What You Need to Know Before Buying a Vacation Package

So, I just booked my vacation and I am SO excited!  For quite a while, I’ve felt a desperate need for some R&R.  After planning a trip for September, then having to postpone it, I’m happy to finally have some concrete plans to look forward to next month (Yay!)  Where am I going? To beautiful Costa Rica with my boyfriend!

We talked about where we wanted to go.  A few very different destinations were discussed.  Once we decided where we wanted to go, I began searching the internet high and low for a great vacation deal.

I went on the typical travel sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz; then, I checked Trip Advisor and a few other sites. Finally, I went onto Groupon and searched their Getaways.

Eureka! After poking around a bit, I found the perfect vacation package for us: the first half of the trip, we’ll be staying at a resort in the cloud forest (not too far from the Arenal Volcano, which we also want to see) and the second half of the trip will be spent by the beach on the Pacific coast.

The trip is a great deal: 6 nights and 7 days, hotel accommodations, roundtrip airfare, and the rental of a compact SUV starting at $799.

Here’s the description the travel agency posted:

arenal volcano
Eco-Friendly Getaway Amid Private Nature Reserves

Costa Rica is known for its beaches, lush vegetation, and multiple eco-systems, as well as being an eco-tourism hub. Enjoy all three with this deal, which includes stays at two resorts that are committed to being eco-friendly, from low-energy lighting to onsite gardens and composting. This vacation includes:

  • Round-trip airfare from Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Boston (BOS), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), or Baltimore (BWI)
  • 3 nights of standard accommodations in at Superior Casita with daily breakfast at the 4-star Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel near San Ramón
  • 3 nights of all-inclusive standard accommodations at DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Central Pacific in Puntarenas Doubletree Central Pacific stay includes all meals, drinks, snacks, domestic alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages, and selected non-motorized water sports.
  • Automatic compact SUV rental (Diahatsu Bego or similar) for duration of trip

The post goes on to describe each hotel, the accommodations offered, the activities available nearby, and so on.  Sounds amazing, right?   A tropical destination with everything one could want to see or experience in one country – volcanoes, tropical rainforest, cloud forest, monkeys and other exotic creatures, and beautiful beaches with clear blue water.  I. Can’t. Wait!

It’s when I read the small print (before booking, of course) that some interesting things came to light. Nothing earth-shattering, mind you, but some details that are definitely important to consider before hitting “buy.”

What did I learn? Well…

  • All cancellations subject to $50 fee per person.
  • The price shown is based on double occupancy (2 people traveling).  If traveling alone, the price is quite a bit higher.
  • 46-day cancellation notice required fee of 50% Groupon price applies; 31-day notice or fee up to Groupon price applies. (Yikes!  That could potentially be very expensive!)
  • Airfare is non-refundable after booking. Travel insurance is strongly recommended. (I’ve only bought travel insurance once when a friend of mine booked our trip and she bought it for us.)
  • Taxes: $29 Costa Rica departure tax not included. (They charge you to LEAVE their country? Hmmm. Weird.) 
  • Additional fees: $25 per day mandatory car insurance coverage not included. (Even though my insurance company covers rental cars, the class of roads in Costa Rica are not covered. I’ve heard from several people that they can be pretty rough, so I get it. And when the additional fee is split 2 ways, its just $12.50/day per person, so that’s not too bad.)
  • Up to $1,000 refundable deposit required for the duration of renting the vehicle. (It’s just a hold on the account, so not a big deal.)

Yikes!  There are a lot of extra things to consider!  If I had to stay within a specified price range, these additional fees could potentially put me way over budget.

What You Need to Know Before Buying a Vacation Package

  • READ THE FINE PRINT and learn exactly what the vacation deal does and doesn’t include.
  • If the answers to your questions aren’t included in the trip description or FAQs section, contact the person/company/travel agency offering the trip package directly and get all of your questions answered before booking your trip.

Be sure to find out the answers to the following:

Travel/Blackout Dates:

  • Are there specific dates you must travel on or within or are the travel dates flexible?
  • What happens if there is an emergency and you have to change your travel plans?

Cancellation Policy/ies:

  • How far in advance do you have to cancel in order to get a full refund (if one is available at all)?
  • Is there a cancellation fee?  If so, how much is it?
  • Is airfare refundable?
  • What other fees are applicable?

Flight/Airline information:

  • What airline is the trip booked through?
  • What airport do you have to fly out of?
  • Is the flight non-stop or will there be 1 (or more) layovers?
  • Does the airline charge extra for baggage?
  • On the plane, does the airline charge extra for travel pillows? Blankets? Headphones? Movies?
  • Is food served on the flights?
  • If not, how much extra is it and what are the options?

Rental Cars:

  • What type of car will you get?
  • What, if any, additional charges are there? Taxes? Fees?
  • Are you required to put down a large deposit?
    • Be sure you have a credit card with a high enough credit limit to cover the car and the refundable deposit amount.
  • Are you required to purchase their insurance even if yours covers rental cars?
    • Although not ideal, in some countries such as Costa Rica, additional rental car insurance could prove to be a good investment.

Reputation of Each Hotel/Resort:

  • If you aren’t sure about the hotel/resort that’s included in the vacation package, look at online reviews to see how previous guests rated it and read their comments.  TripAdvisor.com is a great place for this type of recon.

If you are traveling outside the U.S., please read below.  (This has nothing to do with buying a vacation package, but is very important!!)

Passports (very important!):

  • New laws are in place that require passports for travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
  • If you already have one, make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months past your travel date (some countries require them to be current for 1 year beyond your travel date).
  • If you don’t already have one OR if yours expires in less than 6 months, you may either:
  • Turnaround Times for Processing Your Application:
    • Regular Passport Service: Up to 8 weeks
    • Expedited Service: 2-3 weeks (depending on the current volume of applications); additional fees apply.
  • Before applying (or at the time of application if applying at a post office), get 2 passport photos taken to submit along with your application.


I hope you found these tips helpful.  Bookmark this post so you can refer to it before making plans for your next vacation.  

Until next time, wishing you awesome travels!

A Traveling Broad

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