destination. Although I didn’t relish a drive at the end of a long flight at the end of the day, it would sometimes cost me WAY less so it was worth it. Flying into or out of a different airport will sometimes cut your cost of travel quite a bit! If you already have to get a rental car, having a bit of a drive when you land won’t cost any extra.
8. Unaccompanied Minor
I know it can be a nail biter to have a child travel by themselves. However, although they are iffy with bags, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an airline losing a child. Some airlines will let kids travel alone at 5, some at 7. That cuts out the need for a companion ticket, if you have a younger child.
My son loved flying by himself. Even though he was completely supervised and crammed into a tin can on wings with hundreds of adults, he felt like he was being independent. He loved getting money for a movie and snacks and spending it himself.
9. Airline mile rewards card
Credit cards are a long term commitment. But if travel is in the cards for you for the next 18 years, consider a credit card that gives you miles instead of cash. You could be quietly stashing miles for your next trip with every ordinary purchase you make.
If a credit card isn’t your cup of tea, did you know that some loyalty card programs will also give you miles? For instance on my Vons card, every $200 I spend, I get a couple hundred airline miles. I had to opt into that but it’s worth taking a look at your store loyalty cards.
10. Cell Phone Charges – that Pesky Gotcha
Ever gotten that phone bill at the end of the month and wondered how it’s possible to use that much data on a cell phone? Yeah. Me neither. Make sure the hotel has wifi – or pre-purchase additional data. Buying it ahead of time is usually cheaper than paying overages. Anecdotally, it might be cheaper to pay for a higher rate hotel that has wifi than to pay for the unexpected data charges.
The other cell phone gotcha are roaming charges! Roaming charges happen when your cell phone connects to a tower from a different provider. This usually happens when your provider doesn’t have coverage in your area. Although carriers have better and better coverage, some carriers have better coverage than others in a given area.
There are two ways around this.
- When you sign up for a plan, check the coverage in your area and in the area your child lives in. Keep in mind what network speed your phone can support. 3G coverage does not mean there will be 4G coverage etc.
- When you choose your plan, consider a plan that excludes roaming charges. If you are an international long distance parent, that means picking an international plan or a plan that will charge you the same price whether you are using minutes in your home country or your child’s.
How do you keep the cost of travel down?
There are so many other ways to keep the costs of travel down! Clip coupons for dining out, buy your tickets through a third party like Costco or a travel site offering hot deals. Check out the smaller airlines for good deals. However you do it, keeping travel costs down is a staple in the long distance parenting skills arsenal. Tell us how you keep the cost of travel low in the comments!