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|The Travel Industry Uncovered||
|2. The Package Holiday|
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Package holidays are organised by tour operators who 'bundle together' the various holiday elements into a 'package'. They sell their packages either direct to the public and/or through travel agents. The cost of a holiday can vary greatly depending upon the tour operator and who it is booked with (see examples).
The 'typical' package holiday includes
- Charter Flight
- Transfers (between your destination airport and your holiday accommodation).
However Package holidays can include other elements such as theme park tickets, ski passes and ferry crossings and, nowadays, some traditional elements such as transfers (see below) and 'in-flight meals' (see below) may only be included as optional extras.
'Charter' flights typically use aircraft chartered or owned by a tour operator. Such flights, generally, are more cramped and have fewer comforts/extras but are usually significantly cheaper than scheduled flights provided by an airline such as British Airways, Emirates, etc).
It is worth noting that tour operators usually have 'flight only' seats for sale on their charter flights. It can sometimes be cheaper to buy a 'flight only' from one tour operator and accommodation from a specialist accommodation supplier or direct from a hotel.
Be aware also of another despicable (just our opinion!) trend which appears to be on the increase with certain tour operators. Some are now charging extra for in-flight meals on some of their package holidays. Our advice - take sandwiches! There is even one tour operator (Thomson) who, for some holidays, will charge you extra if you want the 'usual' 20kgs baggage allowance. (see also transfers, below)
Generally, package holidays include either hotel or apartment/studio accommodation. Some hotels and apartments are specific to one particular tour operator, but many are available through more than one and prices can vary significantly between them. (see some examples here).
Often, you can make significant savings by choosing 'allocated on arrival' accommodation. With this option, you usually specify a board basis (see meals, below) but leave the final choice of your accommodation to the tour operator (within specified parameters). Your accommodation is allocated to you when you arrive at your destination which allows the tour operator to better fill their room allocations and allows you to make significant savings compared with 'named' accommodation. To illustrate with a fictitious example; it can be possible to buy say, a 2* self catering package holiday:
- 'allocated on arrival' somewhere on Ibiza for £149
- 'allocated on arrival' somewhere in San Antonio for £199
- at the 'Sunshine Apartments' in San Antonio town for £249.
Regardless of which of these holidays you bought, you could end up at the 'Sunshine Apartments', but to be guaranteed the 'Sunshine Apartments' you would have to pay £249.
Of course, the 'allocated on arrival' option can have obvious drawbacks. Because you don't know exactly where you will be staying you could end up in a resort that you don't like or in accommodation that doesn't have facilities that you need.
The meals included in the package depend upon the 'board basis':
Room Only: no meals provided
Bed & Breakfast: breakfast only
Half Board: breakfast and evening meal
Full Board: breakfast, lunch and evening meal
All Inclusive (or Fully Inclusive): Conditions vary depending on location and tour operator but generally include three meals a day + snacks + soft drinks + local alcoholic drinks.
Not so long ago transfers were part and parcel of the package holidays. Nowadays some tour operators do not include transfers in the cost of some of their packages (especially late bookings), but charge them as an extra.
Before booking any holiday be sure to check whether or not there is an extra charge for transfers. A family of 4 can typically pay an extra £60 (£15 per person). It is worth noting also that, depending upon your destination, a local taxi may be cheaper than paying for transfers. During the holiday season, there are usually queues of taxis waiting to greet holidaymakers at most major holiday destination airports. Depending on you destination and the size of your party, you may even be able to hire a car for the week for the price of the operator's transfers.
This is where the fun (and confusion) really starts...
The Headline Grabbing Discounts
The marketing departments of some tour operators and travel agency chains have been working overtime in recent years in what appears to be an effort to confuse the public with '60% discount' and other wonderful headline grabbing offers. [Before the litigation starts, we want to stress that we are expressing a general opinion here and that this opinion does not necessarily apply to all tour operators and travel agencies- phew!]
Our advice is to 'treat every claim with caution'. Read the small print! Many discounts apply only to specified holidays and/or specific dates. Many offers like 'free' insurance only apply if you spend more than a given amount.
