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.
Theresa writes “Looking for an affordable vacation to somewhere like Belize. A place to explore and enjoy the beach. It does not have to be inclusive, but I would like air and hotel. My husband is off the last week of June and the first week of July. A six-night trip in that time frame. A place not too remote as to get to town and food.”
Since I receive so many questions similar to Theresa’s, I’ve decided to put the old adage of teaching a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime to good use this week. So, instead of telling you what deals I’ve found, I’m going to show you where to look for the best ways to save on beach- and adventure-friendly vacations.
If you have a destination in mind (such as Belize), begin your research by finding the website for the destination’s official tourism board. You can locate these sites by entering the name of the place plus tourism board into a search engine. Be sure you find the official website, as many others may not be as trustworthy. The tourism board will provide a great deal of information about transportation, hotels, restaurants, shops, and tours. Plus, many offer free maps and brochures to help you get better acquainted with the area. You may also find deals on lodging or even activities.
Once you have a better idea of exactly where you want to go, you can then begin scouring the Internet for deals. Start by comparing airfare prices, which will give you a point of reference regarding whether you have found a good vacation package deal later on in your search. For instance, I priced airfare to Belize from New York City starting at $290 (with taxes and fees) per person leaving June 27 and returning July 4.
Next, find hotel prices for your travel dates and destination through a search engine like hotels.com. I priced hotels in Belize City starting at $65 per night, or $499 (with taxes and fees) for a week, at the end of June. It’s helpful to read other travelers’ reviews before booking a hotel just to be sure you’re really getting what is advertised.
The total for flight and hotel for two people comes to approximately $1,079 for a week’s stay without food, ground transportation, or activities. This is the price you will use to compare with other deals. And now the real fun begins.
There are several tried-and-true companies that offer great deals on vacation packages, such as CheapCaribbean.com, Funjet Vacations, and go-today.com, and are an excellent place to start looking for deals. All three companies provide bundled packages to beach destinations, including Costa Rica, Belize, Jamaica, Bermuda, Cancun, and so forth. And many of the resorts are all-inclusive, which for some travelers is an ideal option.
I priced a seven-night flight-and-hotel package with Funjet Vacations to Belize for the same travel dates as above and was quoted prices starting at $2,037 (with taxes and fees) for two people (or about $1,019 per person). Belize isn’t on sale right now through Funjet, and even though the hotel offered in the package is nicer than the one listed with hotels.com, the price difference is a bit much. There are, however, beach packages to other destinations which are significantly cheaper than that. This is where you can decide to go solo and book everything on your own, or if you can be flexible, you can choose a new destination based on what fits your budget best.
There is one other option for savvy sleuths, and that is searching for flight-and-hotel deals on the airlines’ vacation websites, such as United Vacations, Virgin Vacations, and Delta Vacations. With so many airlines offering savings on packages, check your preferred carrier often to see the latest offerings. Plus, you can search for deals from your departure city with United Vacations if you’re still undecided on where to go.
This is enough to get you started with your initial search for the ultimate vacation deal. I, however, can’t give away all of my trade secrets. My best advice is to be patient, flexible, and compare, compare, compare before you book.
Now I know most of my readers love a good bargain, and I’m sure many of you have your own insider secrets on how to find the best deals. I invite you to share how you typically plan a vacation. Where do you begin looking for discounts? Please share any deal investigating tips below.
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(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns hotels.com.)
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.