Before you start your search for the lowest airfare, you may want to consider booking your flight as part of a travel package. Package tours are not the same thing as escorted tours. Package tours are simply a way to buy the airfare, accommodations, and other elements of your trip (such as car rentals, airport transfers, and sometimes even activities) at the same time and often at discounted prices. In most cases, a package to the Cayman Islands will include airfare, hotel, and transportation to and from the airport -- and it'll often cost you less than the hotel alone if you booked it yourself. Packages are sold in bulk to tour operators, who resell them to the public at a cost that usually undercuts standard rates. A package deal might not be for you if you want to stay in a more intimate inn or guesthouse, but if you like resorts, read on.
Many land-and-sea packages include meals, and you might find yourself locked into eating in your hotel dining room every night if your meals are prepaid. If you're seeking a more varied dining experience, avoid the AP (American Plan), which means full board, and opt for the MAP (Modified American Plan), which means breakfast and either lunch or dinner at your hotel.
One good source of package deals is the airlines themselves. Most major airlines offer air/land packages, including American Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/321-2121; www.aavacations.com), Delta Vacations (tel. 800/654-6559; www.deltavacations.com), and Continental Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/301-3800; www.covacations.com). Several big online travel agencies -- Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz -- also do a brisk business in packages. If you're unsure about the pedigree of a smaller packager, check with the Better Business Bureau in the city where the company is based, or go to www.bbb.org. If a packager won't tell you where it's based, don't fly with them.
Travel packages are also listed in the travel section of your local Sunday newspaper. Or check ads in national travel magazines such as Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine, Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, and Condé Nast Traveller.
The biggest hotel chains and resorts also have package deals. If you already know where you want to stay, call the resort itself and ask if it offers land/air packages.
To save time comparing the prices and value of every package tour, contact TourScan Inc. (tel. 800/962-2080 or 203/655-8091; www.tourscan.com). Every season, the company computerizes the contents of travel brochures that contain about 10,000 different vacations at 1,600 hotels in the Caribbean, and selects the best value vacation at each hotel and condo.
Ask Before You Go
Before you invest in a package deal or an escorted tour:
- Always ask about the cancellation policy. Can you get your money back? Is a deposit required?
- Ask about the accommodations choices and prices for each. Then look up the hotels' reviews and check their rates online for your specific dates of travel. Also find out what types of rooms are offered.
- For escorted tours, request a complete schedule.
- For escorted tours, ask about the size and demographics of the group.
- For escorted tours, discuss what is included in the price (transportation, meals, tips, airport transfers, and so forth).
- Finally, look for hidden expenses. Ask whether airport departure fees and taxes, for example, are included in the total cost -- they rarely are.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.