Blog post

Half Term Heist ~ Will we ever be able to afford a holiday…in school holidays? 

February 9, 2017

Later this year I will celebrate my 40th birthday. I was thinking about what I’d really like to do to celebrate and decided a short break with my family would be the ultimate treat. As my birthday is in November we decided to look at going away in the October half term break. I began to browse websites of companies who offer the type of short break that would really suit us as a family, I was ready for the school holiday price hikes, but the reality of the vast difference in price has left me gobsmacked and asking….will we ever be able to afford to holiday…in the school holidays!!?

 Just to set the scene I’ll give you the dynamics of our family…I work as a part time teacher, my husband is self employed. Between us we have 4 children (2 are my step-children) who all live with us full time. Between myself being committed to term time employment, and our 3 older children in the midst of their school years we are well and truly restricted to holidaying out of term time. Even if I was to consider taking unpaid leave from my teaching role to take advantage of the cheaper prices we may well face the wrath of the hefty fines the Government introduced in 2013. Our local council, East Sussex states:

According to the Government Guidance the head teacher of the school is responsible for authorising any absence. You will need to complete an Absence Request Form available from your child’s school. The head teacher will then make a decision. If the head teacher does not authorise the absence and the child is taken away for 5 days or more the school with ask East Sussex County Council to issue a Penalty Notice of £120 per parent (or £60 per parent if paid within 21 days).

So regardless of our children’s previous attendance record, taking our 3 children out of school for a week my husband and I could potentially face an additional charge of £360 (double if we don’t pay promptly!). I find it unfair that it is assumed that we, as parents are not able to judge whether taking our children out of school is in their best interest or not. Thankfully one proactive parent, Jon Platt has contested paying his £120 taking his case to the Supreme Court, the outcome of which may well have implications for local councils across the country. But not yet..for now we, and many other parents are stuck in the dilemma of debating term time..or not term time? That is the question. 

So my search for a midweek break Monday – Friday, that’s four nights for 2 adults and 4 children in our October half term found the following ~

Centre Parcs Woburn Forest: Prices double.

Forest Holidays Blackwood Forest: Prices double.

Bluestone Pembrokshire: Prices more than double, half term costs 4 times more than 2 weeks earlier!!

So the evidence is there. High end UK based holidays in half term can cost double if not more than term time breaks. In 2014 a Facebook post by frustrated parent Paul Cookson went viral. He took a screenshot similar to those posted above venting his frustration (specifically at Center Parcs) for the price rising by £300 in the school holidays. Looking at the price hikes I’ve shown here the situation has got worse. But unlike Mr Cookson I don’t blame the holiday companies. They are businesses. They are responding to supply and demand. If they can sell the holidays at that price then there must be folk out there who can afford it…just because we can’t pay those prices doesn’t make it wrong. At the end of the day holidays are a luxury not a right. 

Simon Kay, Head of Public Relations for Center Parcs tells me,

Short breaks at Center Parcs are more popular than ever and we are almost full, all year round. As with many other businesses, not just within the travel sector, demand increases during certain times of the year and decreases at others. During periods of lower demand we actually reduce our prices significantly. We offer a unique family short break holiday experience in the UK and we re-invest tens of millions of pounds each year at our Villages, in order to maintain the high quality and standards for which we have become renowned for over the last 30 years.

Laura Moore who writes Mum on a Mission supports the concept of the price hikes responding to supply and demand. She tells me,

I completely agree with (the price hikes) and think holiday companies are well within their rights to double or triple the costs! Every other business does it with their products so why shouldn’t the travel industry? 

 I can sympathise with these points of view. I think when the prices pop up on the screen sandwiched between two cheaper weeks it’s painful to see. A real tease! However, the reasonable part of me tells me that companies such as Center Parcs, Forest Holidays and Bluestone offer high quality holidays. That’s why we all want to go there and not some damp caravan which might cost a fraction of the price. The reality is that my family and I probably can afford a holiday in the school break, but we are picky. We want luxury. We want our children to be entertained. We want to stay somewhere that’s nicer than home….not worse! Is it that we possibly expect too much? 