Be aware also that pricing in the package holiday market is very fluid. Prices can, and do, go up and down depending upon supply and demand. We have seen tour operators' prices change a number of times in one day. Generally nowadays, brochure prices are meaningless.
The Absolutely Incredible Deal
If you see an amazing, unbelievable price advertised on teletext (or anywhere else), be cautious. It probably is unbelievable. We suggest the following course of action:
1. Be sure you know how many people the price is based on. The advertised 'per person' price may, for example, be based on six people sharing an apartment. The chances are that the 'per person' price will be greatly increased if only two people share the same apartment.
2. Make sure that the advertisement includes the departure date. Yes, you may get a couple of weeks on the Costa del Sol for £99 in November, but in the middle of July..? Now to be fair, it really isn't possible to always include every little piece of relevant information in advertisements, but if they leave out important stuff such as the dates that the deal applies to, then you have to wonder why!
3. Before going any further, ask the advertiser to check that the holiday is actually available NOW at the advertised price and for the given departure date. Prices and availability really can change very quickly. Through no fault of the advertiser the price may have gone up or all holidays have been sold since he/she placed the advertisement. Do all advertisers check availability BEFORE advertising their 'super deals? We trust that they do, but unfortunately, we have no way of knowing one way or the other.
4. Check for the extras that will 'bump up' the price including:
- transfers (see above).
- in-flight meals (see above).
- ticket on departure fees. This is another undesirable practice (in our opinion) which is now firmly entrenched in the package holiday business. Many tour operators have in recent years introduced additional 'ticket on departure' charges for late holidays booked (usually) within 2 weeks of departure. The reason? When holiday are booked close to departure, it is not always possible to get tickets to the client in time. Consequently the booking agent will issue the client with a voucher or letter which they exchange at the airport for their tickets. All very understandable. However, what is less understandable is why this should necessitate charging the client (up to) £15 per person for the privilege. Is there really an extra cost incurred in NOT sending out tickets?
- booking fees. £10 per head can significantly add to the cost of a family holiday.
- credit card fees.
For a variety of reasons the price of a holiday can vary significantly depending upon who you book it with.
In the first place, many (almost) identical holidays (same hotel, similar flight times) are available from a variety of operators and prices can vary significantly between them. (see examples). If you book with someone who is unaware of this or is unwilling/unable to use the operator that is cheapest for you, you risk paying more than you need to.
Further, the commission paid by tour operators can vary from one travel agent to another depending upon various factors including negotiated deals and 'racking policies' (....more). Travel Agents earning higher commission can afford to discount more.
Most travel agents will actively promote and sell only certain tour operators' holidays. Did you know that many of the major High Street travel agents (such as Lunn Poly, Going Places and Thomas Cook) are actually part of the same companies who own our major tour operators? (...more ) Which holidays do you think they will promote?
For these and other reasons, prices can vary from agent to agent. Our advice, for what its worth...
1. Only book with a 'direct sell' operator if you are absolutely sure exactly which holiday you want and that no other operator does it cheaper. In these circumstances a direct sell operator can be your best option. Remember, however, that they promote and sell only their own holidays - they are unlikely to recommend a competitor to you!
2. If you have the time and inclination to shop around, then do it, but ignore ALL the hype and mega discount claims. Just ask the seller/agent two questions:
- Is it available now?
- How much will I pay in TOTAL? (for everything that you want such as flights accommodation, transfers, insurance etc AND including all charges such as booking fees, ticket on departure charges, credit card charges etc).
2. If you don't have the time to shop around then you need to find an agent that you can trust to do it for you. If you don't know who to trust, ask your friends for recommendations. Otherwise, look for an agent that is:
- experienced and knowledgeable.
In our view, these two requirements are absolutely crucial A good independent agent will search out the best deals to suit you personally regardless of which operator they are with and how much commission he/she will earn. A good independent agent with knowledge and experience will give good impartial advice. (but then we would say that, wouldn't we)
3. Once you have found an agent that you can trust to always act in your best interests, stick with them.
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