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What are the pros and cons of booking airfare-hotel packages?

SmarterTravel

Dear Editor,

What are the pros and cons of booking airfare-and-hotel packages?

A.M.

Dear Reader,

There’s no question you can save money by booking your airfare and hotel together through one of the major online travel agencies such as Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity. Keep in mind, though, that a vacation package may not be right for every trip. Below, we outline the benefits and drawbacks to booking vacation packages to help you decide if bundling is right for your trip.

Consider a vacation package if:

You want the lowest prices

Expedia claims travelers can save an average of almost $200 by booking an airfare-hotel package on its website. To put Expedia’s claim to the test, we priced several vacation packages and their a-la-carte counterparts to see how much money we could save. The savings ranged between $12 and $68—a good bargain, but not as much as Expedia’s claim.

Provider Trip details Airfare and hotel booked a la carte Package price Savings
Expedia Seven nights in Maui, departing from Boston $1,075 $1,007 $68
Orbitz Seven nights in New York, departing from Los Angeles $519 $494 $25
Travelocity Seven nights in San Diego, departing from Chicago $462 $450 $12

Prices are per person and include all taxes and fees. Hotel rates are based on double occupancy.

You’re traveling at the last minute

Unless you manage to score a cheap last-minute airfare, you’ll often pay through the nose for a last-minute flight. However, bundling airfare and hotel is an effective way to save.

Last-minute provider Site59.com says travelers can save up to 70 percent by booking a last-minute package. These numbers may be similarly inflated like Expedia’s, but the essence of the point is correct. The company packages unsold airfares and hotel rooms at lower-than-normal prices from 14 days to three hours before departure. Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Lastminutetravel.com, and other providers also work in a similar manner, offering cheap packages at the last minute.

You’re flying to a popular destination in peak season

We always advise Europe-bound travelers to book airfare-and-hotel packages in the peak season rather than booking each component separately. That way, travelers book a pre-determined price for airfare and hotel together, and do not have to track fluctuating airfare prices or (just as importantly) compete for a limited number of hotel rooms.

But book separately if…

You want more options

Although vacation packages generally offer lower prices than booking separately, this may not be the case every time. If you book airfare with a consolidator or on an opaque-pricing website such as Priceline or Hotwire, you may be able to score a cheaper flight than the options available in a package.

Additionally, if you prefer to stay in B&Bs, small inns, hostels, or boutique-style or off-the-beaten-path hotels, these accommodation options will likely not be part of an airfare-and-hotel package, even though you may save money by staying there.

You’re spontaneous

If, for example, you’re planning a two-week trip around Spain, you may want more flexibility than an airfare-and-hotel package will allow. Once you’ve booked your hotels as part of a package deal, it may not be easy to adjust your travel dates or the number of nights in a particular city. If you want flexibility in choosing your itinerary, a package may not be for you. However, some providers do offer fly-and-drive packages, so if you plan to rent a car (instead of using public transportation), this could be a viable option.

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