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Vacation Packages can save you money, but can be a headache if you don't know the rules.

Vacation Packages are a great way to save money on many destinations. Just like bundling your phone, internet, and cable together, you can save by bundling the entire vacation. Vacation packages typically include the airfare, hotel or resort, ground transportation, and some excursions. You can typically choose some or all of these components. While they are convenient and usually save you money, they can also be more complicated. That’s why you need a travel agent (c’mon, you had to see that coming)… There are tons of variables, so this article speaks generically and on some of my experiences. You may have a different experience, based on individual circumstances.

Companies like Funjet, Southwest Vacations, Apple Vacations, and many more offer these packages. Most are destination specific, meaning Southwest Vacations offers packages to destinations that they fly to. Now is a good time to buy, as travel is opening back up. Most vendors are offering huge discounts to attract travelers like yourself. Many offer insurance for cancellations and rebooking. Most of the time, the insurance is good for any reason, including “I changed my mind.” In an uncertain time like we are living in, insurance is a MUST! Just know the rules.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have recommended insurance. The most likely cancellation would be you changing your mind or some personal circumstances like illness. Today, with the Covid pandemic, things are very different and cancellations can occur for a number of reasons, many beyond your control. Maybe your flight gets cancelled. Maybe your boss decides he doesn’t want you to travel overseas and imposes a 24-day quarantine upon your return. Maybe the country restrictions on travel change as the Covid numbers fluctuate. Or, maybe you experience some of the traditional reasons for cancelling like a hurricane, or you get sick before your travel date. Many destinations and airlines offer their own liberal refund policy for cancellations during this uncertain time, but many do not. Most of these have restrictions on why you can cancel. Be smart and take the guesswork out and buy the insurance. Right now, it’s not an upsell, it’s peace of mind.

The most common reason for cancellation today is flight cancellations. As airlines compete to provide flights to common destinations, it is really a guessing game for them as to how many people will be flying. In the past, they could predict this fairly easily. As the travel date gets closer, flights that don’t have enough people on them are cancelled. Airlines will consolidate flights to get more people on one plane. This makes good business sense, but is an inconvenience for travelers. When that happens, you will have to rebook your flight.

Cancellations and rebooking can be tricky and are two totally different things. If you book a vacation package and cancel, and you were smart enough to buy the insurance, you are entitled to a refund. Of course, that refund does not include the price of the insurance. Also, the airfare portion is typically in the form of future flight credit, not a refund. Let’s say your original flight was $250. The cancellation is credited at the rate you paid. In this case, you would get a $250 credit with that airline. If you are rebooking the flight, you will have to rebook at the current rate. In other words, that amazing airfare you got for early booking or on a flash sale may not be available now. If you booked a flight for $250 and it gets cancelled closer to your travel date, you will likely pay the difference in the amount you originally paid and the higher current air fare. Same goes for the resort portion of the vacation package. As hotels get booked up, their prices go up. You may go from a “sale price” to a “last minute” price. Sometimes a good travel agent can negotiate this increase directly with the vendor, but more often than not, the vendors will charge the current rate.

Here’s why… Let’s say your flight gets cancelled by the airline. Nothing you can do about it and its not your fault. You would think, if an airline cancels your flight, they would just plug you in on the next flight. I mean, you already paid for a seat and you both agreed to the price. Not so. They have to cancel your previous reservation and completely rebook you. Same applies for hotels and resorts. They cannot just move you to another room with your previous reservation. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either.

Here’s the kicker when booking packages. Most people don’t know this. Let’s say you booked a vacation through Funjet. You booked well in advance and got a great deal on the package including airfare and the resort. Now let’s say the flight you’re on is cancelled two weeks before you leave. You’d think you just need to rebook the flight, not so fast! You have to cancel the entire package and rebook it. Now you will have to pay the current rate for the flight AND the resort, assuming there are still rooms available. Maybe that upgraded room you bought isn’t available anymore, or that sale you originally booked under has expired. I have actually experienced this. A client booked a suite under the original booking. The flight got cancelled. After cancelling the first vacation and rebooking, the suites were all booked up and no longer available. I was able to call the vendor and correct this, but it took hours of being on hold. I told them, “I know you have a suite available, I just canceled one!” I was finally able to get the suite, but the rates had gone up considerably. The client opted to change to a regular room to avoid the higher price.

And here is where I promote using a travel agent. I usually don’t self-promote in these articles, but this is important. As you know, you can book yourself on Funjet or any other website. If all goes according to plan, no harm, no foul and you have a great vacation (maybe not as good as the one I would have planned, but whatever – LOL). But what if it doesn’t go as planned? We are traveling in uncertain times and things can change, and often do. Vendors are overwhelmed with calls and hold times are often hours rather than minutes. A travel agent can take care of the changes for you and be your advocate. Also, many vendors will do things for a travel agent that they may not do for an individual. Trust me, they want travel agents to keep using them and usually will do what they can to keep your future business. Just prior to Covid shutting down cruise lines, I had a cruise booked for a client that cancelled because of their fear of the virus. The cruise line originally denied their request for a refund (they didn’t buy the insurance). After calling and emailing numerous time, explaining this was a frequent cruiser, I still couldn’t get a response. Maybe a coincidence, maybe not, but after posting my concerns as a travel agent on a travel agent Facebook page and with the cruise line, recommending agents take their clients elsewhere, I received an email that the client would receive full credit for a future cruise. They were thrilled that they didn’t lose their money.

The key to travel right now is, be flexible and be patient. Have a contingency plan. You will have a much better experience if you can adjust your travel plans, maybe move your travel dates ahead or back by a day, or at least to a different flight time. And be patient. Be prepared to pay for any changes. Many vendors will offer incentives to rebook instead of cancel. If you are seeking a refund, be patient. Vendors are operating at minimum staffing and are extremely busy processing refunds. Refunds can take up to three months or even longer in some cases.

All in all, vacation packages are great for saving money by bundling your vacation needs. I highly recommend them to the money-conscious traveler. Just be aware that if it doesn’t go as planned, there can be complications in cancelling or rebooking. Don’t let that dream vacation be more frustrating than whatever you were taking a vacation from… Know before you go.

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