Package Travel to Europe?
February 2, 2005 5:20 AM   Subscribe

Travel prices question. I might have to take a sudden trip to Europe and the cheapest last minute airfares were all over $1,500. But there are also many hotel + flight package deals advertised for the same price or even less. How can this be? And as I've never done the package thing, is it a good way to go? Any hidden pitfalls?
posted by CunningLinguist to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Anything which signifies you're a business traveller will send the prices racing up. So a classic is if you depart on a Sunday or a Monday and stay midweek. It looks like you're a businessperson rather than a vacationer.

This is especially the case if you're booking on a website, which has pretty fixed rules. One reason why the hotel + flight packages may be cheaper is because they make use of the vacationers' rates. The answer is either to stay over a Saturday night or to contact a travel agent who can negotiate the crazy world of flights on your behalf. You should be able to find a slightly cheaper flight.
posted by skylar at 6:16 AM on February 2, 2005

Where are you flying from, and where are you flying to? And for how long? It's really cheap to fly through Dublin with Aer, Lingus, the Irish airline.

For Example, New York-Dublin is $300 leaving this Friday 4th Feb, and coming back Mon 14th Feb. Most days this month (except for Feb 14th,15th, 21st, it's less than $200 each way.

And there are pretty good connections to the rest of Europe with discount airlines, depending on where youre going.
posted by Boobus Tuber at 6:30 AM on February 2, 2005

I've been on one package trip. In Nov. 2001 I went to Portugal for two weeks. Airfare, hotel, meals, and car rental for $850 (Canadian!!). This was less than flights to Portugal at the time, so I grabbed it.
For me, the key was to treat it as if it were a regular trip. To explain, we went with a few other people who spent the whole trip eating the "free" meals at the hotel, driving just to the beaches in the area, and didn't really see much. This was the type of trip that they were looking for, and they didn't spend much more than the $850 but had a great time. That sort of trip would have driven me crazy! So, we drove around, spent a couple nights at another hotel, ate out almost every evening. We didn't end up spending too much more, and I got to see quite a bit of Portugal, and it was affordable because of the initial package deal.
So, my advice is grab the package, but don't feel like you have to eat at the hotel every night.
posted by nprigoda at 6:39 AM on February 2, 2005

We just bought tickets for our honeymoon abroad, and I found that going straight to British Airways (or whatever airline) is sometimes cheaper than the online companies such as Travelocity. Good luck!
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:47 AM on February 2, 2005

If you use a third party, like Site 59, make sure your reservation actually makes it to the airline and/or hotel. I've never had the problem, but my sister-in-law showed up at the airport only to find that the airline had never heard of her. It was the weekend and very hard for the airline to reach someone at Site 59 to clear things up. But it was eventually resolved and she made the flight.
posted by probablysteve at 8:35 AM on February 2, 2005

Best answer: trharlan is totally right--to balance out the profit and risk on any given flight, the airlines sell of blocks of seats at a fairly cheap price to travel re-sellers. It's like balancing a stock portfolio...they pre-sell a number of seats this way, which are almost the equivalent of bonds, to mitigate the risks of the more volatile open market.

Since a lot of hotels do the same thing, travel packagers can combine the cheap flights and the cheap hotels into a much more attractive price than you can for yourself. Since they're getting those lower costs by committing to buy the seats up front, though, they can end up having to actually _lower_ the price as the dates approach, or risk having them go unfilled altogether.

When you buy a package directly from an airline, though, it's a bit different--they suck up hotel room inventory at a ridiculously low price, because of the volume and leverage they've got, and then sell packages that seem like a _pretty_ good deal, but on their books, shows up as almost 100% fare revenue. You're really buying an enormously expensive plane ticket, and getting a hotel room for practically free, in return for helping them pump up their core numbers.
posted by LairBob at 8:49 AM on February 2, 2005

Echoing Medieval Maven, I've found that airline sites are the place to go for last-minute fares. Travelocity, Orbitz and the rest are great for advance fares, but their last-minute fares suck. Be sure to check Swiss for their winter web specials. Here are some sample fares from New York:

Berlin: 351.00 USD
Munich: 342.00 USD
Paris: 327.00 USD
Prague: 493.00 USD
Rome: 367.00 USD
Vienna: 400.00 USD
Zurich: 393.00 USD
Amsterdam: 390.00 USD
Athens: 555.00 USD
Barcelona: 398.00 USD
Basel: 393.00 USD
Geneva: 398.00 USD
Milan: 367.00 USD
Moscow: 636.00 USD

I flew from LA to Geneva last month for $616.95/person including all fees and taxes, and I booked only a few days ahead of leaving. Good luck.
posted by letitrain at 10:18 AM on February 2, 2005

I just realized that I didn't really answer the question asked, so just consider this another option.
posted by letitrain at 10:22 AM on February 2, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks guys for the explanations. That makes sense.

(and yeah, there are great sample fares but try booking a flight in the next 12-24 hours. That's what I meant about last minute.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:42 PM on February 2, 2005

I've never had a problem booking a package, though I've never done so at the last minute. I've gone through Crown Travel (decent folks, awful website) once and Go-Today two or three times, and have gotten great deals and good service. All were for airfare + hotel deals and gave me hotel vouchers. No problems whatsoever, and when I called with questions, they were helpful and responsive.

My parents have also had good experiences with those dirt-cheap off-season packages to Ireland -- those typically included airfare, vouchers for B&Bs, and a voucher for a rental car.

I'd make sure, though, that you book through an outfit that will give you a confirmed reservation on scheduled air service -- if a charter goes belly-up or is late, or if your reservation is not marked "OK", you don't have nearly as much recourse.
posted by Vidiot at 9:10 PM on February 2, 2005

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