The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel.com’s resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She’s always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Let’s kick off this week’s column with a little thing I like to call Deal or No Deal. (Original, eh? Nobody tell NBC!) Though I try not to feature the same company two weeks in a row, sometimes the deals are just too interesting not to investigate. This week, United Vacations is offering a Walt Disney World Resort promotion that’s definitely worth a closer inspection before you book.
The deal promises three extra nights at a resort, a free Disney gift card worth up to $300, airport shuttle, and three days of theme park tickets when you book a four-night vacation package with at least a seven-day Magic Your Way ticket for each person through United Vacation’s website using the promo code GIFT. You must travel between January 4 and June 27, and book by January 24.
Though this may be a good deal if you plan on buying the Magic Your Way tickets, I found the booking process a bit muddled. You have to book a four-night vacation package including airfare, which seems simple enough until you realize that the extra perks only come when you also purchase a seven-day Magic Your Way ticket for each person traveling. This is where I ran into problems. I was only able to find four-day tickets, not the seven-day ones, on the booking page. I finally clicked on “add activities,” and was redirected to a page where the seven-day option for $251 per ticket was available. So, after all of this, I was certain that the promo would change my round-trip ticket—but, alas, no such luck.
After fiddling around with this offer online for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that your best bet for taking advantage of this offer is to call United Vacations directly. And even then, don’t book until you’ve priced out similar packages from other providers.
Verdict: No Deal
Question of the Week
Rob writes “Dear Deal Detective, I am trying to plan a Europe trip for my girlfriend and me in the spring. I have been to Germany, but she has never left the US. I was hoping to combine a trip to Paris for several days, then to Germany (perhaps the Black Forest region) for a few days. I wanted to do a combo trip as time is of a premium and I’m not sure when we will have another opportunity to return. Do you have any suggestions on how to keep this as affordable as possible, and would you recommend a touring company instead of us going solo? Thanks!”
Thanks for the question, Rob. There’s nothing better than a romantic trip to Paris (and Germany, of course) to show your love for someone, so I’m honored that you asked for my help. Let’s start by looking at your three options: An escorted tour, an airfare-and-hotel package, or planning it all on your own.
I know you said you’d like to travel in the springtime, which typically means late March or early April, but you can save by leaving a little earlier in March if you can swing it. For instance, you can save roughly $130 each on flights by leaving mid-March versus early April.
It may be difficult to find an escorted tour that includes the areas of France and Germany you’d like to see. Gate 1 Travel offers multi-city guided packages that cover all of your bases—if you want to go to Paris and Amsterdam, instead of Germany—and includes airfare, hotels, transfers, transportation, guide, meals, and sightseeing starting at $1,269 per person (without taxes and fees) for a seven-day trip. But Paris and Germany is less common, and I couldn’t find a single escorted tour that fits your specific criteria.
That’s just as well, to be honest, because I think it’ll be more romantic to experience these destinations without 10-20 new friends tagging along.
One option that offers a bit more freedom is a fly-and-drive package from a company like EuropeASAP. This one starts at $1,034 (with taxes and fees) per person for a round-trip flight from New York City to Paris and a seven-day car rental for travel between January 7 and March 19. You will still have to book your own hotel rooms, but this package lets you plan an itinerary around the sights (and cities) you want to visit. You can find a range of hotel options and traveler’s reviews on SmarterTravel.com’s sister site, [% 72034 | | TripAdvisor %]. You would then have to decide how much time you want to spend in each place, and how far you could really travel in the time allotted for this package deal. A great way to do this is by using Google Maps to plot your desired course.
Of course, you can always customize your own package with a company such as European Destinations. You choose the dates you want to fly, the cities you want to visit, how many nights you want to stay, the type of transportation, and the hotels. The company then provides prices based on your choices. For instance, I priced a seven-night vacation in early March for $2,319 (with taxes and fees) for two, that included airfare from New York City, a car rental, a hotel for four nights in Paris, one night in Frankfurt, and one night in Baden Baden. Granted, this price does not include the fanciest of lodging, but it’s up to you how much you’re willing to spend for extra perks.
Though this is an easy way to plan, you can also opt to book everything on your own. I priced flights with Air France from New York City to Paris in mid-March starting at $634 per person (with taxes and fees), or $1,268 for two. The car rental, if you choose to drive, comes to about $403 for a seven-day manual economy rental. This leaves you with about $648 for hotel rooms, or a little more than $90 per night, if we compare this total to the package price above.
Whatever way you choose to plan or book, I have no doubt that it will be a wonderful trip.
To my other readers: Please share any saving, booking, or planning tips you may have with Rob. Since I didn’t recommend any activities for Rob’s trip, I would really appreciate any insights you can offer on how to make this trip truly special!
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