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Which website is best for vacation packages?

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Puerto Vallarta (Photo: Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board & CVB)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 1, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Cheap Tickets, Expedia, Jessica Labrencis, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity, vacation package.

Readers often ask where they can find the best deals for vacation packages. Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. When booking airfare alone, you wouldn't look at prices from only one airline, and the same rule applies to booking packages—you shouldn't check prices from only one provider.

To help you with your searches, I tested prices on several popular online travel agencies' websites to determine which would offer the best deals.

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Who's the best?

I priced vacation packages on five different providers' websites: CheapTickets, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Travelocity. The packages ranged in length (from three nights to seven), and in destination (London, Nassau, New York, Puerto Vallarta, and San Diego).

As you'll see below, no clear winner emerged. Orbitz's prices were the lowest for two packages, but were the most expensive for two others. Expedia, on the other hand, had the best price for one package, but its prices were average for the other four. CheapTickets and Priceline each had the lowest price in one example, but their prices were so-so for the other routes. Travelocity's prices weren't the lowest for any of these packages, and were the most expensive for one.

The comparisons illustrate the importance of comparing prices from a variety of providers. Travelocity didn't have the lowest prices in any of these examples, but that doesn't mean you should discount them in your searches completely. And, you can't count on Orbitz, or any other provider, to consistently offer the lowest prices.

Price comparisons

In the first search, I compared prices for seven-night vacations in London departing from Boston in October. Orbitz came out on top; its package was $12 cheaper than the next-lowest price from Expedia, and $81 less expensive than Travelocity's package. CheapTickets didn't have availability for the selected dates and destination.

Provider Price
Orbitz $837
Expedia $849
Priceline $891
Travelocity $918
Cheap Tickets N/A

The second search was for three-night Nassau, Bahamas, vacations in November departing from Miami. Priceline had the best price—$307—but the price included an opaque flight (in which the airline and exact flight times aren't shown until after you pay). Priceline also had the lowest price for regular flights, $319. Its lowest price was $188 cheaper than the most expensive package, offered by Orbitz.

Provider Price
Priceline $307
Travelocity $330
Expedia $353
CheapTickets $354
Orbitz $495

The third search was for five-night New York City vacations departing from Charlotte in September. Orbitz's package was the cheapest, with Expedia close behind. Travelocity's was the most expensive, $154 more than Orbitz's.

Provider Price
Orbitz $389
Expedia $393
Priceline $448
CheapTickets $452
Travelocity $543

I searched for six-night Puerto Vallarta September vacations departing from San Francisco in the fourth example. This time, CheapTickets' package was the best available, $15 cheaper than the next-lowest vacation from Travelocity, and $88 lower than the most expensive package from Priceline.

Provider Price
CheapTickets $441
Travelocity $456
Expedia $509
Orbitz $515
Priceline $529

In the last search, I compared prices for San Diego vacations, including five nights' accommodations and a rental car, departing from Chicago. Expedia was the winner. Its package was $4 cheaper than the next-lowest price from Priceline. Orbitz's package was the most expensive, $32 more than Expedia's.

Provider Price
Expedia $449
Priceline $452
CheapTickets $469
Travelocity $470
Orbitz $480

Before you book

In doing these comparisons, I noticed a few things you should be aware of.

  • Added extras: In two instances, Travelocity added on ground transfers, which bumped up the total package price per person between $25 and $30. Before booking with any provider, be sure you're only paying for the extras you actually want—not ones that the provider automatically includes for a charge.
  • Pay attention to dates: For the London packages, a few providers included overnight flights, which reduced the number of nights in a hotel by one night. When you're comparing prices for similar packages on different websites, pay attention to the flight times. One less night in a city may mean a cheaper package, but if you want a seven-night stay, make sure you get it.
  • Hotel location: In almost every example, the lowest-priced hotel options were for hotels far away from the center of the city. Transportation costs to and from the attractions you want to see can hike the price of your trip, so it may be worth it to book at a more expensive, and more centrally located, property.

There's no magic way to find the lowest prices. But, if you put in some legwork—comparing prices from a few different providers—you can ensure that you'll find a good deal for your itinerary.

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