Northern Ireland families being forced to pay up to four times the normal price to fly away during mid-term break
Northern Ireland families are being charged over four times the normal price for mid-term break flights, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Parents who only take their children on holiday in the school holidays this month could end up paying over £1,000 extra for the privilege.
It's a double whammy for flight sales this year, because Saturday, February 13 coincides with the start of mid-term and Valentine's Day, fuelling demand and massive price hikes.
New figures obtained by this newspaper show the average plane fare rises by 177% for families flying from Belfast on February 13, compared with those departing two weeks later.
The biggest increase was on the Belfast to Paris route, which costs a whopping 335% more.
A family of four adults and two children would pay £904 for their half-term holiday to France from Belfast International Airport (BIA) on February 13 compared to £208 on Belfast 27 - a £696 mark-up.
The second biggest school holiday hike, at 274% more, was for those flying from BIA to Faro in Portugal.
Hard-pressed parents would have to fork out £1,540 for a mid-term break on February 13 rather than £412 two weeks later - in other words an extra £1,128.
Those flying from BIA to Geneva in Switzerland face flights that are 269% more expensive departing on February 13 compared to February 27 - taking the price up from £65 per person to £240.
There is a similar scenario for those wishing to fly to Lanzarote, one of the most popular Canary Islands.
The mid-term return flight to the winter hotspot is priced at £335 per person, but just two weeks later it drops back down to just £162 - representing a mark-up of 107%.
On a brighter note, travellers bound for Katowice in Poland are only subject to a 7% hike, while the second lowest increase was found on the Belfast to Amsterdam route, at 41% more.
In England parents who take their children out of school during term time face fines of between £60 and £2,500 - but this doesn't apply to Northern Ireland.
Most Northern Ireland schools have their mid-term holidays on February 15 and 16 this year, according to the Department of Education (DE) website.
Official guidelines state that family holidays should be avoided during term time, but a DE spokeswoman said there were no plans to impose fines on parents who don't comply. It means that cash-strapped families here could be tempted to take holidays before schools officially break up to avoid being at the mercy of airlines and travel companies, which routinely put up prices during the school holidays.
The new research was conducted by FairFX, a leading pre-paid currency card, travel money and international payment services provider.
It studied the cost of return flights to 75 holiday destinations from 12 UK regions, including Belfast.
The company's currency expert Darren Kilner said there were some "startling increases" across the board.
"Families with school children often have no flexibility when it comes to choosing their holiday dates, forcing them to pay significantly higher prices," he said.
Of all 12 UK airports, Belfast had the eighth highest half-term air fare price mark-up.
Holidaymakers from London were worse off, paying an average of 272% more for flights, while Glasgow travellers, who were least likely to be ripped off, still faced average increases of 131%.
FairFX found the biggest flight rises were to countries which are popular skiing destinations in the February half-term.
Flights to Switzerland were 405% higher, while the figure was 354% more for Italy and 332% for France.