Alan Titchmarsh Show / Legal Topics

Half-term holiday hikes

EducationRecent news stories have reported that parents have been fined for taking their children out of school and away on holidays when prices are more affordable. But holiday price hikes during school holiday periods mean that sticking to the rules is more expensive than ever.

Since 1 September 2013, changes to the 1996 Education Act have made it more difficult to take children out of school during term time. The changes mean that leave to remove children from education could only be granted in “exceptional circumstances”. Previously, schools could grant up to 10 term-time days a year for children to go on family holidays.

Many parents aren’t aware of the legislation change which can not only be expensive, but incur criminal charges. Only last month, a couple who took their three children out of school for a week’s holiday were facing a jail sentence of up to three months after refusing to pay a fixed penalty fine.

The Department for Education has warned that, “Parents should never simply discount a possible penalty notice from the cost of a cheaper holiday, because this is a criminal offence and when doing so they are always risking prosecution.”

It is easy to see why parents are angry about the potential for fines and criminal sanctions when holiday prices can increase by as much as 200% during popular school holiday periods. One parent, Paul Cookson, took to Facebook to say he was “sick to death” of being “ripped off” by companies that put up holiday prices outside school term time. His post has since been shared by more than 143,000 people, and a Facebook group set up by him has just under 16,000 members. Clearly, not everyone is happy and a petition to stop holiday companies charging extra in school holidays gathered over 163,000 signatures and will be debated my MPs later this month at The House of Commons.

We should also mention the difficulties teachers and other education professionals have in booking holidays too. After spending the term with children,

Why the price hike?

Well, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) have simply put it down to “an issue of supply and demand.”  Helpfully, however, they have offered a potential solution in staggering holiday dates, rather than having most schools off at the same time, such as the system already used in Germany. Alternatively, if not helpfully, ABTA says “The only other way to deal with this is to put prices up all year round.”

How to avoid the half-term price hike

Sadly, very cheap last minute deals are extremely difficult to find because of the greater flexibility holiday companies can now offer with flights and hotel bookings.  Although it’s too late for next week’s half-term, you should always try and book early and then ask for more money off when you make your booking. You may be able to get free child places and will often pay a much lower deposit, giving you time to save up.

Choose your destination carefully. With the lower value of the pound you can make your holiday money go further by looking at non Euro countries. There’s also good value to be found at the moment in Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. For long haul destinations some cheaper options are Bali, the Gambia, Goa, Mexico and Thailand (but think about the other problems that come with taking children especially young children, on long haul flights.

Don’t assume that the internet is best for bargains. Visit your nearest travel agency. If you do go online, use comparison sites for flights, hotels, cruises and car hire.  Compare package prices against booking your own separate flights and hotel. It’s always worth seeing if you can create a cheaper ‘package’ yourself.

Consider flying from an airport slightly further away from your home and to book midweek dates during the main holiday periods, both of which may provide cheaper options.  Flexibility is key.

Don’t discount all-inclusive holidays, which can be good value and you have the benefit of knowing the total cost at the time of booking, even if it means more upfront cost.

If you do go away to find some winter sun, don’t forget the sunscreen and have a wonderful time.

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