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 The Brancatelli File

joe BETTER BY THE BUNDLE:
PACKAGES SAVE TIME AND MONEY


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

October 21, 1997 -- The world is divided into two kinds of leisure travelers: Those who rely on the ease and predictability of buying a packaged holiday and those who blaze their own paths by independently choosing and negotiating each component of their travel.

The emotional twain rarely meet. Travelers who buy bundles extol the simplicity of one-call-does-it-all buying and believe they save money, too. Travelers who independently make their purchases revel in absolute freedom of choice and are convinced they end up paying no more than package buyers.

Who's right? If the results of several recent tests are any indication, package buyers may be onto something extraordinary. They always save a substantial amount of time, are relieved of many mundane details and usually save a tidy sum of money. And shocking as it may sound, package travelers don't make all that many compromises.

As a basis for the comparison, I chose a six-night package to London from the 1997 ValuePlus brochure of British Airways Holidays (800-359-8722), then independently duplicated its components. Similarly, I chose a seven-night vacation in Waikiki from Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays (800-2-HAWAII), then shopped independently to match that package's components.

As you can see on the chart, the London package for two was simple: roundtrip airfare from New York; London airport transfers; deluxe accommodations and hotel taxes; and daily continental breakfast. The Pleasant Hawaiian package in Waikiki departed from Los Angeles and included transfers; a first-rate hotel and taxes; and a daily buffet breakfast.

Both packages delivered on their implied promise of easy booking. Working from the brochures, one call confirmed almost all the details. Working independently, however, was more time-consuming. To duplicate the BA package, for example, I made more than a dozen phone calls and two trips to the Internet to nail down the best prices and make reservations.

One hidden advantage of booking a package is the ease of the detail work. The Waikiki package, for example, includes bus transfers between Honolulu airport and the hotel. Working independently, it took almost two hours to locate the public airport shuttle service--and then I couldn't reserve the transportation in advance anyway.

Experts say vacation bundles save money because travel packagers like British Airways Holidays negotiate huge volume discounts with the hotels. Nothing proves that better than the Taste of London package I booked at the Churchill Inter-Continental.

The best room rate available to individual travelers at the Churchill during our preferred booking period totaled almost $1,900 for six nights. Add more than $300 to cover the cost of the rapacious London hotel tax and lodgings alone cost nearly as much as the $2,338 price of the British Airways package. Overall, the BA bundle cost almost $1,000 less than a similar trip booked independently.

Hotel prices were less daunting in Waikiki, but were clearly the major factor why Pleasant Hawaiian's bundle cost almost $250 less than a similar trip booked independently. At $135 a night for independent travelers, the understated Waikiki Parc is probably the best hotel value in Honolulu. Yet seven nights at the Waikiki Parc and the hotel tax totaled more than $1,000--slightly more than two-thirds the cost of the complete Pleasant Hawaiian bundle.

So if choosing travel packages is cheaper and easier than booking on your own, is there at least more flexibility in securing independent travel than buying a bundle? Not according to my test.

The British Airways Holidays vacation allowed me the same choice of BA flights as I was able to book independently. And the least-expensive flight I could find between Los Angeles and Honolulu was exactly the same flight I booked on the Pleasant Hawaiian package.

The bundles I tested also seemed to offer more than enough hotel choices to please any traveler. Pleasant Hawaiian had deals at 31 Honolulu properties, including budget hotels, condominiums and the Halekulani, Hawaii's best hotel. The BA Taste of London bundle not only covered the Churchill and the much pricier Grosvenor House, but also basic tourist hotels such as the Tavistock and 20 other options around the British capital.

SEVEN NIGHTS IN WAIKIKI

Roundtrip airfare on American Trans Air

$684

Airport transfers

$28

Accommodations at Waikiki Parc*

$945

Hotel tax (10.1%)

$96

TOTAL PURCHASED INDEPENDENTLY

$1,753

TOTAL PACKAGE PRICE

$1,512

SAVINGS

$241

Prices based on two people departing from Los Angeles on December 8. Package priced through Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays. *Package and independent reservations include daily buffet breakfast.


SIX NIGHTS IN LONDON

Roundtrip airfare on British Airways

$1,046

Airport Transfers

$70

Accommodations at Churchill Inter-Continental

$1,884

Hotel Tax (17.5%)

$330

TOTAL PURCHASED INDEPENDENTLY

$3,330

TOTAL PACKAGE PRICE

$2,338

SAVINGS

$992

Prices based on two people departing from New York on November 2. Package priced through British Airways Holidays. *Package includes continental breakfast for two; independent reservations include $25 daily food and beverage allowance.



This column originally appeared at Frommer's Travel Update.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.