Picture this: the days are short and the weather cold and bleak. (You have imagination, don't you?)
You are desperate for a "winter sun" holiday but prices have shot opportunistically up during the short period schools are on Christmas vacation – and you know if you take your kids out to go in term time, you'll pay an extra £60 ($108) ... per day, per child. Both you and your partner also, technically, risk a fine.
That's what parents in England have to contend with at this time of year and, festive season aside, they get pretty cranky.
Often, the fine cancels out the off-peak holiday savings ... and among my friends and family, most instead swallow a second type of "festive fare" at Christmas.
As you'd predict, the policy, which was introduced in current form in 2013, is a hot conversation topic. Are holidays education? Are parents errant for even thinking about skipping school?
Feel free to debate but I'd sure hate a financial penalty for playing hooky with our rookies ... I'll confess on numerous occasions to extending my kids' holidays by a day or two on either side, to get shoulder season airfares. (They're little and, besides, I'd be a laughing stock among my money-saving peers if I didn't!) Big variations in the states' holidays this year helped make holidays within Australia cheaper once you arrived too.
Not that any school condones absences for any but crucial reasons. A recent newsletter from the principal at my children's independent school featured the following sentence: "I admit to being a little bemused by this practice [of holidays during school time] as families are parting with a significant sum of money for their children to attend and then to take them away from the classroom learning environment seems counter-intuitive to me."
Phew. They're not stopping it, just frowning on it.
But there's a point: while the fine in England applies only to state schools, any parents who send their children to private schools there or in Australia pay an effective absence penalty – of possibly the same in numerical terms, $60 a child, or even higher.
And I've commissioned exclusive data that shows why for many, it's worth it regardless.
Aussies' 10 favourite international destinations spike up in price by an average 54 per cent over the peak Christmas/New Year period versus off-peak February rates, the analysis by comparison website Finder of flights and accommodation shows. (Prices are like-for-like for the best-value flights and three-to-four star, family-friendly accommodation – see the table inset.)
Putting that another way: you're forking out more than 1.5 times the typical cost for the exact same thing.
For a two-week holiday for four from December 22 to January 5, the average money mark-up is about $3900. So you could pay that or you could take your kids out of school. If your kids are at a public school, the saving is close to $3900. But even if your kids are at a private school, it's probably worth it financially. For two kids at a private school the effective cost/loss of withdrawing them for two weeks in first term is still only, say, $1200.
The maths is pretty definitive, if not the education considerations.
Where is it most compelling to instead go during the school year? Bali. The "Santa slug" is 120 per cent, from $5442 to an eye-watering $11,976.
If a white Christmas floats your boat this year, I'm afraid you'll cop an 82 per cent price hike for a trip to New York – and that's the highest in dollar terms with $9345 separating the Christmas and February costs. For your family to watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year, it will cost you an all-up $20,760.
In Goa ($9378 over Christmas/New Year), Singapore ($13,410) and Phuket ($8694) prices lift 77 per cent, 72 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively. Interestingly, in Shanghai and London, the peak premium is only 15 per cent.
You'd expect to get rates in between the peak and off-peak ones shown in the table, if you instead travelled after Christmas/New Year and just before school resumes. But it's worth noting that in the last two weeks of January, Bali ($5310), Singapore ($7504) and Shanghai ($6952) are cheaper than in February term-time – if sometimes ever-so-slightly.
Of course, the other element in all this is whether the adults in the family can choose to take their holiday at a time other than Christmas. A separate Finder survey suggests 5.3 million Australian workers – 44 per cent of us – are forced to take their annual leave then. A further almost half of those workers – 2.5 million – must take more than two weeks off.
For those families, there's little choice but submit to the silly (price) season. For many of the rest, the option is pay the "Christmas tax" or take the term-time "whack".
Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is a money educator and consumer advocate.