The coronavirus pandemic caused an unprecedented need for consumers to cancel travel plans. Many travelers have encountered frustration changing arrangements, canceling trips and obtaining refunds.
Some consumers prefer to handle each part of their travel on a piecemeal basis. But if you end up having to cancel or make changes, it can be a hassle to contact every hospitality company individually.
For other travelers, a vacation package tidies up the process and creates a single-point contact but their policies may be restrictive regarding cancellation and refunds.
We’ve consulted with travel experts who share the pros and cons of bundling arrangements for your next trip:
The argument for bundling
Cost can be lower: When flights and hotels are booked together, travelers can achieve better prices. “From purely a financial perspective, a bundled vacation package can help you to secure the best prices and keep costs down,” says Matt Woodley, founder of Creditinformative.com. “You can generally save a few hundred by choosing a bundled package.”
Last-minute price incentives: Bundled arrangements are also a perk if people like to travel spontaneously. A common caveat, says Woodley, is that when booked alone, last-minute flight scan often yield very high fares for these flights. It’s better to bundle, particularly in the case of spontaneous travel. “There are some great savings to be had on the last-minute flight and hotel bundles as companies like Orbitz and Expedia look to off-load unsold flights and hotel rooms from around two weeks to as little as a few hours before the flight departs,” he continues. “I’ve personally managed to save around 50% by booking last minute bundles.”
One-stop shopping: Convenience is a big benefit to bundling travel reservations together, says Sara Rathner, a credit card and travel expert at NerdWallet. “Planning a trip can involve an elaborate combination of flights, hotel bookings, rental cars, and visits to tourist attractions,” she says. “When you can cross two or more items off your to-do list in one sitting, that makes plotting out a vacation that much easier.”
Lower upfront costs. When travelers bundle the air and hotel, they have the benefit of paying for the trip over time. “This means that with a low deposit, the traveler is able to secure both the air and hotel. As you know, when booked separately, the entire cost of the airfare is due upfront,” says Tiffany Bynum, travel consultant and owner of Violet Clover Travel Group.
Purchasing travel insurance. Bynum says bundling is also useful when looking to insure your trip. “When bundled, the traveler can add-on travel insurance from one supplier rather purchasing policies from the air supplier and another from the hotel supplier or evening a third-party supplier,” Bynum notes “This is a useful feature should the traveler need to cancel.”
Cons of bundled travel
Fewer options for non-traditional lodging options. For travelers who want lodging beyond tradition hotels, bundled packages may not always your best bet if you’re looking for something a bit different or special for your accommodation. “If you prefer to stay in B&B’s or smaller boutique hotels, you’re unlikely to find them in a bundle,” says Woodley.
Less flexibility to change or cancel your plans. The biggest downside to bundling flight and hotel reservations when booking travel through third-party vendors, says Sara E. Routhier, the managing editor for outreach at 360 Quote, is a lack of flexibility to change or cancel a trip. These restrictions can be costly. “Given the ongoing and evolving world COVID-19 crisis, travel questions are constantly in flux. Travel insurance can help, but even it is not a guarantee that bundled trips can be changed or refunded.”
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Cancellation fees can vary. Roy Gal, owner of Memories Forever Travel Group, says one downside to packaging your flight and hotel – especially during an uncertain period like a pandemic – is navigating multiple sets of cancellation policies and fees.
Third-party booking sites “might have a $50-200-per-person penalty on top of what the airlines or hotels are charging,” Gal explains, though he says some sites are now waiving most – or even all – of their fees.
“We’ve had quite a lot of success reaching out to our preferred partners and waiving all fees when the trip was canceled by the property/airline and wasn’t initiated by the traveler,” he says.
What to look for when bundling
Beware of exclusions on insurance policies. Gal recommends buying insurance for your trip. When bundling, travelers normally have the option to purchase a “cancel for any reason” policy, which is not offered when purchasing separate products, he says. “But, that also means that anything you booked separately, like a tour or transfer won’t be covered.”
Make sure prices are competitive and be aware of fees. While bundling travel flights and hotels may sound like a better deal, it is not always the case.
“Always search for the exact hotel or flight on other competitor’s sites to see if you are really getting a discount,” advises Renee Rayles, a travel blogger and vlogger. “The price may look lower, but doing a bit more research can save you on the back end.”
Rayles also advisers that travelers considering a bundle to keep their eyes peeled for any additional “hotel fees” or “resort fees.” Often, the advertised rate consumers see online does not include this, she warns. “This fee is in addition to what you are paying nightly, or upfront, for the room,” Rayles continues. “Once you are at the hotel, you pay this additional fee. Personally, I have seen some of these hotel fees costs the same as the hotel price for the night. Scroll down on the hotel information and see what is on the bottom line for your total charges.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bundling your flights and hotels: We weigh the pros and cons