Family travel and online bookings might be two of tourism's fastest-growing trends but in many cases they are yet to come together. Booking family travel online can be a frustrating, sometimes even impossible, process, with some sites not providing the option of adding children to a booking and many leaving you to work out the options and costs yourself.
Sometimes children are able to stay free "in existing bedding", sometimes there are additional charges and sometimes they cannot be added to the booking at all.
A $150-a-night hotel room can suddenly become $250 a night when you find, in the small print, that children are an additional $50 a night each.
Or the cheap price that comes up in a search might be for a room that cannot accommodate more than two people, leaving you to comb through all the available room types until you find something suitable.
It can be hard to determine what "existing bedding" entails, especially when it comes to rooms with sofa beds, and the availability and costs for any optional "rollaway" beds tend to be buried in the fine print.
Families requiring a cot can find it particularly difficult to book online, as very few sites provide the option in their search criteria.
It should not automatically be assumed that a hotel will be able to provide a cot and by the time you make a phone call to check, the benefits of booking online are mostly lost.
Travel booking engines that fail to factor in children are of limited usefulness for families trying to compare prices at different hotels, as individual sums need to be done for each property.
Surprisingly, Wotif.com, generally regarded as the king of hotel booking sites, is one of those that does not allow the inclusion of children in the search criteria.
The site allows you to specify that you want accommodation with a swimming pool, fitness centre, kitchenette or even an in-room spa but it cannot separate out rooms that will accommodate more than two people (although you can choose to search for apartment-style accommodation).
To find a suitable room for a family, you need to read the fine print regarding bedding, maximum guest numbers and extra charges for each room type, or look for deals aimed specifically at families.
Another major hotel booking site, Hotelclub.com, appears to have limited capability on family bookings, with most rooms advertised as having a maximum of two people. Even some rooms listed as having two double beds - an ideal scenario for some families - are listed as having a maximum capacity of two people.
It is only when you get to the stage of sending off the booking request that you can add children and/or a cot to the request - with no immediate indication of availability or any additional costs.
If you want to book family accommodation online, the best site is Quickbeds.com, which allows you to enter the number and ages of your children, as well as tick a box if you need a cot.
The site only brings up hotels that can accommodate the entire family and any rollaway beds or extra costs are factored into the price.
Other good sites for family bookings are Lastminute.com.au and Expedia.com.au, although these do not allow you to specify a cot in the criteria.
Hotel chains' own websites also tend to allow for children in the search criteria but you miss out on the ability to compare a range of hotels on one screen.
Using at least two sites to compare prices ensures you are not paying above the odds, so a comparison site such as Quickbeds is the best starting point.
The ability to book holiday packages online is also limited for families. Children's prices are rarely listed, making it impossible to determine the affordability of a trip without sending off a request and waiting for the information.
The "per person" price for package deals is nearly always discounted for children, due to children getting cheaper airfares (on international flights) and sharing accommodation with their parents.
That pram is a phone call away
When booking international flights for your family, it can pay to follow up an online booking with an old-fashioned phone call.
If you want particular seating, a baby bassinet, special meals, a pram to borrow in the airport or anything else that varies from the norm, talking to a human being is still the most effective way to make sure it happens.
This is particularly the case with seating preferences and baby bassinets, as policies vary from airline to airline and only a few airlines guarantee that you will get a bassinet when you book.
A conversation with the airline's reservations staff can also elicit a lot of other useful information, such as details about priority check-in options or services that are available on stopover in various airports during your journey.
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