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Sampling vacation package providers

SmarterTravel

Perhaps you are thinking of taking a vacation soon, and had heard you can find great deals online. So you sit down, type “vacation providers” into Google, and get roughly 43 million results back. How do you know who is reputable? Where should you start?

As SmarterTravel.com’s Vacation editor, I sift through scores of vacation provider websites on a daily basis. I’ve put several of them to the test to show you what some of the majors are offering.

The providers listed here were chosen because of their range of vacation destinations, ample choice of departure cities, ease of booking online, and available dates of travel for their vacation packages. Their websites are also designed in ways that are user-friendly, and visitors can easily determine price and value, plus find links or references to customer service.

Determining value

Keep in mind that no one provider can be chosen as best, whether it’s having the lowest prices, most destinations to choose from, or superlative customer service. You will always have to determine personal value by comparing multiple offerings. For example, before starting any search, consider the following questions:

  • Is the lowest price the most valuable factor to you?
  • How many layovers are you willing to have? Would you take a direct flight even if it means you have to pay more?
  • What class of accommodations do you prefer?
  • Do you have flexibility in your travel dates, or are they already set?
  • Are you willing to travel at off-peak hours, or during the week?

Geography also plays a role in adding value. If you live in Miami, New York, or Los Angeles, you have an advantage regarding low prices: Miami typically gets the cheapest rates to the Caribbean, New York has affordable European or Caribbean travel, and Los Angeles gets the lowest rates to Hawaii. If you live close to any of these hubs, you may want to consider these as departure cities for an upcoming vacation, as you may get a better rate.

Lastly, don’t be skittish if you’ve never heard of a given provider. Compare offerings, do some research through message boards or the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to get peace of mind before booking, and never book if you haven’t gotten a price or hotel that works for you.

The providers

Europe

Go-today and Europe ASAP are both offering competitive vacation deals to London and Paris.

London

Package details Go-Today Europe ASAP
Number of nights 6 6
Price $659-$2,659 $399-$2,249
Lowest-price departure city New York, Newark New York
Season Spring, fall Spring
Reviews from past travelers? Yes No
Hotel choices 23 17
Departure cities easy to find? Yes Yes
Single, triple rates available? Yes Yes
Extensions available? Yes Yes
Refundable? No No

Paris

Package details Go-Today Europe ASAP
Number of nights 6 6
Price $659-$1,659 $599-$1,419
Lowest-price departure city New York, Newark New York
Season Spring, fall Spring
Reviews from past travelers? Yes No
Hotel choices 17 17
Departure cities easy to find? Yes Yes
Single, triple rates available? Yes Yes
Extensions available? Yes Yes
Refundable? No No

For additional context, consider that Go-today usually announces its prices and booking deadlines months in advance, so you’ll have a sense of cutoff dates for planning your trip, as well as a clear sense of how much your vacation price will change by season.

EuropeASAP gives a good sense of year-round pricing, but can occasionally have shorter windows for booking than Go-today. Also, both providers have a wide range of hotels to choose from, so if the cheapest-price option doesn’t appeal to you, you should be able to find another within your budget and travel tastes.

Caribbean

Dominican Republic

Package details CheapCaribbean.com BeachDestinations.com
Number of nights 5 5
Price $599 $1,029
All-inclusive? Yes No
Lowest-price departure city Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, San Juan New York
Season Spring Spring
Reviews from past travelers? No No
Departure cities easy to find? Somewhat Yes
Single, triple rates available? Yes Yes

Jamaica

Package details CheapCaribbean.com BeachDestinations.com
Number of nights 6 4
Price $599 $575
All-inclusive? Yes Yes
Lowest-price departure city Ft. Lauderdale, Miami New York
Season Spring, summer, fall Spring
Reviews from past travelers? No No
Departure cities easy to find? Somewhat Yes
Single, triple rates available? Yes Yes

For Caribbean vacations, note that CheapCaribbean.com often has short booking windows, yet it usually renews its sales on a weekly basis. So, if you don’t think you’ll be able to book a package for the near future, you’ll most likely be able to wait it out and get a comparable deal for when you want to travel (keeping in mind prices will be higher when it’s cold in the Northeast, the Caribbean’s peak travel season).

Both CheapCaribbean.com and BeachDestinations.com offer a variety of island destinations, enable you to check current promotions as well as customize your own vacation, and feature a range of all-inclusive or standard hotel properties.

Las Vegas

Package details US Airways Vacations Delta Vacations
Number of nights 3 3
Airfare from LA, hotel at Aladdin Hotel and Casino $600 $499
Airfare from NYC, hotel at Aladdin Hotel and Casino $596 $642
Airfare from LA, hotel at Fitzgeralds $327 N/A
Airfare from NYC, hotel at Fitzgeralds $324 N/A
Departure cities easy to find? Yes Yes
Occasional sales/promotions? Yes Yes
Can sort by price? Yes No

Everyone offers vacations to Vegas, and why not? It’s a popular tourist destination, teeming with frequent flights, an abundance of hotels, and plenty of activities that travelers can bundle into an airfare-and-hotel package.

However, with so many choices, things can get overwhelming. The providers that really stand out are ones that give you a host of information in an easy to read, easy to sort format, such as US Airways Vacations. Other providers, such as AmericanAirlines Vacations, seem to offer a variety of properties customizable with your travel dates, but when I tried to compare some of their vacations, I couldn’t sort by price or availability. As a result, I kept finding hotels out of my price range, those that were unavailable, or the site would give me an error message.

With Vegas vacations, a good rule of thumb would be to check a variety of places to make sure you’re finding the best deal, as evidenced by the disparity in prices between US Airways’ and Delta‘s vacation prices for getaways at the Aladdin Hotel and Casino. Another recommendation would be to use our fare-comparison tool.

Getting ready to book

If you’ve found the seemingly perfect vacation, but are still feeling a little hesitant to book, consider the following options for peace of mind.

  • Post a question about the provider on an online message board. Community travel boards such as Frommers’ Travel Talk, IGoUGo.com, and [% 333056 | | Trip Advisor %] (another partner of SmarterTravel.com) have good advice from those who can share their past experiences.
  • Call the provider’s customer service hotline if you have any questions about the package you want to book.
  • Check the BBB to see if any past complaints have been filed against the travel provider.

Remember, there is no one “best” vacation provider. However, with a little research, you should be able to determine which provider has the best vacation for you.

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