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Bundling flights, rental cars and hotels together can often save you the hassle of booking separately — and may save you money too.
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In the second half of 2021, the average travel package prices dropped 10%, according to a recent Priceline report. But how can you know if a package deal is really a deal or just an enticement to get you to spend more money?
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GOBankingRates spoke to travel experts to get their insights on when a travel package deal is your best bet, and when you might want to book your trip separately.
Hotels, airlines and rental car companies often partner up to offer discounted rates to customers, said full-time traveler Veronica Hanson.
“Travel bundles offered by travel agents, third-party booking sites or operators themselves are often a result of partnerships between brands,” she said. “You might see Hyatt doing a cross-brand promotion with American Airlines and Avis, or Marriott bundling with United plus Hertz. Those bundles are almost always a better price, or they offer some additional perk that booking a la carte wouldn’t offer.”
As an alternative to booking through a travel agent or vendor site, Matthew Meier, founder of MaxTour in Las Vegas, always tells his customers to check out Costco Travel for “outstanding” deals on travel packages.
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“I rarely find other sites that can beat their rates, and their cancellation policy plus great customer service makes using them even more attractive,” Meier said.
Steve Oliverez, founder and CEO of InsanelyCheapFlights.com, notes that package travel deals can be especially good deals when you are booking last minute.
“Usually, flights get more expensive the closer you get to the travel date, but if a third party has reserved flight tickets for a package, they’ll often offer significant discounts,” he said. “All-inclusive last-minute package deals are some of the best travel offers available.”
“Bundling can be a great option for travelers who know exactly where they want to go and plan to stay at traditional lodging. However, if you are a traveler who likes to be spontaneous, stay at places like hostels and be flexible with travel dates, bundling may not be the best option since it is more rigid with what you can do,” said Ravi Parikh, CEO of the campground and RV park booking site RoverPass. “Paying for everything upfront in this way can also make canceling or rescheduling tricky, or not even possible at all.”
Regardless of what kind of traveler you are, you should always take the time to check the prices of booking your trip as a bundle or as separate bookings to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
“You have to compare apples to apples to know if there’s a discount or advantage to a package deal,” said Nikki Webster, travel writer and founder of Brit on the Move. “And, getting to apples to apples includes all details, like flight times, connections and accommodations. One factor can throw off any bundle, and bundles typically come with some compromise.”
“For example, you can find a package deal to Paris that includes air and hotel for five nights for approximately $800,” she continued. “However, the flights [may] have multiple connections, [and] then there’s the hotel quality. My experience is you can find a deal if you are willing to simply go with the flow or go with what is deemed included. And, long before you ever hit ‘buy’ on a package deal, price out every item independently to see if it really is cost-saving or if you can book it all yourself.”
Taking this extra step can ensure you don’t end up getting ripped off.
“While there are deals that represent significant material savings, all too often, we see third-party sellers making misleading claims about discounts,” said Josh Borenstein, co-founder of VIP Traveler. “A lot of times, the big online players — namely the online travel agencies — present ‘discounts’ that aren’t discounts at all. Deals are often made to look like a discount, but they’re usually references to the ‘best available rate’ and are the same price the hotels are offering directly, so there are no actual cash savings. It’s a real challenge for consumers, so we always recommend that travelers compare against the hotel’s website. That said, there are agents and travel sites who are using their personal relationships to source exclusive offers. The key is to work with agents, advisors and experts who you trust, especially those who make it clear when the opportunity is good or not.”
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