Realising we simply can’t justify spending that amount of money on a 4 night break I decide to investigate prices for the same dates and party size…but in Center Parcs Europe. We stayed in Center Parcs Port Zeeland in Holland a couple of years ago and I recalled the prices being much more reasonable. Essentially Center Parcs UK and Center Parcs Europe are two separate companies sharing the same company name and logo, but there are similarities. Both companies offer a range of activities for families, they have a large lagoon style pool area, the parks are village like and bike friendly…all the facilities that draw us towards Center Parcs UK are also on offer in Center Parcs Europe. So let’s look at the prices…

De Vossemeren Belgium: €560 (£476) – €744 (£632)

De Kempervennen Holland: €480 (£408) – €608 (£516)

Wow! What a difference! So now we are looking at a holiday in half term for a family of 6 for as little as £408! Obviously it’s likely to cost a little more to travel with a ferry crossing or EuroShuttle but we’d still be quids in. I can’t compare the experience of holidaying at both Center Parcs UK and Center Parcs Europe directly as I’ve only visited the latter of the two myself. I think the vast difference in price is due to the fact that our half term week isn’t a European public holiday. I also think that over all Center Parcs UK offers a more luxurious package, particularly in terms of accommodation. However I have only heard positive feedback regarding a stay at Center Parcs Europe. 

Abbie Wilkinson who writes Mama Wilkos says, 

We went to the Center Parcs De Kampervennen in Holland. It was fantastic! Very clean, loads to do, easy to walk around and I’m sure you get activities in the price too.

Natasha Dewdney who writes Mummy and Moose says, 

We love Center Parcs and are looking into 2018 holidays now. The only way we can afford it is to visit Center Parcs Europe. It’s less than half the price and hopefully the weather will be better too! 

So there you go. Perhaps we can achieve the affordable, half term holiday after all, we just need to hop over the Channel to find the bargains. I’d love to hear about any other alternatives to the expensive UK family packages that are out there. If you know of any please get in touch We haven’t decided what to do for half term yet but Center Parcs Europe looks like a viable option. Maybe we’ll see you there, now we know we can all afford it! 


  • Ian Mabbutt

    February 9, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Come and stay @WestWithyFarm. we would love to see you all again.

    Re Holland Center Parcs, when are school holidays in The Netherlands? You haven’t quite convinced me yet of your argument – which is essentially that holiday prices are hiked for school holidays in the UK. but are not hiked for school holidays in The Netherlands. Need more info!!.

  • admin

    February 9, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Hi Ian!

    I think it’s more than that….I think we expect a lot these days. We expect to be able to afford to holiday year round. We expect not just one holiday a year but several. When we were young we went camping…once a year and that was it. I think the average family expects more than that, and maybe sometimes we just need to hold our hands up and say…’we can’t afford it this time!’ Of course a business has a right to charge what they see fit for a product. The product must be worthy of that price or people simply wouldn’t pay.

    We’d love to come back to West Withy Farm….will certainly look into it 🙂

  • Juliet Evans

    March 8, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    A really informative post discussing the impossible situation facing most hard working parents. We are unable to afford a holiday too and last year traded our reliable Passat in for an old Mazda bongo van which we then had converted into a campervan, the hope is that we will be able to enjoy plenty of cheap camping holidays away in it but the reality is that the ferry crossings to get into France are astronomical over the school holiday period and actually a lot of campsites are not that cheap and then you have to factor in petrol and tolls.
    I think it’s pretty tough if both parents are working hard if they can’t afford a holiday once a year, and I was fortunate enough to enjoy holidays abroad as a child and want to do the same for my kids.
    I work
    As I understand it now the Iow case has been decided local authorities have suspended issuing fines for term time hols or at least have suspended doing so. It was a totally unfair draconian measure.

    1. admin

      March 10, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      Thanks Juliet! I dream of owning a camper van!! One day….one day…very jealous!!

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