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Taking the Kids

Savings Accounts on the Road

June 11, 1995|EILEEN OGINTZ

No one ever said raising kids was cheap. But on vacation, they seem to cost even more--a lot more.

Those extra burgers, fancy drinks with maraschino cherries, new T-shirts and theme-park admissions show up later on a credit card bill and can wreck even the most carefully honed budget. Then there are the unexpected car repairs, emergency room visits and pay movies the kids watched in the hotel room the day it rained nonstop.

This year, a typical family of two adults and two children traveling by car will spend an average $221.80 per day for meals, lodging and auto costs, according to the American Automobile Assn. That's $6.50 more than last year and the biggest hike in four years. Those traveling by plane will spend considerably more. A tip from AAA: the cheapest vacations are in the Midwest, where lodgings average $70 per night. In the West, lodging costs more than $90 a night.

It can be downright depressing to see so much money get spent so quickly. But before deciding to pitch a tent in the back yard, here are some ideas to hold down costs on this summer's vacation.

Rule 1: Book as early as possible to get the best deal. Invest in a couple of long-distance calls to the spot where you want to stay to see if any special discounts are being offered. Never accept the first hotel rate suggested, said Nancy Dunnan, co-author of "Travel Smarts: Getting the Most for Your Travel Dollar" (Globe-Pequot $12.95). Ask hotel personnel if they can do any better. In many cases, they will. It's important to ask about discounts when booking, because information is not always provided until requested.

Rule 2: Everywhere you go, ask about special family plans, packages or deals. There are lots out there. Motor clubs offer discounts to members. So do some credit cards. Even cities have them. Boston, for one, has the Family-Friendly Pass that provides discount coupons to area attractions, as well as hotel packages designed for families. (For information, telephone 800-888-5515).

Days Inn, for example, is touting its Family Travel Club that provides members (who have paid $9.95 to join) with discounts on rooms, meals and attractions. (Call 800-505-4FTC for participating locations.)

Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington is offering rooms at $129 a night plus a coupon good for 25% off food purchased in the hotel. Other Loews hotels are offering enticements ranging from free tickets to a Colorado Rockies game and the San Diego Zoo, even a 10% discount on shopping at Bloomingdales in New York (call 800-23-LOEWS).

Delta Airlines is offering children under 12 who join the Fantastic Flyer Program a 20% discount coupon on fares for four family members (call 800-392-KIDS).

Children 12 and under eat free from the children's menu at participating Holiday Inns and pick up some free Pogs milk caps. (They're a collector's items among the grade-school set.)

Rent a car from Hertz while staying at the Holiday Inn and get free use of a child car seat for four days (call Hertz at 800-654-2210 or Holiday Inn at 800-HOLIDAY).

Hilton's Bounceback Weekend rates begin at $79 a night in some places and includes continental breakfast (call 800-HILTONS). Stay at one of the more than 80 Hiltons with Vacation Stations and get a free souvenir toy and access to a toy and game lending library.

No matter where you go, stay at a place with a pool, even if it's a few dollars more. It will save you a trip to the nearest water park.

Rule 3: Plan lots of picnics. Opt for breakfasts of cereal and milk in the room and lunches in parks. We traveled across the West last summer with a cooler in our trunk and ate food that was healthier as well as cheaper than we normally do on vacations. The best part was that those picnic stops offered the kids opportunities to chase butterflies, climb trees and even fish while my husband and I ate our sandwiches in peace. It was a lot more relaxing than keeping them amused in a restaurant for an hour.

Rule 4: Consider out-of-season locales for discount vacations. That Colorado ski resort or Caribbean hideaway that was out of reach last winter may be more affordable this year. The upscale Biras Creek in Virgin Gorda offers a second suite free for the kids all summer (call 800-223-1108) while the luxurious Bolongo Beach Resort on St. Thomas has kids stay and eat free deals, with summer rates starting at $210 a night for a one-bedroom villa (call 800-524-4746).

Rule 5: Use your vacation as a tool for teaching the children money management. Before heading out, talk to them about how much money there is to spend on the trip and on souvenirs. If they want to go on that extra snorkeling or horseback riding excursion, let them use their birthday money or allowance to do so. The same goes for extra souvenirs.

If they gripe about scrimping, explain that by saving on meals, they'll have enough money later for a pay movie or the video arcade. That should quell the complaining.

Taking the Kids appears weekly.

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