After 30 plus years in the travel business, I'm still surprised each time I see an advertisement for a trip to an exotic destination at an impossible, dirt-cheap price point. Online marketing hyperbole aside, these ads tout "air-inclusive vacations" at Amtrak ticket prices for inclusive tours to amazing destinations.
Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not against fantastic trips at great prices and advertising them far and wide. My own company has developed quite a nice reputation for offering exotic travel at great prices. I'm talking about advertised prices that make absolutely no sense, and aren't actually the final price you'll pay anyway.
So how can this be? Truth be told, you're not really supposed to buy the actual package at that amazing advertised price. That price is designed to lure you into thinking you really can have a dream vacation to the #1 destination on your bucket list for pennies on the dollar.
Then, once you are sucked in and ready to book, you find out that for just a little bit more money, you can upgrade from the included hotel (typically a two-star hotel that gets terrible reviews on online forums) to a much nicer, better located and more comfortable property. After all, who wouldn't upgrade a hotel for such a small, additional cost?
Then, for a little bit more, you can add transfers that weren't included in the basic package, but that you'll definitely need, especially if you don't speak the local language and would like the comfort of knowing someone is waiting for you when you arrive.
Then, for a couple of dollars more, you can add those "optional" tours to the tourist sites you're actually traveling to that country to see, which are already included in most packages from other operators whose advertised tour price seemed so much higher than that amazing deal you're booking. Are you starting to get the picture? It all quickly adds up, greatly increasing the price.
The good news is that it is possible to find real deals in travel. Thanks to tremendous competition for your travel dollar, you have plenty of options to choose from that offer not only great prices, but actual value for every dollar you spend.
Fortunately, the Internet is a great tool, so you don't have to work hard to spot the deal you should book, while rejecting the deal that will cost you more money and plenty of headaches in the long run.
So, do the math before you whip out your credit card and pay that non-refundable deposit. The deal that started out at $699 can easily double in price once you've finished adding in all the things you want and need to make the trip work for you. Before you pay, research the package's hotels on your own. Don't rely only on the link that the tour operator provides. That information is helpful, but investigate what real travelers are saying, too.
Remember though, online forums are not gospel, and plenty of travelers use them as a venting platform. When used correctly, the forums can be an excellent tool for determining guest satisfaction, which is important, and in the aggregate, reviews can tell you a lot about a hotel, regardless of the number of stars it's assigned.
Finally, once you've accomplished all of the above, pick up the phone and make a call to the company that is advertising the travel deal. Speak with an agent who can tell you about the trip, answer your questions, identify the inclusions and calculate everything else you'll need to pay to make that vacation actually happen. These service-oriented agents typically work for the companies that produce service-rich packages. It's just in their DNA. If you get the brush-off, slow call-backs or agents who don't know much about the deal you're researching, think twice.
Remember, if you want to stretch your travel dollar while enjoying a quality vacation (who wouldn't?), don't fall for a deal just because the low price looks stellar. Check the fine print carefully, do the math and make the call. If the price is still a great deal once you know the real cost of the trip, go for it!