Money Management

The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Best Vacation Packages

By  Sanjana Vig

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Vacations can be expensive. You’re buying not only flights but paying for somewhere to stay, and activities to do while you’re there. Maintaining a travel budget can be difficult. However, combining purchases, for instance, using vacation packages, can help reduce costs and maybe even get some great discounts on things to do.

What Exactly Are Vacation Packages?

So, what exactly is a “vacation package”? Think of it as a bunch of vacation stuff bundled into one payment. The term I think can be misleading because you may automatically think that a vacation package encompasses your whole trip. That’s not necessarily true.

A vacation package can be for your whole trip, for a weekend, or even for a day. It can also just refer to bundling payments regarding flights, hotels, and car rentals. There are also “vacation packages” that involve only booking activities while you’re at your destination. Some include just a tour guide and some major sites to see.

Basically, a vacation package is when you purchase more than one thing together for your vacation. It can be any combination of things meant to help you plan your trip and save money.

Where Can You Book Vacation Packages?

Whether you’re planning or looking to put together a last-minute travel package, there are several ways to go about your booking.

Online Travel Sites and Through Airlines

Any travel website and any airline website will have vacation package options for you. For instance, on sites like Expedia, you can choose the option that says to book “flight and hotel.” That’s one way to bundle. Another is to choose the “vacation package” option and see what other ways you can bundle.

On Expedia, to continue the example, you’ll be able to add a car to your package under the vacation package. On Southwest Airline’s website, you’ll be able to choose activities as well.

Aside from Expedia, there are dozens of online travel site options out there for booking your travel packages. I do recommend comparing prices from different websites to see which gives you a better deal. Some examples of where to get started:

Just be aware when using these sites that they are essentially the middle man. So, if for some reason you need to cancel or make changes, you’ll have to go through them, not the actual travel company that’s taking care of you at your destination.

Sometimes getting your money back can be tricky, so if you aren’t one hundred percent certain about your plans, consider either waiting to book until you are or contacting local companies directly so that you don’t have the middle man issue.

Booking Sites

Booking sites like Viator or TripAdvisor are great options for reserving weekend travel packages at your destination or day trips. For instance, if you’re in Germany and want to take a quick trip from Munich to the Austrian border, you can do so by booking a day trip package. The package will likely include transportation, a tour guide, and a meal (either included or a stop where you can purchase one).

These sites can also be used to book activities, excursions, and tours. Booking these kinds of travel packages is a great way to experience the local culture and not worry about the details that come with planning it!

Through Your Travel Credit Card

If your travel wallet has a credit card with great travel perks, then be sure to check out the website (or call them) associated with your account. It’s another resource you can use for finding deals and bundling payments. By booking through your travel credit card, you may also easily pay for everything using your points.

Groupon & LivingSocial

Groupon has a lot of travel options to choose from. You go to their vacation option and choose where you’d like to go. This is also a great way to see different destinations and deals being offered if you are stumped about where to go in the first place.

LivingSocial is similar to Groupon and has very similar deals. I think it’s always a good idea to compare cost and what you get before you book. Comparing these two should give you a good idea, and make sure to read the fine print!

Hotels

Different hotels and resorts offer packages for guests who book directly through them. This can include packages for different activities, meals and resort credit, or even the ability to stay free for a night if you book a minimum number of nights.

No matter where you decide to go, be sure to check out the official website of where you’re staying and see what they offer.

All-Inclusive Vacation Packages

All-inclusive vacation deals generally refer to everything at the hotel/resort being paid for or included in your room’s price. For instance, all of your meals and alcohol will be paid for in the per person price of your hotel room, and you don’t have to worry about that cost while you’re there.

As far as vacation packages go, this is a great option for longer stays, especially at resort and spa locations where you will likely be spending the whole time at the resort itself. Of note, these all-inclusive trips don’t always include all excursions or activities on-site, so be sure to check the options. Also, the flight may be separate unless you book the all-inclusive resort together with your flight.

