How to Tell If Your Vacation Package Is a Good Deal

By Holly Johnson on 13 February 2018 0 comments

Bundled travel deals promise savings to consumers willing to book their flight and all their accommodations at once. Websites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Cheap Caribbean allow you to shop for a hotel and flight, then book it all in one go. Expedia, for example, says you'll save up to $603 by booking your flight and hotel at the same time. Cheap Caribbean, which offers mostly all-inclusive resort deals with airfare to the Caribbean, touts savings of up to 60 percent on some bundled deals.

Depending on the package you choose and its individual components, you can save money with packages. If you use a good vacation deal website, booking a package deal is typically less expensive than booking the individual components separately. (See also: 6 Questions to Ask Before You Book a Vacation Package)

Still, some deals are better than others, and there are times when bundled deals may not be your best option. Here are five steps to ensure your package vacation is the stellar deal you hope it is.

1. Price each component of your trip independently

The best way to find out if your bundled vacation package is a true deal or a dud is to price out each component of your trip and compare it to the package price. If you're booking both airfare and a hotel, for example, find out the cost of airfare on the airline's website, get a price for your hotel on its own, add those two costs up, and then compare them to the package deal.

As an example, I looked for bundled vacations from Los Angeles to Montego Bay for seven nights in June 2018. A bundled deal with a weeklong stay at the high-end Hyatt Ziva all-inclusive resort rang in at $6,527 for a family of four.

That sounds like a ton of money, and it is, but it's still a lot less than you'd pay if you booked your airfare and hotel independently. Airfare booked on its own would set you back $688 per person, or $2,752 total. The all-inclusive resort on its own is $462 per night, plus a $184 extra guest fee for the children, which works out to $4,528 for seven nights. If you add up those two components, you could be spending $7,280 for the same trip. By booking the vacation bundle, you would save $752 without any real work on your part.

2. Ask yourself if an all-inclusive resort is worth it

But is $6,527 really a good deal on a vacation? When you search for travel deals, you'll find pricing that runs the gamut from outrageously expensive to downright cheap. Pricing for Hyatt Ziva is a little on the high side in Montego Bay, but that's mostly because it's a five-star, all-inclusive resort. (See also: 11 Ways to Get the Most Value From Your All-Inclusive Vacation)

You can save a lot of money if you don't go the high-end route, and even more if you don't go all-inclusive. Let's imagine you want to go to Montego Bay on the same dates and flights, but you're willing to choose a traditional hotel. Doctor's Cave Resort offers basic accommodations 10 minutes up the road from the Hyatt. It's not fancy, and you have to cross the street to get to the world-famous Doctor's Cave Beach. But a weeklong stay at this hotel, with flights, is only $3,726.43 for the same seven nights. That does not include food and drinks.

In this case, going for the more upscale, all-inclusive Hyatt would cost you an additional $2,801 for the week. Is it worth nearly $3,000 to get free meals and be in a more luxurious setting? Most families of four could easily spend a lot less than that on food and drinks over a week, especially in low-cost Montego Bay. Then it's a matter of whether your tastes and budget make more downscale accommodations seem like a good deal.

3. Look out for hidden fees

Unfortunately, many hotels and resorts tack on silly charges that include resort fees, and fees for internet service, gym usage, or parking. Many of these fees aren't included in your travel package either, making them hard to plan for unless you read the fine print. With a resort fee, for example, you don't pay it until you actually show up at the resort. So even though you booked and prepaid your hotel, you're still not off the hook.

Las Vegas is one of the worst destinations when it comes to resort fees and hidden charges. In particular, if you're staying on the Las Vegas Strip, you'll almost always have to pay a resort fee in addition to your nightly room rate.

For a June stay at Caesar's Palace, for example, the nightly rate for two is $219 plus $29 in taxes. That adds up to $1,738 for a seven-night stay. But the fine print states that you'll also have to pay a resort fee when you arrive. This fee, which covers access to the pool, fitness center, and internet service, tacks on another $277 to your total. If you weren't paying attention, you could miss this altogether. (See also: 9 Travel Expenses You Forgot to Budget For)

4. Consider alternate accommodations

If you're going the all-inclusive route for vacation, then it definitely pays to research package deals to see how much you could save. But if you're thinking of booking a regular hotel, then also consider a rental condo or Airbnb property.

With a rental condo or Airbnb property, you'd likely have a kitchen where you could prepare some of your own meals. You would probably have a common living area, too, which means more space for everyone. These options can be considerably cheaper than a hotel as well, although it depends on where you're going and when. If you're flexible and willing to consider a condo or Airbnb, it never hurts to price them out. (See also: 10 Vacation Rental Alternatives to Airbnb)

5. Say goodbye to airline miles and hotel points

Lastly, make sure you know what you're giving up before you book a bundled vacation package through a third-party site. If you're a travel enthusiast who loves collecting points and miles, you should know that the majority of the time, you don't earn rewards points on travel booked through third-party providers like Expedia or Priceline.

Not only that, but you typically won't get any loyalty perks, either. So if you have hotel status that qualifies you for free breakfast, room upgrades, and other benefits, it wouldn't be recognized. Often, the savings from a package deal are greater than the value of those foregone perks and reward points. But you'll need to do the math to decide whether the trade-off makes sense for you.

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