Family Ski Trip: 8 Ways to Save Money

Save big on your next family ski trip -- without sacrificing fun.

Family ski trips can create wonderful memories that last a lifetime, but if you aren’t careful they can create credit card bills that feel like they last a lifetime as well. Expenses such as airfare, lift tickets and ground transport can all quickly add up. Still, it is entirely possible to reduce the expense of a family ski trip by as much as 50%, without sacrificing the quality of your family’s pilgrimage to the powder -- here are 8 ways to save.

1. Fly Into Smaller Regional Airports

You can save this way by avoiding a lengthy drive to the mountain after the flight, and potentially eliminate the need for a rental car at all. Also, with many traditional airline mileage programs, such as United, American Airlines, and Delta, a ticket into a small airport near the slopes won’t cost you any more miles than if you flew into a major airport. For example, flying into airports in Vail, Aspen and Telluride typically requires the same number of frequent flyer miles as flying into Denver. Credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the United MileagePlus Explorer and the Citi AAdvantage can all earn you miles for flights.

2. Search Flight Comparison Sites

If you don’t have any miles and points to use, then search for airfare into larger airports like Salt Lake City, which sees more competition and often competitively low prices as a result. Search sites like, or that compare rates across airlines. I like to start searching months in advance, and then purchase when the fare drops to a price I can afford. Sites such as will even allow you to set an alert for when the price of a ticket drops below whatever threshold you’ve set.

3. Minimize Baggage Fees With Airline Credit Cards

Airline baggage fees (often $25 one-way for the first checked bag) can quickly add up, especially when ski gear is involved. To minimize such fees, consider flying an airline with which you have a co-branded airline credit card; certain cards may exempt you from some baggage fees. For example, the Gold Delta Skymiles American Express Card allows up to 9 people on your reservation to check a bag for free.

4. Fly JetBlue, Southwest for Waived Baggage Fees

If you don’t have any way to avoid baggage fees, then you may want to consider JetBlue or Southwest. Not only are JetBlue and Southwest famous for their nationwide fare sales, but also neither airline charges a fee for the first checked bag. Southwest even goes so far as to offer 2 complimentary checked bags -- just make sure they meet Southwest’s carryon baggage parameters.

5. Ski Rentals -- Reserve in Advance

Don’t have any ski equipment? You can save money on ski and snowboard rentals by planning ahead and reserving your equipment online. For example, Winter Park Resort in Colorado offers a 25% discount on equipment rentals of 4 days or longer when they’re booked at least 48 hours ahead of time online. You can often save an additional 20% to 30% by renting your ski and snowboard gear at a rental shop that is located off of the mountain. For example, many rentals at Epic Mountain Sports in Winter Park, CO, start about 25% less than for similar equipment on the mountain.

6. Use Starwood Points for Your Slope-Side Hotel Room

Cash and points availability can be tight at Starwood hotels during ski season, but when it is available it is often the best overall deal. For example, a room at the all-suites Westin Resort & Spa Whistler often sells for around $400 to $500 during ski season. However, the same room can be reserved for 16,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points per night through a Starwood Preferred Guest Amex. While searching on Starwood Preferred Guest I have even seen decent sub-$200 rates, and amazing availability when staying either on points or cash and points for much of the ski season (November through April). If you don’t have access to any hotel points, then renting a house or condo on a site like VRBO can be an affordable option.

7. Snag Discounted Lift Tickets

Lift tickets at popular resorts like Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge and Whistler can be $100 or more per day. You can save money by purchasing tickets online at least a couple weeks ahead of time at the mountain of your choice. (You can also search sites such as Liftopia for discounted advance lift tickets.) Purchasing multi-day tickets will also lower the cost per day by about 10 to 20% when compared to buying several single-day tickets. Also, going either early or late in the season (such as November and early December, or in April) can result in savings of $10 to $40 per day on lift tickets. If you plan to ski more than 4 days, or are heading to the slopes on more than one trip this winter, then explore a season pass; it may be the most cost-effective option. It can also be worth a stop at a gas station or grocery store near the ski resort to see if they have coupons or discount lift tickets available for sale.

8. Or Get Lift Tickets – for Free!

Several resorts such as Beaver Creek (near Vail) and Squaw Valley (near Lake Tahoe) provide a free lift ticket if you ski the same day that you fly into the local airport. Another option: If you have children, consider skiing or snowboarding at Keystone. The ski resort, 70 miles west of Denver, offers free lift tickets to all children 12 and under when their families are staying in Keystone accommodations. This offer has no blackout dates and can result in hundreds of dollars in savings!

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