Test Your Vacation Smarts
1. Tours are mainly for old people.
False. Today’s tours come in many shapes and sizes for people of all ages. The traditional “fully escorted” tour, where a tour manager accompanies the group throughout, may attract older travelers. Locally guided/hosted tours--with local guides at specific destinations providing sightseeing and information --are for more independent travelers. There are family-friendly escorted tours, tours for 18-35 year-olds, for women, small group adventure tours, safaris, walking tours, cruise tours and more. Before you book a tour ask your tour operator or travel agent what the average age is likely to be. Find out the activity level...this can be a good indicator of a tour’s average age.
2. A vacation package is the same as a tour.
False. A vacation package is for independent travelers who want the savings and convenience of buying pre-packaged arrangements. A vacation package includes two or more travel services (e.g. hotel, air fare, car rental, sightseeing etc.) that are bundled together and offered at a "package price." Travelers can choose pre-existing packages or they can customize their own arrangements. On the other hand, a tour is a pre-planned itinerary, often including a tour escort and travel with a group.
3. Buying a vacation package or a tour is usually more expensive than putting your own vacation together.
False. Buying a vacation package or tour can save you up to 30%, depending on the time of year and where you are going, plus hours of work over putting the trip together yourself. Because tour operators and vacation packagers contract for hotel rooms, air fares and other travel services in bulk they are often able to negotiate better rates. These savings are passed on to the consumer.
4. A tour operator is the same as a travel agent.
False. A tour operator --or wholesaler -- puts the raw ingredients of your vacation together. The tour operator packages items like hotel accommodations, air fare, transfers, meals, and/or sightseeing. These packages or tours are sold by travel agents (retailers) or sometimes by the tour operator itself directly to the public. Think of clothing: the manufacturer (tour operator) produces the item that is sold in the store (travel agent) or directly (online).
5. You will pay more for a vacation if you use a travel agent.
False. While some travel agents charge service fees, the same vacation package will not cost more whether or not you buy it from a travel agent. In fact some tour operators and wholesalers only work through travel agents, so using a travel agent may give you a wider choice of vacation options. And because travel agents have insider information, they can often help you get better prices and access to travel arrangements.
6. There is no way to tell if a vacation company is legitimate.
False. Check for membership in the U.S. Tour Operators Association, the National Tour Association or the American Society of Travel Agents. The USTOA web site – www.ustoa.com -- contains a list of all USTOA members. USTOA members must meet the travel industry’s highest standards.
7. Buying travel through Internet travel agencies is always cheaper.
False. Internet travel agencies work with a limited number of suppliers and therefore do not necessarily have access to specials offered by other tour operators or travel agents. To find specials from USTOA member companies, for instance, visit the USTOA web site: www.ustoa.com. You can select USTOA member companies by destination and/or activity, then contact the company directly, or visit a travel agent. Keep in mind that sometimes travel agents also have specials otherwise unavailable to the public.
8. It’s always best to wait for last minute deals.
False. Don’t expect to find last minute deals if you’re traveling to a popular destination during high season. Oftentimes you’ll get the best deal by booking far in advance. Some tour operators and vacation packagers offer incentives for early bookings, and you can also benefit from advance air fare sales.
9. It’s more efficient to do your own vacation planning.
False. A trip – especially multi-destination – can take up to 18 hours worth of planning, factoring in research time and details such as reserving accommodations, transportation, local sightseeing arrangements and restaurant reservations in different cities. A one-week package could involve up to 19 different transactions, and an escorted tour an average of 28. By buying a vacation package or tour you benefit from one-stop shopping, saving the time and energy of doing everything yourself.
10. USTOA is an organization of top companies packaging tours and vacation packages.
True. To become a full member of USTOA a company must meet the travel industry’s toughest standards, including participating in the association’s Travelers Assistance Program. The program requires, among other things, that each USTOA member set aside $1 Million security to protect travelers’ payments and deposits in case the company goes out of business. USTOA is the only organization in the travel industry with such a program.