Your baby is off to college. Don’t be sad – I’m told by parents who’ve been there that the “fun” of moving a kid on campus will dry your tears in no time. Here’s how to make it easier.
by Rick Seaney | Contributor
If You’re Driving
If your child is going to school in-state and it’s not too far away, you can drive. Consider renting a roomy vehicle (or even a small truck if your student has a lot of stuff or is moving to an apartment instead of a dorm). Be sure your own insurance covers the rental (or get the dealer’s if not).
If You’re Flying
If you’re flying, the trick is to limit what you bring to avoid as many airline fees as possible.
Fees add up: Most airlines charge $25 each way for a first checked bag and $35 for a second. If you’re flying Southwest, every traveler gets two bags for free. Suggestion: If bags aren’t free, limit each traveler to one big suitcase and one carry-on and let the student take over most of that space.
Avoid overweight fees, too: Do not overload checked bags—once they go over 50 lbs. penalty charges get expensive. Bags that weigh more than 70 lbs. will cost $200 a piece on American, Delta and United, and that’s in addition to the regular bag fee. Take the minimum number of bags by bringing the laptop but buying the bulk of the items your student needs at his or her final destination.
Consider shipping some things ahead: Contact UPS, FedEx or your favorite shipper for the cheapest way to send boxes. The UPS website has a handy time and cost calculator on its homepage, but compare prices with all shippers.
What to Buy When You Arrive
Be sure to arrive in time for a shopping trip to a big box store like Target or Walmart to stock up on necessities. Some suggestions for the dorm or apartment dweller:
• Bed linens/pillow/towels/laundry bag
• Toiletries/laundry detergent
• Tech supplies including extra charger cords
• Pens/pencils/notebooks (or am I showing my age?)
• Umbrella/boots/seasonal clothes (if weather is different from home)
• Water bottles/snacks
• Microwave and/or dorm fridge
• Desk lamp (if none is provided)
• Fan (a necessity for dorms without A/C)
Now Book the Flight
Here are a few simple rules to keep costs down.
Don’t buy too early or too late: You can start shopping for domestic fares about three months before departure, but wrap it up a month before you leave. The most expensive fares are almost always within seven days of departure—when business travelers typically plunk down their money—which is why the airlines love them so.
Fly the cheaper season: Most peak summer season fares drop beginning August 23, so if you can shepherd the child to school on or after that date, you’ll usually save some money (and sometimes, quite a bit).
Fly cheaper days: Even if you must fly before August 23, you can save on airfare by flying Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday, generally the cheapest days of the week to fly. Do your best to avoid Fridays and Sundays, which tend to be most expensive.
Add a stop (maybe): Some non-stops can be significantly more expensive than connecting flights; compare the two types of fares to see if that’s true in your case. You may save enough to make the longer travel day worth it. I don’t have to tell you college isn’t free, and every little bit helps.
Get More of Rick’s Tips: farecompare.com or @RickSeaney