Flying with kids - 7 tips to save money at the airport & on board

Flying is a pretty expensive form of travel, even if you pick the cheapest flight to your destination. Also, from the moment you head to the airport with your kids to catch your flight, you will probably end up spending a lot of money on all sorts of things, from snacks to parking, you might not have planned on when you left home.

Here are some of my tips on how to save a bit during your trip.

1. Print coupons for airport parking
Driving your car to the airport and then leaving it at the airport parking lot can be a convenient way to get your family to and from your flight, especially when you're transporting a whole family. What I've found for Vancouver International Airport, is that it is really worth it to check online at the airport's or the parking facility's website for coupons and print them out before you leave: you can save a lot of money this way.

Another way to save money is of course to get someone else to drive you to and from the airport. If you're taking a bus to catch your flight, check online ahead of time for special offers and coupons for that as well.

2. Weigh your luggage
These days, airlines will likely charge you if your bags weigh too much. To avoid this, make sure you weigh your bags before you go to the airport, and if you have more than one piece of luggage, redistribute your stuff so that each bag comes in at or under the limit. If your kids are paying for tickets, they are allowed to check at least one piece of luggage, and that can be helpful. Check with your airline how many pieces of luggage you are allowed to bring per traveler, and how much they can weigh.

3. Bring your own snacks
Buying snacks and treats at the airport can add up if you spend some time there, especially if you're traveling with kids. (Prices are often higher at airports than elsewhere.) Bring your own snacks to save some money, and also bring a reusable water bottle for easy, cheap drinks as well. You won't be able to bring it through security when it's filled, so just empty it before going through. I always try to bring enough snacks to last both at the airport and on the plane.

If you're traveling with a picky eater (that's my situation), bringing your own snacks also ensures that your child will at least have something to eat!

4. Bring your own supplies
If you're traveling with kids, you might need diapers, wipes, formula, and child-versions of medications like decongestants and pain relievers on your trip (you can find a list of some products you might want to bring here). Try to bring enough for your trip so that you don't need to pick up these kinds of things at the airport. It will probably cost you more to buy it at the airport (and might cost more at your destination as well), and you might not be able to find the products you want either.

Bring any books and magazines you want to read on board with you as well. While it can be fun to shop for those things at the airport, as a parent traveling with your kids, you might not end up with much chance to shop at the airport. (Changing diapers, going to the bathroom with your kids, and entertaining your kids at the gate might take up all your time.)

Special note: if you're going on a beach-holiday, it is a good idea to bring some sunscreens with you from home. On our trip to the Canary Islands a couple of years ago, we realized that all sunscreens were a lot more expensive there than at home. I wish I'd known about that before we left!

5. Eat before going through security at the airport
Some airports, including Vancouver International Airport, enforce "street pricing" rules for vendors and restaurants, meaning they are supposed to charge the same as at their regular locations. However, often this does not apply inside security. So, depending on the facilities at the airport, you might be better off having a pre-flight meal before you go through security.

6. Bring your own headphones
I bring this up all the time, but it's because it's such an easy fix for something that can become pretty annoying otherwise. The headphones your airline gives out often do not feel a child comfortably: bring some child-sized ones to avoid problems. Also, the airline often charges for headphones: they might give the children headphones for free, but still charge the adults. Bringing your own can save you a bit of money and also guarantees you have headphones that fit better.

7. Check ahead of time what phone calls and data usage will cost you
This is mostly a concern if you're traveling abroad, but then it's a big concern. Most of us bring some kind of electronic, internet-connected gadgets when we travel these days - our cellphones for sure - but connecting to the internet might cost you. If you're traveling outside of your home-country you have the international data-usage rates to worry about. Before you travel outside of your own country, check with your provider about what it will cost you to make and receive calls, send text messages, and use the internet.

Also, while wi-fi is a good alternative if you want to surf the 'net, not all airports (or hotels) give you free wifi access. Some airports do have free wifi (Vancouver Airport for example), and some give you a set time of free wifi before you have to pay. Check what's available before you travel to avoid nasty bills when you get home.

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