Five ways to shop for the best vacation package


Sometimes traveling on a budget means spending as little as possible on the longest, furthest, and most ambitious adventure possible. Other times you just need a break. If the goal of a trip is to relax and have focused time with the family, you need to be realistic about your time and budget constraints, and honest about your tastes, and you need to take every opportunity. Here are some lessons this vacation package skeptic learned from her first experience with what the industry calls “bulk” travel.

If you only have a few days for your trip, spend as little time as possible in transit. Use Google Flights‘Highly customizable search parameters to explore your options. Add the name of your home airport, expand “non-stop flights” and select a duration of six hours or less. By leaving the destination blank, Google will return a list of places that match your needs. From there, you can further refine the search using the “Interests” tab. The Frugal family’s search for “beaches” and a non-stop flight from the Bay Area revealed a handful of destinations in Hawaii, Mexico and Central America, for example.

Armed with your list of potential destinations, start plugging your dates into sites selling vacation packages. There are dozens of them, but opening a manageable number of browser tabs (five or six, max) is enough for comparative shopping. At first, I was mostly intrigued by sites like Costco and Groupon, which I usually don’t turn to for travel. But there are also niche sites, like Last minute trip, which addresses the spontaneous, and Cheap caribbean, which specializes in a single region. However, chances are your best option is a site like Price line, Kayak Where Booking.com that you are probably already using for the rest of your trip.

Each “package” includes at least the plane ticket and hotel, but some offer rental car, tours and more. In the case of the recent trip of the Frugal Family [“What’s an Unlikely Vacation Bargain? Hawaii”], which was booked through Expedia, adding a car increased our price from $ 300 to $ 400. I was confident that I could get a better rate on a standalone rental. Using Priceline ‘Name Your Price’ feature, I booked an economy car for just $ 21 a day, a reminder that buying in bulk isn’t always the best.

The scourge of the budget traveler, living expenses have increased in recent years. These fees are mandatory; they apply whether you use the services they are supposed to cover: Wi-Fi, parking, or equipment, like snorkeling gear. Worse yet, the fees – typically $ 10 to $ 40 per night – are often hidden in the fine print. In the case of Expedia, the site contradicts itself. At the top of his vacation package search results, he specifically states that the prices include “taxes and fees,” but further down the page, under where the room price is listed, he adds: “Plus 30 $ daily living expenses. Having read that some hotel chains waive resort fees for guests in their loyalty programs, I signed up for the Fairmont loyalty credit card, which is free for the first year. The Fairmont Orchid, unfortunately, does not make such exceptions. Being greeted with an absurd $ 120 charge at check-in was an unfortunate first impression.

Air tickets are almost always the most expensive during which Cheapair.com calls the “Hail Mary” window from 0 to 13 days before a flight, when the plane ticket is $ 75 to $ 200 more, on average, than during the “Prime Booking” window of 21 to 112 days . According to Cheapair’s analysis of three million trips, the best flights – those nonstop morning flights that would get us to Hawaii before noon – often cost hundreds of dollars more when bought at the last minute. Because convenience was a priority this trip, I booked as soon as possible, 12 days before the start of our trip. A few days later, our package had gone from less than $ 2,000 to $ 2,607, well over my budget of $ 2,400. This is where it pays to be open to where you are traveling. If a destination on your list is out of reach during your travel dates, try another. With the peso at its lowest, for example, this winter is a great and affordable time to visit Mexico.

About Brad S. Fulton

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