When a vacation package can save you money (and when it can’t): a practical traveler

CHOOSE THE BEST SITES. Given what I wanted, I was better served by not filtering the price, but instead based on the default choices listed first (on the Expedia site these are called Expedia Picks). The options here were more expensive, but also more convenient. Travelocity, for example, got a good deal on a stay at Palomar Washington, an upscale Kimpton hotel in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, with non-stop flights on JetBlue, departing New York at 7:30 a.m. and returning at 9:50 a.m. . , $ 711, a saving of $ 380 off the price I found by checking hotel and airline websites separately. Orbitz offered essentially the same package as its “best value” with a different JetBlue flight from New York in the evening instead of in the morning for $ 72 more than Travelocity. Expedia offered the same flights and a different hotel ?? Washington Square ?? for $ 810, with no savings shown. But even that deal was $ 281 less than what I was told ($ 1,091) when trying to book the same flights and hotel on my own.

CONSIDER HIGH SEASON PACKAGES. Even in high season, the rates pre-negotiated by agencies with airlines and hotels allow them to create packages at prices that you are unlikely to get separately from hotels and airlines. The best price I found while searching airline and hotel websites for a week at ME Cancun all inclusive the week before the Easter break was $ 5,297 ($ 3,102 for the hotel and 2 $ 195 for the flight). All three sites beat that price by at least $ 1,000, with Travelocity’s best savings, to $ 3,212 for the same flight and hotel.

It always pays to look directly at hotel and airline websites, as I was reminded when I searched for the best price for a peak season trip to Scottsdale, Arizona. None of the online agencies beat the price I offered, $ 3,070, for a week at The Boulders, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, the week before Easter. The closest was Orbitz, which listed the trip at $ 3,232.

LOWER LINE In the end, Travelocity got the best deal for two of my searches: $ 380 on the trip to Washington while staying at the Palomar and an impressive $ 2,085 over the week in Cancun. It also offered the clearest and most intuitive search options with tabs to the left of plan results, allowing users to choose from three options: cheapest plan, closest connection (for those with schedules of specific flight in the lead) and the shortest flight. Another convenience was the ‘change flight’ button. Travelocity has also made it easy to search by hotel amenities such as a swimming pool as well as by star rating or hotel name.

Expedia offered the cheapest option when searching by price alone at $ 400 for the trip to Washington, but the hotel was 22 miles from downtown. (The company claims to have more than 75,000 hotels available through packages, giving customers a wide choice.) Expedia’s site was also the least appealing. While it does allow searches by hotel amenities, I almost missed this option, which was in the fine print at the top of the page.

Orbitz provided results in a matrix that allowed for an easy overview of available deals, but lost points in my book for failing to display the full price up front, forcing consumers to double the price. per person (displayed on the first page) in their header or click on a package to see the total. Users also cannot refine their search by hotel convenience.

My advice: Use Travelocity to find packages. He always features American Airlines in his search, and his site is easy to navigate. Then try to book them directly with hotels and airlines to see if you can get a better deal.

About Brad S. Fulton

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