I notice a lot of articles offering advice on how to find the best flight, car rental, and hotel, but information for finding the best vacation package appears less often. With summer almost over, the time to search out winter vacations is fast approaching. If you need some motivation and a plan to start your search, here are 8 steps for snagging the best vacation package.

1. Plan in advance or book last minute?

Whether to plan far in advance or leave it until the last minute depends on your destination needs. If you’ve been dreaming about a specific destination, then it’s best to start researching early. Generally, best pricing on a planned-destination is available 4 to 6 months in advance. With packages, the less the availability per package, the more expensive that package is.

Last minute deals aren’t receiving as much buzz as they used to, but they are still a good bet especially if you are flexible about where to go.  You can start searching these sites 2 or 3 weeks prior to your preferred departure date.

2. Where to look

Last minute booking sites include Hotwire.com and SellOffVacations.com. Then for all package vacations start watching sites that include Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz, Apple Vacations and CheapTickets.com. For Canadians, check Sunwing.ca, Air Transat, Tripcentral.ca or Redtag.ca. And, don’t forget about deal sites like Groupon and TravelZoo.

Keep an eye on the travel pages of your local newspaper. Often the Saturday edition includes more travel ads and an expanded travel section. These packages are based on pricing from local airports.

And, don’t forget to call a recommended travel agent. They may know of deals that aren’t advertised.

3. Check reviews and book with recognized organizations

Use reviews on sites like TripAdvisor to help ensure no surprises. Go to Tripadvisor.com, select the drop-down menu, select Travel Forums and search on ‘vacation packages’, ‘tours’ or the specific name of your tour/provider. It’s wise to do this review both before and after you’ve narrowed down your package choice. By searching reviews first, you may find that one piece of advice that helps minimize time spent researching.

Avoid unpleasant surprises by booking with places that have certifications. For North America, BBB Accredited businesses follow a code of business practices. In Ontario, Canada, TICO is the travel provider certification. For the U.S., there are a variety of certifications such as IATA, IATAN, CLIA (cruises), Host Agency, TRUE.

4. Consider shoulder season

As with most travel options (flights, hotels, etc), packages are most expensive during high season, so when possible, travel either in off-season or shoulder season. Shoulder season is the time in between high and low season. For instance, the prime season in Ireland is July and August when the weather is at it’s best and children are out of school. The lowest season is January and February when the weather is damp and cold. Shoulder season (April/May or Sept/Oct) may be a good compromise – reasonable rates and reasonable weather.

5. Consider upgrading

You’ve found a good package and are planning to book it. The site offers up an upgrade option: perhaps the offer to upgrade from a 4-star resort to a 5 star. Depending on the additional cost, the upgrade can be a good deal. Check the regular price of that 5-star vacation package and then go back to your 4-star booking to decide whether the additional cost is worth the upgrade.

6. Flexibility

Be flexible for both your time and your amenities. Time flexibility includes the number of days you stay, the date you leave, time of day you travel, and number of flight hops. It can also mean that you consider tacking on a few days to the start or end of your trip which can be less expensive that you may think.  If the package you find doesn’t include all the amenities you’d like, then consider booking it and adding the amenity separately (for instance a rental car).

7. All inclusive?

Don’t assume that all-inclusive is least expensive. Check separate prices for the hotel and the flight. As well, dig until you find all the fees associated with the trip. Additional fees are listed in the fine print and for hotels, include resort fees and taxes and on airlines, extra fees can include baggage charges.

8. Online tips

Use the website search tools to their maximum by selecting the side-bar features that help narrow down the hotel or flight or car rental you’re most interested in. Then you won’t be overwhelmed by the abundance of options presented.

For sites that offer it, change the country you’re searching from to another country. For instance, if you’re in the U.S., changing your location (usually a button in upper right of screen) to Brazil or Mexico may return good savings even after taking into account the exchange rate.

And again, to find the best package for you, check a variety of sites including Hotwire.com, SellOffVacations.com, Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz, Apple Vacations, and Cheaptickets.com.

To save search time, use OppteeTM Travel Search. Opptee is an app that compares prices by accessing the largest number of the most popular travel sites from one place. It speeds-up searching by inserting your trip dates and destination automatically into the providers you choose.

There you have it; 8 steps that will help motivate you to find your best vacation packages ever!


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