Not All Package Tours Are Created Equal

Article excerpt

Here's the deal.

Brochures explain options, but don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. Packages can boost your buying power, but they aren't all created equal. Here's how to find one that's right for you.

I'm always looking for ways to stretch my vacation dollar, which probably is why I'm a great fan of packages.

Whether they're offered by hoteliers or tour operators, packages can boost your buying power by giving you more for your money.

Here's an example:

Recently, I was looking for a hotel suite in Vancouver. My travel agent found a one-bedroom suite for $132 U.S.

But that price didn't include breakfast or parking, which would be an additional $17 U.S. a night.

I calculated that breakfast for my husband, son and I would run about $15 a day at the four-star hotel. Add the $17 a day for parking, and I had a whopping $164 U.S. a night -- too steep for my budget.

I was thinking about looking further, but when my agent called the hotel to ask about the parking fee, the reservations agent offered a package. For $142 U.S. a night, I could get the one-bedroom suite, continental breakfast and parking.

I estimated that, with the package, I'd be saving about $22 a night over what I otherwise would have spent to stay at the hotel.

Packages can be made up of any number of things. Hotel packages might include such things as a free bottle of wine each evening; discounts at area shops, attractions and restaurants; or a free room upgrade at check-in. Tour packages may include air fare, hotels, car rentals and some meals.

But is every package a good deal? Not necessarily. But to find out, you have to take a package apart and estimate what your costs would be if you were paying for it piece by piece.

Let's look at an Amsterdam package offered by Martinair. It includes round-trip air fare from Orlando, three nights at the Hotel Piet Hein, ranked as superior tourist class; a daily breakfast buffet; service charges; and hotel taxes. Martinair's brochure says prices start at $599 per person, double occupancy, for travel through Oct. 31. The single supplement for the package is $99.

Now let's price the package's parts. If we took our trip Aug. 23 through 26, round-trip air fare alone would be $1,253 per person, and a room at the Hotel Piet Hein would be $96. …