I love getting the best deal possible on everything, especially travel, so naturally I’ve spend my fair share of time scoping out travel packages on Groupon, LivingSocial, TravelZoo, Jetsetter and many others. The hardest part of shopping for travel packages on deal sites is figuring out if the discount is significant enough to account for the hassle of additional restrictions and lack of flexibility. If that wasn’t hard enough in many cases you can’t rely on the sites listed retail value, and thus discount, as many travel packages have inflated retail prices. How do you decide if a deal is good enough to pull the trigger? I have a few simple questions to ask yourself to quickly determine if a travel package is right for you.
1. Do you need it?
Everyone likes a good deal. There is something about paying 50% off for something that is downright exciting. Unfortunately, you are only saving money if you were planning on purchasing that item or the combination of items for the travel package already. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a sale and forget that even if the price is discounted you are still paying money for it. Retailers are well aware of our affinity for savings and know they can lure us into buying things we never knew we wanted or needed by putting it on sale. Travel packages are no different. If there is a great deal on a local sunset cruise in your area, unless you have always planned on doing a sunset cruise and were just waiting for the right price, don’t be lured into buying it just because it’s on sale.
2. What is the true value of the deal?
There is a local clothing store in one of my favorite tourist towns, Solvang, California. Solvang is a cute little town built by Danish immigrants in the heart of the Santa Ynez wine country. If you happen by this clothing store while shopping for Danish pastries you be shocked to find they are having a store-wide 50% off sale. The woman at the door chants “Today everything 50% off-come on in” and the crowds wander in to take advantage of the great sale. As you probably guessed, every day is a store-wide 50% off sale. The store owners just double the prices on each item and then tell you its 50% off! And of course it works! Travel deals sites like to try this tactic as well by inflating the retail price of packages and then stating huge discounts. In many cases there is still a discount off the normal price, but in the neighborhood of 10-20% verses the 40-50% listed.
In the San Francisco Bay area limo wine tours are a classic example. Local travel package sites frequently have deals for 50% off a limo wine tour, but if you call the limo company directly the price they quote you will be the same as the deal site (sometimes less!) The prevalence of travel packages has really just encouraged companies to increase the list price so they can sell their product at a “discount” but maintain the same profit margin. In addition to verifying the retail price, review the prices for other similar services in the same area. You might be able to find another limo service or hotel that is priced below the discounted price for the deal. You should always check around for prices and travel packages are no exception.
3. Are the restrictions deal-breakers?
The fine print on some of these travel packages takes a lawyer to decipher. The most restrictive deals are only offered on specific dates that need to be preselected for purchase. Other deals are only valid on certain days of the week, exclude blackout dates, expire within a given time frame, and are subject to availability. This is when usage can get really tricky. What happens if you purchase a mid-week travel package deal for a bed and breakfast and then it turns out when you go to book the only week you could go they have no vacancy? Some sites offer refunds within a few days of purchase, so if you have very specific dates you want to use a deal it is best to reserve as soon as possible after purchasing. If you find yourself struggling to plan around using a certificate or travel package, is the hassle worth the savings?
4. Do you have time to use it?
Last year one of our friends found herself in a bind. She and her husband had purchased a two night mid-week travel package in Napa for $299. This was a nice travel package that included a say in downtown Napa, a bottle of wine, breakfast, and a certificates at the spa. They live in Washington, D.C. and bought it because they had always wanted to visit wine country. The only problem was they didn’t have the vacation time to take a week off for the trip, and so they held on to it for months. The deal was expiring in a few weeks and they weren’t going to be able to use it. We ended up purchasing their travel package voucher for $150 and had a great trip to wine country. Unfortunately for them, they were out $150 and never made it to Napa, but at least they didn’t lose $300. Before you buy ask yourself when are you going to use this deal? Take a good look at your calendar; if you can’t pick out several dates on your calendar when the travel package can be used before it expires its wise to pass this one by.
As deal sites continue to grow like weeds, consumers must be vigilant in assessing how good these travel packages are. With a little due diligence, planning, and a few quick Internet searches you can save a lot of money. Just be wary of the pitfalls these deals offer so you don’t send up with a night in Napa that you’ll never use.