January 12, 2009

Tour Operators Help Families Save Money on Travel

Travelers often have the wrong perception of travel agents and tour operators. They assume that because there is a middleman, the price will be higher. But in the travel industry, the opposite is usually true. Tour operators use their bulk buying power to provide packaged vacations at a reduced rate. And they can usually negotiate extra perks like complimentary breakfast, shopping vouchers, or coupon books for added value. Travel agents have the additional advantage of knowing which tour operators have the best prices to various destinations, and also can book trips with companies who do not work directly with the public.

For example, I priced a 7 night vacation package to Maui in August for a family of four through a tour operator who specializes in Hawaii. The grand total, including non-stop flights out of SFO, full size car, 1 bedroom suite at the Fairmont Kea Lani (my personal favorite), taxes, and travel insurance, was $5978 for the lowest category room. An upgrade to an ocean view suite brought the package to $7288. And since I am a Virtuoso Travel Advisor, my clients would also receive a gift basket on arrival full of munchies.

Next I priced everything separately on the internet. The nonstop flights alone for four came to over $3400. Add the least expensive rate on the hotel’s website was $3783 including taxes. That’s $7200 total for just the airfare and hotel, so clients are essentially getting the car and insurance for free when booking a tour operator package.

An important note about insurance, which every traveler should be purchasing these days. This particular supplier allows cancellation for any reason with a complete cash refund (minus the travel protection plan cost which is quite reasonable). Even the airfare is completely refundable! So that is a great advantage for families who know they have to plan far in advance to get the best rates, but may need to change their plans down the road due to sports schedules or other conflicts.

Another destination with jaw-dropping hotel rates is New York City. I checked The Plaza’s rates over Thanksgiving, and they started at $1005 per night plus tax. A hotel package through a tour operator (one that happens to only work with travel agents), was $4432 including taxes for five nights. That’s a total savings of over $1200 when taxes are figured in! But in this case an even better value is to make a direct hotel booking through a Virtuoso agent. The Virtuoso rates net about $1000 in savings, and include exclusive amenities: an upgrade based on availability, a $100 dining credit, and daily buffet breakfast for two. That’s the advantage of working with a Virtuoso travel advisor – I check all options to find out which gives the best value for my clients.

Speaking of holidays, booking through a tour operator is a one way to find hotel space during busy travel periods. Hotels block off rooms for tour operators, and cannot sell them until the space is released back to the hotel, usually quite close to the travel date. So even though a hotel says it is “sold out,” a tour operator may still have rooms available in their allotment.

This is also true when trying to book a flight to a popular destination. I have been able to book the most desirable nonstop flights to Maui for Spring Break when the airline itself doesn’t have seats to sell, and at a significantly lower cost than the less desirable schedules. But the number of seats available is limited, so my savvy clients know to contact me very early to get the best package rates.

For more details, contact Suzette Mack, a Virtuoso Family Travel Advisor at suzette@family-treks.com.

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