(Keep in mind that all resorts do charge a daily resort fee. That, plus taxes, are not included in the all-inclusive price, so you will still be responsible for paying that upon checkout)

Costco Travel Packages

If you have a Costco membership, then be sure to check out the Costco Travel website. Exclusively for Costco members, the site offers flight and hotel deals and curated vacation packages. One of the nice things about them is that the price you see is the price you pay; taxes and fees are all included, making it easier to understand what you will be paying – no surprises!

For any executive members out there, the 2% cash back applies to your travel purchases as well!

Travel Agents

This is not as commonly used nowadays. However, travel agents are still a great resource for helping you book your travel package. Through agents, you can often customize your travels in many more ways than a simple online booking would allow.

As an example, they can not only help you with your airfare and hotel stays but can also book activities, tour guides, airport transportation, and much more. By booking together, they can sometimes get a better deal for you (not always); they may also have contacts within different companies that will help you with discounted prices.

For anyone who wants everything booked together and really don’t want to think about it, a travel agent can be beneficial.

Pros and Cons of Vacation Packages

While they sound great, there are good and bad aspects of purchasing these packages.

Advantages

Depending on your trip and what you hope to do, vacation packages can be a great way to pay for it all at once and not incur any additional cost while you’re at your destination.

Some distinct advantages include:

  • Bundling payments help save in overall costs.
  • Some activities and events may be preplanned and included in the package’s cost, saving you from having to plan or pay for it separately.
  • Tours and guides may be included, which can be very helpful if you don’t speak the language.
  • Airport transfers may be included, reducing the stress of getting to your hotel once you’ve landed.
  • Not all packages need to encompass your entire trip; there are tons of options for choosing what kind of package works for your vacation needs.

Disadvantages

While there are many great things included in vacation packages, I think there are some limitations to using them. For instance,

  • Less flexibility once you’re at your destination – everything is preplanned! If you don’t do something or don’t want to do something in the package, you won’t get your money back.
  • If activities are canceled for some reason, they’ll often be replaced by something else without asking you. If they do give you a choice, your options will be limited.
  • Meals may not be included, so that is usually a cost you’ll have to add to the package. Any meals that are included are at restaurants that you don’t have a say in choosing.
  • Travel visas are still your responsibility, where applicable.
  • You often have to pay for packages upfront so that it can be a high cost all at once.
  • The best deals on vacation packages may depend on your travel dates, so your flexibility there may be reduced.

When Should You Purchase A Vacation Package?

This all depends on where you’re going and what your goals are. To give some examples of how I think about it:

  • I love all-inclusive vacations when I’m taking a trip to a beach resort. I feel like it just makes life so much easier.
  • When I’m going to a country where I’m not familiar with the language and/or my time is limited, I like to get day packages for tours and activities. I find this especially helpful when I’m traveling alone. I feel that I can see more of the typical tourist sites this way, and then I leave the other days for my own creative planning and wandering around.
  • If I’m traveling somewhere and have only one final destination, i.e., staying in one hotel, I’ll try to find vacation packages that bundle flight and hotel costs.

This is definitely a personal decision that depends on what you hope to get out of your trip.

How Much Are You Actually Saving With Vacation Packages?

Depending on where you look, websites will advertise that buying packages or bundling payments can save you hundreds of dollars. This may be true, but the actual number will vary depending on your trip.

The best thing you can do is check prices for packages and then calculate how much it would cost if you booked those items separately. Then you’ll have to see if those savings are enough for you to go through with it. Not all savings are worth it.

For instance, if you realize that a package will stifle your spontaneous ability, that package may not be worth the savings.

Final Thoughts

Whether it’s a solo trip, going on a family-friendly vacation, a romantic getaway, a girl’s weekend, a vacation to relax, a vacation filled with activities, a visit to the mountains or a beach resort, there is a vacation package out there to suit your needs.

You can book packages across a full range of options depending on your budget and vacation goals. Vacation packages can take the stress out of planning. Just be sure to calculate how much you’re saving and see if it’s really worth it for you!

Your next bucket-list vacation awaits. Happy Travels!

This article originally appeared on Your Money Geek and has been republished with permission.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.

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