Quoted prices on packages usually don’t factor in service tax.

The holiday season will soon be upon us! Have you started looking through destinations and hotels and dates and prices to work out your dream vacation? Though there’s no dearth of information, but planning a holiday all by yourself takes time and effort. So if you’re pressed for time, the easiest route is to use packaged holiday tours.

But while most packages are easy to book, they do have certain exclusions which could add to the cost. Of course, package prices also vary with providers. So here’s more on what tour packages contain and what you should look out for.

What they contain

The rates provided on any given tour plan will be typically quoted for the entirety of the holiday, and not on a per-day basis. Rates are per person for a twin room. But these rates work on a more-is-better rule. So if three of you are willing to bunk together, you could get a lower price.

For example, a four-day plan in Gangtok by Cox and Kings will cost you Rs 11,265 if you take up twin rooms (excluding air fare). On triple-sharing basis, the cost comes down to Rs 9,300. Happen to be a loner? Then be prepared to fork out Rs 21,928. Rates quoted are also usually for standard hotels, about a 3-star hotel. Luxury or the more expensive hotels will be specifically mentioned.

Apart from the room rent, the rate quoted will normally include travel between towns – if it’s a multi-town trip – as well as sightseeing places within each town. In most cases, what you would pay for tour guides will be included. So is breakfast and dinner.

What they don’t

So that brings up what is not factored in. First, of course, is lunch, which is never included. Sometimes, dinner costs aren’t priced in either.

Second, airfare or train fare isn’t necessarily included. For instance, Thomas Cook has multiple plans for a 6-day holiday in Kashmir. One includes airfare from Delhi, which costs Rs 23,999 while another, which doesn’t have airfare priced in costs Rs 15,200. But trips booked through ticketing web portals such as IRCTC, Yatra or MakeMyTrip price in ticket costs.

Third, most plans exclude entrance fees for any palace, museum, park and such that you may have to see. Only in some cases, key areas of interest – say a shikara ride or a tea-plantation walk – could form a part of the price.

Fourth, service taxes for the package itself are additional, currently at 3.09 per cent for packaged tours. Hotel service taxes are priced in.

Note also that you can’t use cars or taxis booked for sightseeing as part of the package to do your own roaming around. At least, not without incurring extra charges!

Using web sites

Ticket-booking Web sites blossomed out into package designers a long time ago. While they offer full-fledged packages, these portals allow you to book just flights and hotels, and offer discounts on both.

MakeMyTrip has also recently introduced car booking, so you can effectively book flights, trains, cars and hotels at the same site without much hassle.

With the myriad tour packages available, the price is the key factor to look at. First, fix both budget and days to narrow down the search.

Second, if you want to use trains and not go by air, you will necessarily have to customise the package. This is because, save IRCTC, providers book only flights.

While you will be looking for the cheapest plan, there isn’t a provider who consistently prices them at the lowest rate. Third, since rates across providers differ quite a bit, comparing rates between providers at face value could be misleading.

For instance, IRCTC’s 8-day Kerala tour works out to Rs 2,750 per day, starting from Ahmedabad by train. That’s cheaper than a Rs 3,667 per day pack for a similar trip from Mumbai offered by MakeMyTrip. But say you can modify the latter to go by train. The difference then is negligible.

On the other hand, Yatra.com’s package to Himachal works out cheaper than its peers, where it was far more expensive in the previous example. Differences in prices occur due to the mode of travel, hotels, tour guides and travel agents used.

Of course, you could always use these packages as a guidepost to planning your holiday on your own.

Bhavana.acharya@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 24, 2012)
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