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Traveler's Aid: Picking a Package Tour (6/14/02)

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You're listening to The Savvy Traveler. I'm Diana Nyad. If there's one defining characteristic of a "shameless tourist," it's an enthusiasm for package tours. You write one check, and everything is taken care of -- hotel, airfare, tour guides, the whole shebang. All you have to worry about is having a good time.

Still, package tours often get a bad rap as being "herd tourism." Most package tours aren't that bad, but there are some stinkers out there. How do you find a good one? Our Travel-Expert-in-Residence, Rudy Maxa, is here to explain the art and science of selecting a package tour. Hi, Rudy.

Rudy: Hi, Diana. I thought I'd start with a quick vocabulary test.

Diana: Vocabulary test?

Rudy: Yeah, a review of package tour lingo -- you know, the fuzzy terminology you see in all those glossy tour brochures. For example, what's the difference between a visit, a view and a see?

Diana: A visit, a view and a see?

Rudy: Yeah. If the brochure says you're going to visit an enchanting castle, how is that different than viewing it, or seeing it?

Diana: I'm not sure.

Rudy: If it's a visit, you actually get off the bus at the site. A view is a photo op, or brief stop. And a see is a drive-by. How about this one: What does time to explore and discover mean?

Diana: Hmm...Sounds like that means your guide is going to ditch you for a couple hours.

Rudy: Right. Time to explore and discover is code for No planned activities. You're on your own.

Diana: I've got one for you, Rudy. When a brochure says a hotel is "steps from the beach," what does that really mean?

Rudy: Could be 10 steps -- could be 10,000. And that's the real lesson here: Don't be misled by tour brochures and Web sites. When in doubt, ask.

Diana: Okay, let's get down to business. What's the first step in selecting a package tour?

Rudy: The first thing is to think about the type of tour you're looking for. Consider the following:

  • Length and pacing
  • Mobility restrictions
  • Level of luxury: check location and ratings of hotels
  • Just air and hotel -- or do you want everything included?

Diana: That brings up another vocabulary word: all-inclusive. How all-inclusive is an all-inclusive package?

Rudy: Depends on the package, but usually it includes hotel, airfare, transfers, some meals, and entry to attractions. Sometimes, it will include tips. It won't include trip insurance, which you should buy from a different company. That way, if the tour company goes bankrupt, you'll be reimbursed.

Diana: Let's say that I've found a package tour I really like. How do I know I'm dealing with a reputable company?

Rudy: Contact ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents, or the U.S. Tour Operators Association.

Diana: Are there any warning signs that should be a red flag?

Rudy: Faxed offers, agents who pressure you -- anything that just sounds too good to be true.

Diana: What about all that teeny-tiny type spelling out terms and conditions? Anything we should be on the lookout for there?

Rudy: Always read your terms and conditions! Look for single supplements, restrictions on travel dates, payment policies, cancellation terms, phrases like, "The Acme Tour Company reserves the right to adjust the tour prices at any time based on cost fluctuations." And always, always, always pay with a credit card.

Diana: Good tips, Rudy.

Savvy Resources:

Thinking about taking a package tour? Once you've found a tour you like, check to see if the tour company is a member of one of these organizations:

The American Society of Travel Agents

United States Tour Operators Association

If you'd like us to address your travel questions or concerns, send us an email. Or call us at 888-SAV-TRAV.

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