How to improve holidays with children

Hey mum, let's find a deal for Easter

Hands up if you're stuck at home for the Easter holidays because you can't afford to take the family away. I reckon there's a fair proportion of us - which isn't really surprising, because the sound of the last school bell is music to the ears of most flight and tour operators. They take it as a signal to inflate their prices - sometimes they'll even double them - leaving most of us with no choice but to spend a week in front of the telly instead of getting out there and having fun.

It can be hard to find good deals at peak periods. I've just wasted hours on the internet searching for flights to Crete for the May half-term. Easy if you want to pay an arm and a leg - they cost up to £600 per person at the moment - but I still need my limbs. One airline I called politely told me that my "problem" was that I had "chosen" the half-term week - if I went a week earlier or later, she explained helpfully, I could go for nearly a quarter of the price. But I'm too old to get into trouble with the teachers - and I don't want to be fined. Even worse, I can't face the wrath of my kids, who don't want to miss school. (Yes, I know it's weird, but I'm sure it's just a phase.) So it's a trip to see my bank manager or no holiday at all.

Or is it? I'm pleased to report that there are still some good guys around, who are doing their best to make sure that parents aren't penalised by "choosing" to go away during the school holidays. Some of the most child-friendly operators are also parent-friendly: they keep their prices relatively stable even during peak season.

Take the Adventure Company (0845 4505316; adventurecompany.co.uk), for example, which goes out of its way to avoid applying high-season tariffs. I've just been looking at its Active Croatia holiday, where prices throughout the year never vary by more than £100. Bushbaby Travel (0870 850 9103; bushbabytravel.com), a specialist in family holidays in South Africa, promises it won't use school holidays as an excuse to mark up prices.

It does advise early booking, as holidays go quickly at popular times.

Of course, booking early is one of the best ways to keep your costs down. Irritating though it may be to have to plan your life months in advance, it can save you quite a bit. At the moment, many package operators, including Cosmos (0871 622 4317; cosmosholidays.co.uk) and Crystal Families (0870 402 0293; crystalfamilies. co.uk) is still offering free children's places during July and August. Alternatively, you can make savings by cutting out the tour operators altogether and making your own arrangements. For city breaks, book your accommodation with Citadines Apart'Hotels (citadines.com), for example, and you'll find that prices won't fluctuate according to school term times. The Apartment Service (020-8944 1444; apartmentservice.com), too, is another company worth checking out.

I think that's enough homework for this week. Trawling around for the best deals can take up a lot of energy. But look on the bright side: at least it's given you something to do over the Easter break.

Katy's top tip

Interesting things are happening in New York with a tourist board initiative to encourage us to explore without breaking the bank. New "open book" times (nycopenbook.com) mean that on selected dates, hotels, restaurants and cultural venues offer special packages with major discounts at peak times.

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