Even if you're not a helicopter or snowplow parent, chances are you cannot resist being a Booking Engine Parent, especially because if left to their own devices, your kids might book themselves through Ibiza for a cross-country flight. Here are some helpful tips for completely screwing up your kids' holiday reservations:
1. Book on the same dates that the entire country is flying. Cheapair.com suggests that fliers avoid traveling on December 1 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) and January 5 (the Sunday after Christmas break). Of course, these are the dates that most college kids have to fly because they have good intentions of not missing Monday classes... although they probably will still be in the vacation mode and sleep through them anyway.
One tried and true technique is to start looking for those return Thanksgiving and winter break flights during the previous April, when the prices are already outrageous. Next step in the process is to decide to game the system and wait until summer. Then in late October, suck it up, accept that the fares will never go down and hastily snap up the last seat on the plane.
2. Believe that the travel dates your kids give you are accurate. Bribe your children with extra legroom if they provide you with correct final exam dates. You will have to text them incessantly for 3-4 weeks before they respond with those dates because it is a real effort on their part to log into their online schedule. Once appropriate flights are reserved, be prepared to pay a hefty change fee to leave two days earlier because it turns out that "My last exam is a actually a research paper and I'd rather work on it at home."
3. Buy into the urban legend that Wednesday is the best day to search for flights. Cancel your conference call. Abandon your pilates class. Reschedule your therapist appointment. Then devote a solid block of time each Wednesday morning to booking, canceling (within 24 hours) and re-booking on kayak or hipmunk. Wednesday, you see, is supposed to be the primo day for deals. But sadly, Jet Blue, Virgin and American have yet to hear about this legend. Or about the clearing-your-cookies, incognito approach to travel planning.
4. Try to find decent times, short layovers and good seats on reputable airlines. You might hate redeyes or center seats or discount carriers, but 19-year olds can deal. They will even happily fly on airlines called "Spiritually Turbulent" or "No Snacks for You."
5. Assume that they will get to the airport on time. Most college kids make it a point to leave for the airport at the exact minute that they're supposed to be going through security. So it's not a great idea to book them on the last flight of the day, even if you have lots of Starwood points.
6. For extra unbearable flights, forget to remind your kids about the two essential carry-on items: sinus meds and phone chargers. Odds are that they'll develop a debilitating upper respiratory infection the morning they are supposed to travel. Without Sudafed, which is now harder to purchase than crack cocaine, they will spend six hours feeling as if their heads are about to explode. And assume that they will leave their chargers at school, so you won't have a clue about when or where they're landing once they have missed their plane and rescheduled.
Of course, nothing beats the joy of having them home for the holidays, even if you ended up spending $1068 on a r/t flight that usually costs $300. Next year, of course, you'll think about using your Booking Engine Parent skills in January. But after checking out the fares, you'll probably move on to reserving your own off-season package to the Turks and Caicos.