Friendly Planet Blog

Four steps to choosing the travel package that’s right for you

You know how everyone always writes in their travel ads to book now, because space is limited? Well, sometimes it’s actually the truth, especially when the space is for an awesome holiday travel deal that features gorgeous destinations and incredibly low prices. Even though we released our two December holiday deals just last week, they are already sold out.

To be perfectly truthful, there were some in the office who said it was too late to offer our special December holiday cruises in October. After all, that would leave only about four weeks to fill our allotments before having to release our blocked space. How wrong they were.

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We released our Mediterranean Highlights and Iberian Coasts cruises on Wednesday, Oct. 7, and as of this morning, both the Dec. 18 Mediterranean Highlights cruise and the Dec. 26 Iberian Coasts cruise are sold out. It isn’t really surprising to me, though.

So, while the December space is no longer available, departures later in 2010 still have plenty of space, including a Feb. 11-22, 2010 sailing of Iberian Coasts, which starts at just $1,399 including airfare, transfers, an eight-night cruise, and two bonus nights in Rome. Dare we say, book now, because space is limited?

But what if you can’t decide which cruise is right for you? They both sail through the Mediterranean Sea. They both stop at ports of call in some of the most beautiful coastal towns. And they both pamper vacationers with all the luxuries of the M/V Louis Majesty. How do you compare vacation packages that seem similar but have different prices?

People always ask me how to best make price comparisons of various vacation offerings. Sometimes, the trips seem identical, and yet the prices are vastly different. What can a traveler do to properly compare two or more trips, and determine which one offers the best value for the money?

Too often, I see travelers simply comparing the number of days of travel and the selling price. But these two details – while important – are very far from telling the real story of how one trip differs from another, and which is the one you should book for yourself.

I’ve put together four surefire steps that guarantee you’ll always be able to tell which package is the best deal.

1. Make a list of package features and line the list up feature by feature. Check items such as included flights, transfers, hotel nights, included meals, included touring, and hotels. Typically, the price differential has to do with any one, or a combination of these features. For example, Friendly Planet Travel usually includes all transfers if possible, while our competitors frequently do not. Sometimes, companies include no transfers at all, which could easily add a hefty sum of money to your trip’s bottom line.

Hotels can also make a big difference in the price of a tour, so be sure check the hotels by name. If the hotels listed for each tour differ, visit a site like TripAdvisor.com to see if you can ascertain differences in the service. Our hotels are always well-located. Hotels that are situated far from the action are typically less expensive than those with better locations, for obvious reasons. FP_vacancy.jpg

On TripAdvisor, you can see rates of hotels, and while you might not be paying those precise rates as part of your tour, you’ll certainly be able to figure out that one tour, using Hotel A, costs less than another tour, using Hotel B. If you see that Hotel A is selling on TripAdvisor for $50 per night, and Hotel B is selling for $200 per night, you can conclude that the cheaper tour is using cheaper hotels. And if those cheaper hotels are upgradable for a price, don’t forget to calculate the cost of the upgrade into your comparison. A tour that starts out hundreds less than the competition can end up being hundreds more, just by upgrading to an acceptable hotel.

Tours included in the vacation package can also make a big difference in a tour price. For example, a typical "trick" in pricing for tours with river cruises, such as the Nile or Yangtze River, is to sell the shore excursions as optionals. So, while the basic tour price includes the cabin and meals, the tours — the reason you are taking the cruise in the first place — are excluded from the price. These excluded shore excursions can add hundreds of dollars to the tour price, too. Be sure that the tours in your comparison group all have the same amount of included tours and shore excursions, and add the cost of these excursions where needed to get a realistic price comparison.

2. Call the company selling each tour and ask questions. How many people typically are included on a departure? If the group fails to reach the minimum number required for the tour to operate, when will the company advise those already booked, and what options does the tour company offer the travelers? If you find that the agents who man the phones are too busy to talk to you, look elsewhere. If you’re planning a tour, you’ll need to ask questions and service provided is the No. 1 value-added component. No service, no sale, is how you should view it.

3. Are you being charged extra for credit card payments? This is different from getting a reduction for cash payments or early bookings. Some companies advertise extra-low prices and then add fees for using a credit card. Your credit card payment provides a layer of protection to you as a consumer. You can decide later if you wish to take advantage of a cash discount if the agent is someone you know and trust, but if the advertised price requires you to pay by check or else pay a surcharge for your credit card payment, look elsewhere.

4. Ask for references. Any good company that operates ethically will have plenty of previous travelers who are willing to provide references and talk to (or e-mail) prospective passengers about the tours. If you are greeted with an incredulous "we don’t provide references" reply, look elsewhere. It’s your right to know that others who have worked with the company can attest to their service and the quality of their tours. And any company in business to sell travel should be delighted to share those references with potential future travelers. It’s actually part of the service you deserve to receive.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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