The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
What's in the Package? Savings and Convenience
January 15, 1994 -- The world is divided into two kinds of travelers: Those who rely on the ease and predictability of buying their holidays in a package and those who blaze their own paths by choosing and negotiating each component of their travel independently.

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

So who are the enlightened travelers? The off-the-shelf package travelers or the staunchly independent trailblazers?

If the results of a my test is any indication, the package buyers may be on to something extraordinary. They always seem to save a substantial amount of time, are relieved of many mundane details and do save a tidy sum of money. And shocking as it may sound to those who routinely chose the path of independent travel buying, package travelers don't make all that many compromises.

As a basis for the comparison, I chose a 5-night package to Acapulco from the 1994 brochure of Pleasant Mexico Holidays (800-448-3333), then duplicated its components independently. Similarly, I selected a 3-night package to London from the Value Plus catalog of British Airways Holidays (800-359-8722), then shopped independently to match that package's components.

The Acapulco package was simple: it included only airfare, airport transfers, accommodations and taxes. But the British Airways London package included frills: daily continental breakfast, several other meals, local transportation and theater tickets. Here's what I found when I shopped independently for the various components of both packages.

The Time Factor 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 daunting. It required about a dozen phone calls to nail down the Acapulco prices and make the reservations. The London trip, larded with frills, took a total of almost five hours over the course of two days to arrange. In fact, our first attempt to arrange the theater tickets independently, through Ticketmaster, took longer than booking the complete British Airways package. Thankfully, I had better luck with Keith Prowse (800-669-8687), a well-regarded international ticket broker. They provided prompt, informative service.

The Details Factor One hidden advantage of booking a package is the detail work. The Pleasant Mexico package, for example, includes private transfers between the Acapulco airport and the Hyatt Regency Acapulco. Working independently, it took a while to locate the public airport shuttle service in Acapulco and it couldn't be reserved in advance. The London package, on the other hand, not only arranges airport transfers on the convenient Gatwick Express rail service, but also includes a Visitor Travelcard, valid for unlimited bus and train transportation around London.

The Price Factor Experts say travel packages offer excellent cost savings over independent bookings because packagers like Pleasant Mexico negotiate huge volume discounts with the hotels.. Nothing proves that better than the Acapulco price comparison. Even with a special discount rate for standard rooms available to individual travelers at the Hyatt Regency Acapulco, the Pleasant Mexico package was cheaper that our independently negotiated prices. And when I priced out an ocean view room at the Hyatt Regency, Pleasant Mexico's package was more than $300 cheaper.

Airfares matter, too. Our independent negotiations for London yielded a marginal savings over the British Airways package cost when we chose to stay over on a Saturday night. But that's misleading. The best airfare we found ($378 roundtrip per person) was risky: It could only be used in conjunction with a Saturday stay and could only be purchased two days before departure. When I independently booked the next less restrictive qualifying fare, the fare skyrocketed. In fact, the airfare alone then cost more than the entire BA package.

Making the compromises Some travelers cling to independent buying because it gives them absolute freedom of choice. But package buying is no longer uncomfortably restrictive. The London package offers 47 hotels in 10 price categories. Pleasant Mexico allows you to book the Hyatt Regency's exclusive Regency Club rooms. Don't like the BA London deal because it includes a dinner and a pub lunch at designated restaurants? Ignore the dining vouchers. The package price is remains cheaper than buying the airfare, hotel and ground transportation independently.

Roundtrip Airfare $652 $652
Airport Transfers $ 24 $ 24
Accommodations $595* $950
Hyatt Regency
Hotel Tax (10%) $59.50 $ 95
Departure Tax $24 $24
INDEPENDENT $1,354.50 $1,745.00
PACKAGE $1,278.00 $1,378.00
Notes: Packages offered by Pleasant Mexico Holidays. Prices based on
departure from Los Angeles on March 7, 1994. *Hyatt Super Saver rate.

Roundtrip Airfare $756 $1,916
Airport Transfers $ 48 $48
Accommodations $375* $375*
Forte St. James
Daily Breakfast $42* $42*
Dress Circle Seats $138 $138
Miss Saigon
One Pub Lunch $20** $20**
One Dinner $80** $80**
Visitor Travelcard $50 $50
INDEPENDENT $1,509 $2,669
PACKAGE $1,558 $1,478
Notes: Packages are A Taste of London offered by British Airways Holidays.
Prices based on flights during the first week of March between New York and
London's Gatwick Airport. *Forte 30 Winter Passport rate, including value
added tax. **BA estimate of value of the dining vouchers in its packages.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

This column is Copyright 1994-2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.