Are Flight + Hotel Vacation Packages a Good Deal?
“A lot of airlines offer vacation packages online; are these good buys, and do they earn rewards like normal?”
There’s no question you can save money by booking your airfare and hotel together through one of the major online travel agencies such as Cheapoair, Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity. Keep in mind, though, that vacation packages may not be right for every trip. Below, we outline the benefits and drawbacks to booking vacation packages to help you decide if bundling is right for your trip. Vacation packages offered by airlines and online travel agencies have their pluses and minuses, but they can offer a significant discount when you’re booking flights, hotels and rental cars together. In some cases, you may end up paying less for a package deal than you would for airfare alone. That said, booking a package holiday will save you a lot of hassle. According to Expedia, people search an average of 48 times on eight different websites before booking a flight. A package holiday takes away all the hassle without taking away the fun – flights and hotels are all booked for you, and meals and activities can be thrown in too.
So, is it a good idea to book airfares and hotels together?
Who doesn’t love a deal? Better yet, who doesn’t love a special package deal where you get a secret, unpublished rate on both your hotel and airfare just for booking them together? Air and hotel package deals can really be amazing, but before you click away and start booking, there are a few things you need to know, one of which is that they aren’t always the cheapest, even when they say they are. Online travel booking sites, airlines, and hotels don’t want some of your travel budget, they want all of it. They’ll lower their prices below the “best” publicly offered rate for both the airfare and hotel on packages, just to tempt you into booking both with a single site.
It’s always a good idea to check packages.
Do you really save money?
Well, sometimes. Many vacation packages are lower than the lowest rates you can get when booking each item separately, but the value can change by travel site and when you book. What’s important to remember is that each travel booking site may offer a different price and more or less desirable flights and hotels for their “super” deal than another competing site. The only away to know for sure if you’re saving money is to price out each part separately and then look at the package price.
Also, it depends a lot about the type of trip you want to book!
☼ You want the lowest prices
With MExplor, you can save an average of almost $200 by booking an airfare-hotel package on its website. We priced several vacation packages and their a-la-carte counterparts of MExplor and its partners to see how much money we could save. The savings ranged between $12 and $68.
Prices are per person and include all taxes and fees. Hotel rates are based on double occupancy.
☼ You’re traveling at the last minute
Unless you manage to score a cheap last-minute airfare, you’ll often pay through the nose for a last-minute flight. However, bundling airfare and hotel is an effective way to save.
Last-minute provider Site59.com says travelers can save up to 70 percent by booking a last-minute package. These numbers may be similarly inflated like Expedia’s, but the essence of the point is correct. The company packages unsold airfares and hotel rooms at lower-than-normal prices from 14 days to three hours before departure. Expedia, Orbitz, CheapOair, Lastminutetravel.com, and other providers also work in a similar manner, offering cheap packages at the last minute.
☼ You’re flying to a popular destination in peak season
We always advise Europe-bound travelers to book airfare-and-hotel packages in the peak season rather than booking each component separately. That way, travelers book a pre-determined price for airfare and hotel together, and do not have to track fluctuating airfare prices or (just as importantly) compete for a limited number of hotel rooms.
☼ Shop on Tuesday
The best time to book a flight is usually Tuesday at about 3 p.m. eastern time. Why? Because so many airlines release weekly sales early on Tuesday, which then prompts competing airlines to match prices – so Tuesday is a good day to find a lot of deals. But don’t worry, you can find deals on other days, too.
☼ Don’t Shop too Early or too Late
Buy too early and you could pay too much. Buy too late and you could pay way too much. The sweet spot for deals is usually found in these shopping windows.
National tickets: Shop between 3 months and 30 days before departure.
International tickets: Shop between 5 ½ months and 1 ½ months before departure.
Popular times to fly: If you want to fly during popular holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving, or during peak-season months like June, July, and August, you’ll usually save a bit if you purchase tickets a little early, say, two months in advance.
Shop current deals: If you can travel whenever you want and can fly when deals pop-up, shop when you like, because you never know when an airline will unexpectedly drop prices. Shop current deals on CheapOair.
☼ Time of Year
After a long winter, spring tempts millions away from their homes in favor of sunny destinations. Unfortunately, that mass exodus creates demand that drives up both flight and hotel prices.
There are two “dead zones” for travel. These are times of the year when few people travel, flights are less in demand, and hotels are hurting for business. They are:
- Early December
- The last three weeks in January and very early February
Be aware that hotel proprietors in warm destinations still might consider this window to be “peak season” since it’s during colder months for much of the country – but during these times, it’s worth contacting them to ask for a discount if they’re under-booked.
Visiting a location during the off-season is often cheaper and comes with fewer crowds. However, it may also come with downsides, including a lack of amenities (due to shops, restaurants, and other hospitality services closing down) and poorer weather.
The off-season and peak season differ by location. As a general guideline, warmer destinations are “on” during the winter, and cooler destinations are “on” during the summer – but there’s more nuance than that. For starters, winter and summer is flipped depending on whether you’re in the northern or southern hemisphere.
It’s a good idea to identify where you want to go – or, at least, have a short list – and determine the peak season for each location. For example, If you’re headed to Europe, any time during the winter months (November through March, with the exception of Christmas) will be cheaper than summer.
If you want to go to Mexico or the Caribbean, the opposite is true. Summer is much slower – since few people want to escape the heat by going somewhere even hotter – so if you’re willing to sit in the shade, you can save a few bucks.
Keep in mind that some hotels in the Caribbean don’t greatly lower their prices during off-peak times – often, it’s around 20% off peak-season prices – but you can always try to negotiate. And while direct flights to warm destinations might be somewhat cheaper (10% to 20%) during summer, summer is, overall, more expensive for flights than winter.
☼ Sign Up for Emails
Many of us spend a lot of our time unsubscribing from promotional emails that we never wanted in the first place. However, if you’re in the market for a vacation deal, it’s not a bad idea to sign up for emails from sites such as Travelzoo that create occasional digests of hot travel deals.
These deals are different from fare alerts in that they don’t correspond to a locale of your choice – instead, it’s a company-curated list of deals that may include locations all over the country and the world. Signing up for these types of emails is particularly valuable if you aren’t set on a certain destination or time-frame and simply want to go somewhere and get a good deal on the trip.
☼ Some Packages Are Actually Amazing
Airlines and hotels love to jack up the rates on last minute travel, and packages are just about the only way to bypass those extortionate rates and penalty fares. For example, we priced out a last minute deal to Cancún for three nights. In a package, you could get flights and a three night stay at the Grand Oasis Cancun – All Inclusive for $680. Booked separately, the same flights would have cost a minimum of $296, and the hotel would have run $225 per night for a grand total of $971. Those are some major savings.
☼ The Verdict
The best advice is to spend the time doing a lot of research comparing the deals on all your favorite sites. See who has the most convenient flights and the nicest hotel offerings. Price up your perfect package on a couple sites and then price up the pieces separately. If you’re looking at hundreds in savings and your travel plans are solid, take the plunge and book it immediately. If the savings are minimal, and there’s some potential wobble in your travel plans, book separately for the most flexible experience.