The all-inclusive vacation package that just popped into your inbox seems like an amazing deal, and it's limited-time only, so you better book it now, right? Not so fast. Before you commit to that package deal, follow these steps to make sure it's really a bargain.
Run the Numbers
If airfare is included, search online for the dates that the package is offered (and additional dates, too, if you're flexible). Next, go to the website of the hotel (s) featured in the deal to see how much it costs for accommodations alone. Make sure those two numbers add up to a price that's higher than the package deal.
Many package deals will throw in a freebie or two to sweeten the pot. Think carefully about whether or not you'd actually use the extras they're offering. A free bottle of wine is a common example of something a hotel will offer as a booking incentive. But it's usually not worth much (and sometimes it's not even a full-size bottle). Could you book elsewhere for cheaper and use the savings to buy things you'd rather have?
Look for Hidden Charges
Often, extra costs such as resort fees, rental car taxes, and airline baggage fees aren't included in the package price. For example, your package might include airfare on a low-cost carrier like Spirit, but you'll have to pay extra to bring a carry-on or check a bag. It won't be included in the bottom line.
Related: Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide
Visit TripAdvisor.com to make sure the hotels included are really as nice as the vacation package claims. Also, check reviews for the deal provider to make sure they aren't sketchy. The Better Business Bureau, Yelp.com, and TripAdvisor Forums are all good resources for this. (Full disclosure: SmarterTravel is part of the TripAdvisor Media Network.)
Add on Your Departure Airport Cost
The vast majority of air-inclusive package prices are advertised based on rates from the cheapest airport, which is usually Los Angeles (LAX) for Asia trips, Miami for South America, and New York (JFK) for Europe. If you're not flying directly out of one of those hubs, make sure you won't need to purchase an expensive connecting flight.
If your deal passes all these steps, go for it! If not, book it on your own or keep looking.
-- By Caroline Morse