We were lucky enough to get to spend 10 days of family travel together in France this past summer and had a blast. We managed to accomplish the entire trip on a limited budget both in the air and on the land.
Here is how we did it:
Tren (plus 1)
For this trip we did not travel to Europe together as my daughter and I were already in Europe due to my competing in slalom kayak races. We flew out much earlier than my wife and the boys. My flights were purchased after finding a mistake fare on a great website for finding mistake fares; “Secret Flying“. A fare popped up with round trip tickets from San Francisco (SFO) to Milan, Italy (MXP). Why fly from San Francisco when we live in Boise you say? It’s our favorite word in the family travel cheap mistake fare game called “positioning”. Positioning is basically finding a larger market to originate your overseas flights from. We searched from SFO – MXP instead of BOI – MXP because the reservation systems will not let you access the cheaper fares when you start from a smaller hub. I find often it’s cheaper to buy a regional ticket on a discount carrier to get to a positioning city for the long haul tickets. We used this with great success last year to get to Australia for less than $400 per ticket! Luckily for us I had a race a few hours north of Milan in a town called Ivrea which made Milan a very convenient place to start. The fare was $602 per person with taxes for a total of $1204 for both myself and my daughter to get to Europe. After this was booked we watched one way or round trip fare sales from BOI to SFO and found a one way special for $49 each that had seats for the return flight. We never could find a cheap enough flight to get to SFO so we were off to the car rental agency. A cheap Avis one way rental for $80 got us from BOI to SFO for our international flights. In Europe we traveled from MXP to Barcelona Spain (BCN ) for additional kayak races on Easy Jet which cost $175 round trip for both passengers.
My wife and the boys
For the rest of the family travel we used AA miles. Originally finding a round trip for our ideal dates did not work. The AA “Saver” award level sometimes can be hard to find and we needed to make sure we booked on the cheaper “Saver” award level so we did not overspend in miles. Finally we found a “Saver” level award for 2 one way tickets. We flew the family from Boise (BOI) to Toulouse France (TLS) which was close to our destination town of Pau. The outbound tickets were 30k miles per passenger plus about $60 in fees so a total of 90k miles and $180 in fees. To give you an idea of how you can come up with that number of miles you can currently sign up for a Barclays Aviator card and get 60k miles after your first transaction and pay the yearly fee of $95. If you got a his and hers cards you will have 120k miles just after the first purchase. There are also some Citi branded AA card that also have a signup bonus of 60k each (if you utilize the his and hers PLUS a business card you can easily get another 180k in miles).
For the return leg we could not find ANY “Saver” award space out of TLS so I opened the net a bit and discovered that there was plenty of room from Barcelona Spain (BCN) to BOI! We quickly booked Linzie, Merle and Isaac home for another 90k in AA miles and $180 in fees.
Our total flight costs were $1744 ($1204 SFO-MXP, $99 SFO-BOI, $80 BOI-SFO + $180 BOI-TLS, $180 BCN-BOI) and 180k in AA miles.
You probably noticed that my wife and the boys departed from a different airport then they arrived. We did this for a few reasons, one of which being that was the only place we could get an award ticket. The other reason is that rental cars are WAY cheaper in BCN as opposed to anywhere else we could find in France. The best rental options we could find for our family travel to France were over $500 for the 10 days, where a booking from BCN was around $150 for the 10 day rental. BCN is about a 4 hour drive from where we were staying in France and the drive was quite beautiful and enjoyable. In the past we have used the third party booking sites to try to get cheaper rental car rates, but we soon discovered when you book with a third party it eliminates any option to change or cancel your rental car reservation. Because our plans seem to change a lot we have stuck to booking directly with the agency. We always check the prices against the 3rd party booking sites (we like www.rentalcars.com) and mostly can find similar rates. We always check Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, and EuropCar. So by booking our rental car out of BCN instead of TLS we saved a few hundred dollars and got to enjoy an amazing drive through the Pyrenees Mountains!
This one can be the big money burner. Family travel with a group of 5 on the road, we always try to save money and learn about local culture by cooking our own food. In order to have access to a kitchen that mostly means finding an apartment on AirBnB. If you are unfamiliar with the peer to peer accommodations at first it can seem a bit daunting. The idea is that you rent either a room or an entire house directly from the owner of the property. That person meets you at the property to give you keys and show you how everything works. Most of the time in family travel this works out fantastically. We have stayed in AirBnB places for many, many trips and there has only been once where a place wasn’t as described (it didn’t have WiFi when it stated that it did. AirBNB paid for me to get a local hotspot and paid for the data use while I was there). This allows a family to get a lot more room and have a kitchen which allows cooking to save a TON of money on food. We also try to key into what is cheap at the local supermarket. We find what seems cheaper and plentiful at the local super gives you a bit of insight into how the local people eat. Doing so we often eat a bit out of our comfort zone (Kangaroo in Australia and Chicken Liver in Africa) and save money. In Pau we found a lovely 2 bedroom apartment close to downtown for under $70 per night. It had WIFI (our kids’ school is online), was super close to downtown, and the host was super helpful on local things to do. Our total for the 10 days with fees was $820.
Total Travel Expenses:
This trip was a bit more expensive as we bought 2 out of the 5 airline tickets, but they were a mistake fare which helped keep the travel cheaper.
Rental Car: $150
Total Travel Costs: $2714
Family travel price per person: $542.80
For 10 days of family travel in France in the end of the summer we were pretty happy with our total costs in this trip. Obviously we did not include fuel or food costs, but we find we have to pay for gas and food no matter where in the world we are.
Check out Part 2 which will include the trip report with reviews of the airport lounges and flights we took in both directions.
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