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Great deals in tour packages can be had by vigilant travelers

Sun., Aug. 16, 2009, midnight

A tourist photographs the temple of Olympian Zeus with the ancient Acropolis hill in the background in Athens. Greece is a popular destination for travelers looking for package deals. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
A tourist photographs the temple of Olympian Zeus with the ancient Acropolis hill in the background in Athens. Greece is a popular destination for travelers looking for package deals. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

When shopping for deals, experts suggest paying special attention to location of your hotel from your activities

Though some people wince at the thought of taking a tour vacation, others like the idea of a no-worry trip where all you have to do is show up because almost everything is provided.

What may be a game-changer for the naysayers during these difficult times are tour savings of 10 percent to 35 percent over a year ago.

A 10-day land-cruise package in Greece, priced last year at $1,500 a person, double occupancy, now sells for $995, according to the U.S. Tour Operators Association.

A seven-day, six-night tour to Budapest and Prague that cost $1,355 a person last year now is priced at $1,199. Through Oct. 22, a package to Rome and Venice that was $1,229 a person last year is $1,099.

“Buying pre-planned arrangements can save an average of 20 percent over planning it yourself. This on top of 2009’s dollar savings,” said Bob Whitley, president of the Tour Operators Association, a New York-based trade group.

Tours are a good value because operators negotiate prices for bulk air, hotel and other components a year in advance, he explained. It’s simple economics: The more rooms you fill, the better the discounts offered by suppliers.

Because of the sluggish economy, tour operators also are offering major discounts to regain business, Whitley said, adding: “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Consumers make two mistakes when they buy a package, Whitley said. One is distance of the hotel from the desired activities.

“They really need to look at hotels,” he explained. “If people want to shop in London and their hotel is near Heathrow Airport, well, that’s a problem.”

The second mistake, Whitley said, is comparing prices.

“People see one package that’s $600 cheaper than another, and on the surface the tours look alike – London, Paris, Rome,” he said. “What people should do is look at what is not included in the package. That’s just as important or more important, in my opinion, than what is included.”

In many cases, Whitley said, the cheaper tour will cost more in the end because it won’t include meals or admission tickets to attractions. Those out-of pocket costs add up quickly.

You have to pepper the travel agent or tour company representative with questions:

•Where is the hotel? In town? On the outskirts? What’s the neighborhood like?

•What out-of-pocket expenses will I have?

•What is included in the package – all meals, what kind of meals, museum admissions?

•How much leisure time does the tour offer?

•Are taxes and other service charges folded into the package price, or are they added at the end of your vacation as an unwelcome surprise?

“Consumers are buying price, no question about it,” Whitley said. “They are looking to see where they can get the best value for the money. They book two weeks out when they used to book two months out. That’s the trend now.”

However, he warned, “When people do that, they’re taking a gamble on airfare. The closer in you book, chances are you’ll pay more for air if it’s not included.”


 

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