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(2012 - Fall/Winter Issue)


For decades now, the all-inclusive package holiday has taken the guesswork out of travel costs in distant locales.

Before departure, we pre-pay all the primary features such as air transportation, accommodation, meals, bar beverages, entertainment, recreation, taxes and gratuities. The concept is simple and efficient so what more can anyone ask? 

Well . . . quite a bit.

As you window shop for just the right package, dig around to uncover little extras. You might find buried, for example, some activities planned around a special interest or the chance to stay longer than a week (or less) and there may be options for a room and air ticket upgrade. Get added value by exploring the tour operator website for promotions and special deals—and by getting independent opinions about the package before you book.

Snag the Best Deal

Let’s review the main components as you plan:

When to go: For the Caribbean, Florida and Mexico, right now is the low-priced period from October to mid-December. After the holiday season, lower pricing returns in early January for a couple of weeks before high-season rates peak through March.

When to book: Early or late? There’s no hard-and-fast rule since early-bird discounts can save you a bundle, and so can last-minute deals. By booking early (several weeks ahead) you have more control over choice and quality—and if you book before a specified date, many of the leading tour operators offer a price adjustment if your package is eventually reduced.

How to book: If you purchase online, Canadians are advised to buy from Canadian travel companies for better transaction protection. The About Us tabs, plus decals, such as TICO, CATO, TIAG and others, identify this. Or, if you book face-to-face with a travel agency, it will give you an actual person to call in an emergency.

Did you know?

Digging around on travel websites for the lesser-known perks can produce some unexpected gems. For example, on three of Canada’s best known tour operator sites—Air Canada Vacations (ACV), Transat Holidays (TH) and Sunwing Vacations (SV)—take a look at discoveries such as these:

Price guarantees: As an incentive to book early, many reputable tour operators offer to refund the difference if the price drops before departure on the package you purchased. These offers, such as PriceGuard with ACV, have varying terms and conditions including ceilings on the refund dollar amount.

Discounts: Tour operators post cost-saving specials from time to time. On each site, always search the menu bar for tabs such as Promotions, Deals, Promos and Travel Offers. Some tour operators highlight their perks—such as Free Nights, Kids Fly Free, Golf and Spa Discounts—in moving images on the home page.

Deep discount last-minute deals: While discounts are unpredictable during high season (Canadian winter) you can do quite well in the shoulder seasons (November, April, May, June) and very well in hurricane season (August, September and October) when, for example, SV has been posting discounts as high as 65 per cent at their two-star properties in the Caribbean and Florida. When calculating the costs on any package, at any time of year, be sure you budget for taxes at an average of $300 per person for a seven-day all-inclusive.

Pay, wait, save: Be flexible and be rewarded with five-star luxury at a discounted price. For example, in destinations where TH blocks rooms at several top-calibre resorts, you can opt to pay one flat rate and allow the tour operator to select the hotel a few days before you arrive. It’s a win-win: the tour company gets to manage the flow with more ease, and you get a lower price for equal calibre.

Best available: Let the computer search out the best prices for you like they do on the SV site. Its tool, called the Best Buy Calendar, will search and compare prices with the information you provide.

Special interests: Instead of time-consuming searches to ensure enough of your favourite recreation, it is very helpful when the tour operator website assists with this kind of browsing. On the ACV site, look for the Browse Packages by Interest tab. It will immediately lead you to an abundance of choices for scuba, spa, family packages, weddings, golf, cruising and more.

Short and long stays: In some destinations,all-inclusive packages can also be booked for three and four days, or 10 days. For example, go to Florida, Las Vegas or the Bahamas for a long weekend, or opt to stay for more than a week.

Air upgrade: Pay a supplement to polish up your flight experience. For example, the TH program is called Option Plus and it features complimentary seat selection, meals and beverages, supplementary baggage allowance, a comfort kit (with pillow, blanket, eye shades, etc.) and priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling.

Resort upgrade: Put more of a shine on your destination experience too. With a supplementary fee you receive benefits such as preferred room location, guaranteed restaurant reservations, and other priority services. The ACV program is called Privileges and it adds in-flight seat selection as well. Look for the Privileges logo on the website/brochure pages of the participating resorts. The Royal Club is another ACV exclusive upgrade at select resorts. 

Two-part experiences: If you would like a bit more variety in your week away, look for options such as the ACV offer “Stay at one resort, but play at two.” Or, combine two very different destinations in one trip. Here’s a TH example: spend the first part of your vacation on the beach and the other half exploring the cultural and historic attractions of a nearby colonial town. Or, spend a few days snorkelling on a celebrated coral reef before a few more days relaxing to the sounds of the surf in a completely different destination.

Mobile check-in: Instead of lining up at the airport, take care of check-in details on your smartphone when convenient, even en route. Download the ACV mobile app, or use their website to manage your booking.

Homes and condos: As an alternative to hotels, relax in a Florida residential neighbourhood in a rented house or condo. The TH program is specifically designed to offer families and friends the space, comfort and privacy of a home-away-from-home in destinations such as Orlando, St. Pete Beach, Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach and New Smyrna Beach.

Airport parking discounts: Cost-saving coupons are available for travellers in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton and Halifax, through TH and Park ’N Fly.

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