6 Questions to Ask Before You Book a Vacation Package
Have you ever bought a vacation package? If not, you could be missing out.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, "Airline tickets, overnight lodging accommodations and car rentals are the dominant travel products and services purchased online by travel planners." And by bundling these items together, the price for the vacation package drops significantly versus purchasing them individually. (See also: Best Travel Reward Credit Cards)
But here's the thing…
While vacation packages can save you a lot of money, they aren't ideal for everyone. Here are six questions to ask yourself (and the providers) about vacation packages...
Questions to Ask Yourself
Before you can interrogate the vacation package provider, you have to interrogate yourself to find out your travel wants and needs. (See also: How to Book a Cheap Vacation Package)
1. What type of traveler am I?
Vacation packages work for a traveler who is:
- has limited time to plan
- happy to visit tourist destinations, and
- looking for some serious relaxation.
Packages are ideal for families (Disneyland, anyone?), retirees, and anyone looking to sit poolside for days on end. It is a vacation after all.
However, if you want to immerse yourself in local culture, are adventurous, and prefer off-the-beaten-path destinations, vacation packages might not be for you.
2. Where should I go?
Destinations such as Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, California, and Florida scream vacation package.
Because they're great travel destinations with a steady stream of visitors.
So to save big bucks on a vacation package, visit a destination that receives a lot of tourists versus more remote and unknown destinations.
3. What am I looking for?
There are two types of vacation packages: bundled and all-inclusive.
- Bundled vacation packages are when a travel agent bundles flights, hotels, and/or rentals together and gives you a discount for buying more. You can find these at most major online travel agents such as, Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz.
- All-inclusive vacation packages are typically offered by resorts or cruise lines and include accommodations, activities (also known as add-ons), meals, and alcohol.
Tip: If you want more freedom with your meals and activities, book a bundled vacation package and plan those extra activities yourself. (See also: Budget Your Vacation With This Tool)
Questions to Ask Vacation Package Providers
Now that you know where you want to go, ask the provider about key package details.
4. What's included with the vacation package?
To determine the real value of a vacation package, find out exactly what's included such as flights, hotels, transportation, meals, and activities.
The following chart is a real example of booking a bundled vacation package versus booking flight, hotel, and car rental separately AND is based on the following criteria:
- Number of people: 2
- Number of days: 14 (October 7th - 21st, 2013)
- Departure location: San Francisco, California
- Arrival location: Miami, Florida
- Website: Expedia
In this situation, the bundled vacation package is $522.61 less expensive than booking the flight, hotel and car rental individually. That's an 11% savings. Not bad, right?
When factoring all-inclusive packages, don't forget to factor in those hidden costs such as taxes, fees, tips, and gratuity. (See also: Frequently Under-Budgeted Air Travel Costs)
5. What can I expect?
Most vacation packages are a good deal because they don't splurge on luxury. For example, the hotel might only be three-stars or meals served buffet-style.
Ask specific questions such as:
- What star rating is the hotel? Can I see images and reviews?
- What meals are included (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)? What type of food is served? How are the meals served (individual or buffet)? How many restaurants are on-site? Can I see restaurant reviews?
- Is alcohol included? What type of alcohol? Are there time restrictions on ordering alcohol?
- What transportation is provided (taxi, shuttle, bus, etc.) and where (e.g. home to airport, airport to hotel, to activities, etc..)?
- What activities are provided? What's the standard group size?
- Are there any hidden additional costs?
- Can you provide feedback, references or testimonials from other buyers?
6. When is the high season?
The high season is when a destination receives the most visitors and rates are high. While you'll usually get the best weather, you'll have to share it with thousands of other tourists. Spring break in Cancun, anyone?
To avoid the crowds, plan your trip during the shoulder season — the time between high and low seasons — and research any holidays or festivals.
Have you booked a vacation package? Tell us about your experience in comments.