Fitting in a family vacation between your child's baseball season and cheer competitions can be a difficult thing to do. For Dana Piazza's two sons, missing wrestling practice or a baseball game for a family vacation meant sitting on the sidelines after returning. Instead of risking penalization, Piazza improvised during her son's next baseball tournament in Disney World. "We knew going with him was the only way we could have a family vacation," says Piazza. The New Jersey mom of three packed up her family and headed to Disney World for the spring break tournament.
Piazza is just one of many parents turning sports trips into family vacations. In fact, ESPN Magazine says that on average, more than 21 million kids in the United States between 6 and 17 play on an organized sports team each year. And according to Sports Travel Magazine, at least 90 percent of all trips taken in 2013 were related to a sporting event or some sort of sports activity.
Rather than travel multiple times a year for both a child's sports tournament and a family vacation, save money by vacationing once with your athlete. Here are six tips for saving on travel expenses while making the trip into a memorable experience:
Tip #1: Ask for Early-Bird or Last-Minute Incentives
Booking just two weeks in advance can help you save money, and on the contrary, we've found hotel deals in which booking up to just four days in advance can save a nice percentage. For example, Kimpton Hotels and Resorts, located in more than 25 cities and destinations across the country, offer last-minute booking specials for guests looking to stay at one of their hotels within seven days of booking.
As soon as you know the dates of the tournament, plan your getaway, but be prepared: teams can enter tournaments anywhere from one year to two weeks before it begins (and if it's the latter, those last-minute hotel deals will come in handy).
Hotel chains that offer advance-purchase discounts include Marriott, Hilton and Choice Hotels. For example, if you book 21 days in advance at one of the participating 3,900 Marriott Hotels and Resorts across the country, you'll receive up to 20 percent off the best available rate. Hilton hotels also offer 20 percent off nightly rates when accommodations are booked at least seven days prior to arrival. And Choice Hotels, which include Comfort Inn & Suites, offer up to 20 percent off stays when booked and paid in full up to 30 days in advance.
Tip #2: Don't Wait to Buy Airfare
Purchase airfare as soon as you know the details of the trip. "Plan the trip very in advance if you can," says Piazza. "One of our trips was planned late and we were unable to avoid expensive airfare."
Buy tickets midweek, when airfare prices are typically cheapest. The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays, and booking flights as a group can mean a discounted rate, as well, depending on the airline. For example, JetBlue offers sports teams a customized group fare quote when flying with 10 or more people. Booking your flight with the rest of the team and traveling together will help increase camaraderie, too!
For more tips on buying airfare, see 10 Ways to Find Cheap Flights for Families.
Tip #3: Book and Stay at the Same Hotel as the Team
Teams traveling to a tournament will often want to stay in the same hotel. One easy way to save is to book as a group. Most hotels offer discounts for groups booking 10 or more rooms, and can block off a section of a floor or building so the group is close together.
According to Erin Ciccone, group sales coordinator for the Grande Shores Ocean Resort in Myrtle Beach, groups booking together can save about 10 percent off nightly rates. "Book 10 or more rooms and the team and their families can get a discount," says Ciccone. "And for families looking to make their stay into a true vacation, we offer the discounted rate up to three days before and after the tournament." Just be sure to ask how many rooms are needed for the group discount and ask if there is enough room for everyone to be in neighboring rooms.
And by staying at the same hotel as your team, you'll likely want to carpool to the stadium or sports complex, adding even more savings to your trip.
Tip #4: Consider a Sponsor Hotel
Hotels hosting tournaments on their property often offer packages for families who stay there.
According to Jessica Lacey, Account Manager with Evolution Hospitality, which represents eight hotels in the San Diego area, families and teams benefit the most from booking with official hotel sponsors of the event. "These hotels contribute to the tournament or event and often offer their lowest rates with special packages at no additional charge," says Lacey. "Hotels may include breakfast and might waive their daily parking fee."
For example, the DoubleTree by Hilton Golf Resort San Diego sponsors different tournaments in the San Diego area and offers affordable accommodations for families. What's the discount? During the National Tackle Tournament each year, families traveling with their football players can pay just $145 per night and will receive a full American breakfast for up to four guests per room, per day. Teams and families can also get discounted dinner packages, and there is complimentary parking for team members and parents, saving everyone another $10 per day.
Tip #5: Pay Attention to Hotel Amenities and Perks
Buying food in a stadium or park during a tournament can get pricey. Instead, book a hotel with a kitchenette or mini-fridge and microwave and pack your meals. You can save up to $50 a day by not buying food at the concession stands -- just make sure the park or stadium allows outside food and beverages.
Tournaments and competitions can be time consuming, but there will always be some free time for fun. If you can, stay at a hotel that has family-friendly activities onsite and in the surrounding area. Ciccone says lots of families choose to stay at the Grand Shores Ocean Resort because it is located on the beach. "We see a lot of families who are visiting for dance or cheer competitions in March," she says. "By staying here, they can go the beach, enjoy our two lazy rivers, the two pools or the four hot tubs."
Be sure to consider weather in your preparations, however. While destinations like Disney World and San Diego offer consistently warm temperatures, Virginia Beach or Hershey, Pa. weather is unpredictable during the spring months. If headed for a colder area of the country, stay somewhere with indoor activities, such as a heated pool or game room, or choose to stay at a hotel near indoor attractions, such as museums or water parks.
Some resorts offer transportation to local theme parks and attractions, too. When making your reservation, ask the resort if there is a complimentary shuttle available. The Disney World Value Resorts have complimentary shuttle service from the airport to the resort and back, and a service to the theme parks and back, which make it easy for a family (or a team of 20!) to go to the theme parks on a day off.
For example, Disney's All-Star Sports Resort offers different sport themed areas -- baseball, basketball, football, surfing and tennis -- and is close to the theme parks. This resort also has a dining plan, which makes it even easier to save money when with a big group who's on a schedule. After your athlete plays a game at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, which hosts a variety of tournaments every year, get cleaned up at the resort and hop on the shuttle to Magic Kingdom, Epcot or another Disney park for some family fun. Bonus: Disney World Value Resorts offer Extra Magic Hours, which allow families and groups early entry and late stay theme park privileges, so you won't miss out on the fun if a tournament runs late.
Tip #6: Buy Tickets for Local Attractions Through the Hotel
Save on admission to local attractions by buying tickets through the hotel's front desk. If they don't offer a discount, there might be other benefits for guests to enjoy.
Other hotels located in popular tournament destinations that offer special attraction benefits for guests include the Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando, the Comfort Inn & Suites Virginia Beach and Staybridge Suites La Cantera.
The Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort offers a special "Skip the Regular Lines" benefit when guests purchase regular admission tickets to the theme parks through the hotel. The offer allows guests unlimited front-of-the-line ride access at Universal Studios Orlando and Universal's Islands of Adventure -- that's a savings of $89 per person, per day!
The Comfort Inn & Suites Oceanfront in Virginia Beach always offers families discounted admission to the Virginia Aquarium and the Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium when you purchase tickets through the hotel. What's the discount? Tickets for the combination ticket to the aquarium and IMAX show are about $22 for adults (a $6 savings) and about $16 for kids (a $5 savings).
If planning a day to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio on your athlete's day off, stay at the Staybridge Suites San Antonio NW near Six Flags Fiesta Texas. By purchasing tickets through the hotel's front desk, you can save up to $10 per ticket, with rates starting from $55 per ticket rather than $65 per ticket for guests 48-inches or taller.
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