Online travel agencies promise huge savings if you choose a vacation package, like booking a flight + hotel together. Expedia promises savings of $450, Orbitz – up to $465, while Travelocity raises the bar even higher and advertises $525 off separate purchases.
Many customers are weary of such deals because they have been burned before with red eye flights, multiple connections, or seedy hotels, and think that such trade-offs are part of the deal. What online travel agencies have to prove now is that such vacation packages exist, are great, and you actually want to take their offers.
Travelocity is luring customers in with redesigned package searches, better site navigation, and options to choose different flights if the bare bones flights don’t make you fully happy.
Orbitz started showing real-life savings that customers were able to get by choosing packages. You will find flight prices and a quick story about Alice, who saved $375 on a similar flight.
Expedia wants to deviate from packages all together and is looking for a different name for combination deal vacations. You can join the naming contest on Facebook and win $10,000 vacation if your offered name wins. Packages sound very non-flexible and might suggest that you have to live with whatever deals the company has to offer. People lack trust in such deals where the airline and the hotel can offer lower prices, but don’t have to show it.
The desire to change customer perception about packages comes at a time when many airlines are trying to find ways to encourage customers to buy directly from them. They offer lowest price guarantees and stop listing their prices on online travel agencies websites. American Airlines and South West are good examples as you won’t find them on Orbitz or Expedia. Airlines are also starting to offer their own packages, like JetBlue’s best price guarantee and extra frequent flier points on packages in 36 destinations.
As fall and winter holidays are approaching, we looked at packages from Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia. We looked for packages for two people for 3 different vacation destinations, leaving from New York with nonstop convenient flights:
- A long weekend in Washington, D.C.
- A week long getaway to Cancun resort
- A week at upscale resort in Scottsdale, AZ
To compare the rates we shopped for hotels and flights on the suppliers’ own websites and then compared prices with the travel agencies’ offerings. No site consistently beat others, but some were better than others. This kind of comparison offered some great tips for vacation shopping online.
Price is not everything
Let’s take a look to see why price is not everything. When booking a trip to Washington, D.C., this is what came up:
- Expedia offered the best price, $400 for round-trip flights and the Garden Inn in Laurel, Md., about 22 miles from Washington
- Travelocity offered flights and the Travelodge Fredericksburg, which is about 50 miles from Washington for $414
- Orbitz had the best option with stay at the Courtyard by Marriott Dunn Loring Fairfax in Vienna, Va., a 40-min Metro ride to Washington, D.C for $527.
None of these options were the desired upscale hotel in the city. To find that we did not filter by price, but instead relayed on default choices, called Expedia Picks on Expedia site. The options were more pricy, but more convenient.
- Travelocity offered a stay at the luxurious Palomar Washington, a Kimpton hotel in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, with non-stop JetBlue flight at 7:30 am from NY and back at 9:50 am. The price was $711, but that is $380 savings form what it would be if booked separately.
- Orbitz gave the same package, but with a JetBlue flight leaving NY in the evening and for $72 more
- Expedia had the same flights, but a different hotel – Washington Plaza for $810. This is still lower than if booking the flight and the hotel separately.
Even during holidays, the travel agencies hold prices that are pre-negotiated with airlines and hotels, so you will get better deals than buying everything separately on your own.
We searched hotels and airlines separately for all-inclusive resort in Cancun for week-long vacation. The best deal was a week before Easter – $5,297 ($3,102 for hotel and $2,195 for the flight). All three websites had a better price and savings of at least $1,000 if booked together. Travelocity came out a winner with $3,212 total for flight and hotel.
Despite the usual success with online travel agencies, you should still check the separate deals. For example, none of the agencies beat the $3,070 price for a week-long stay in Scottsdale, Arizona. The price includes a stay at Boulders, a Waldorf Astoria hotel a week before Easter. The closest was Orbitz with $3,232 for the same trip.
Travelocity had the best price twice and also offered the best search options with intuitive tabs for packages, where you can select one based on three options: cheapest package, closest match of flight times, and shortest flights. Another great feature is a “change flight” button. There were options to search by hotel amenities, like swimming pool and star rating. You could also select a particular hotel by name.
Expedia offered the cheapest option to Washington, D.C., but the hotel was too far from the city. They advertise 75,000 hotels and plenty of convenient options. The site is a bit outdated and not very appealing. There is an option to search hotels by amenities, but the button is easy to miss.
Orbitz displays the deals in an easy-to-read matrix, so you can get an idea really fast, but it does not show the total price right away. You have to multiply the price in your head if you have more than one traveler or click on the package to see the total. You can’t choose hotels by amenities.
Overall, our best advice would be to use Travelocity to look for packages and then see if buying from the sources directly can give you a better price.