The package holiday is the staple of the travel industry. Since Thomas Cook first began his bespoke “tours” (train trips for supporters of the Temperance Movement between Leicester and Loughborough) in 1841 this quaint operation snowballed into a multi billion pound industry. The term “package holiday” brings with it pleasant connotations. After all, there’s something intrinsically appealing about bundles of goodies all wrapped up together in a neat little package (how else do you explain the subscription box industry?). But are these packages a double edged sword? We’re often told that we can save money by opting for bespoke packages or opting for all-inclusive accommodation and we tend to blindly assume that it’s cheaper. But does this “common sense” logic bear scrutiny? Does the pitch match the practicality? If we do save money on package deals does that saving come at the cost of our flexibility or our freedom?
Here, we’ll take a look at why booking an all inclusive package can be cheaper, why it often isn’t and how you can save just as much money by getting a little more creative with your travel plans.
The logic behind the package holiday is pretty straightforward when you think about it. Tour operators have good relationships with the airlines hotels, restaurants and attractions that rely on them for their business. They buy in bulk and therefore get preferential rates in comparison to consumers who book direct. It makes sense, and a lot of the time this “common sense” logic actually holds water but it withers under the lights of the digital age somewhat. Digital vendors and tour operators have far fewer overheads than most high street travel agents and thus can pass the savings onto you, the consumer. That said, digitally based travel agents have a less than stellar reputation especially after Low Cost Holidays went bust in 2016. While this could drive frugal holiday makers into the arms of “too big to fail” giants like Thompsons or Thomas Cook it’s worth mentioning that you’re safe with any company that’s ATOL protected, and the occasional bad apple shouldn’t put you off the barrel altogether.
Food for thought
The biggest lure of packaged all-inclusive holidays is the promise of free food when you reach your destination. Sitting in the travel agents it’s easy to think of this as a great idea with all the free food you could possibly want for your delectation whenever you want it. The reality, however, rarely jives with this. While you may have all of your meals included in the price of the booking drinks (particularly alcoholic drinks) are rarely included and the choice of meal options is typically limited. The bars of all inclusive resorts can be expensive since they view the sale of alcohol to be an opportunity to inflate their prices. Plus, the temptation is to think of all the food available at your accommodation as free… But of course it’s not free, it’s prepaid. Everything on your plate is food that you’ve already paid for and if you’re unhappy with what’s on that plate you may just be wasting your money. Plus if you have any dietary requirements such as vegetarianism, veganism, gluten free or ketogenic lifestyle you may find that your prepaid plans do not meet your requirement. Thus you may find yourself paying a premium for food inside the accommodation or dining outside and spending yet more money.
The trade off
If you stick rigidly to the included foods available and moderate your selection of drinks you may be able to make significant savings on a package deal but it will inevitably come at the expense of your flexibility. You will likely have a set itinerary with access to a very specific selection of attractions and activities. This may be fine for you but it can be extremely frustrating if you yearn for total control over your holiday.
You can, of course have your cake and eat it; saving money while maintaining your freedom and flexibility. It just requires some effort and a little research. Price comparison sites are an invaluable tool in allowing you to find the best possible prices for hotel rooms and you will have greater control over when you get to travel which is something that package holidays rarely afford. You can save more money by eschewing holidays altogether and opting for Smart Holiday Rentals or an AirBnB. Substituting a hotel for a rented property helps you feel much more like a local and you’re better situated to view your destination as the locals do.
You can also save significantly by booking last minute flights through the airline direct. There’s a great guide to saving money on flights right here.