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Are vacation package deals really a deal?

Last week I booked a vacation for my family this summer, and decided to use Expedia’s Vacation Packages. Not only is it convenient, but I always think I get a better deal if I book the components together. This time, I decided to test that hypothesis.

The package I booked was a 10-day vacation, including roundtrip airfare, two nights of hotel room and a rental car. After much back and forth, I decided on Delta flights, the Springhill Suites by Marriot and an Avis Midsize Car. Delta has a hefty bag check charge ($25 for the first bag; $35 for the second), but I know we can fly with just carry-on luggage. And Springhill Suites was chosen because it offers the space we need, plus free Internet, complimentary breakfast and a pool.

I chose Expedia for this trip because they offer a nice feature where they allow travelers to book a hotel for only part of the trip, great if your travel plans do not keep you in one place. Total price for this vacation package was $2,338.98 or $584.74/person.

Then I priced each piece individually:

Delta flights – booked on the Delta’s site, $1789.60 total (same date and times)

Springhill Suites hotel – booked on Marriot’s site, with a AAA discount, $200.65 total

Avis midsize car – booked on Avis’ site, $253.20 total (with the pay-early option)

Total if I had booked all these items individually – $2243.45 or $560/person. That would be a savings of about $90. But did I get dinged for booking only two nights of hotel stay with the package?

I went back and priced the package for a full nine nights of hotel, airfare, and car, and the total on Expedia was $3811.76 or $952.94/person, a $1472.78 difference. The car stayed the same, the flights stayed the same, it was just the nights in the hotel that increased. Booking directly through Springhill Suites would be $1205.95. Again, I would have saved over $250 booking direct.

Well maybe the problem is that you don’t get economies of scale when you book with a group, in my case a family. What if I did this trip by myself? Car would stay the same, the hotel would stay the same (still a better deal to book through the hotel directly) and the airfare of course is reduced since I only need one ticket. Total price on Expedia, $2167.82, a savings from my original itinerary of $171.16. Finally, I am saving money, but then again, I am down to one passenger. This is definitely the most expensive of the options. To say nothing of the loneliest.

One more scenario came to mind. What if I was a family with two adults and a child under two years old, who did not need an airplane ticket? I still need the car, but maybe I could do with an economy size vehicle and I probably don’t need a hotel suite, since it is just the three of us, one of whom sleeps in a crib. With those parameters, the price does come way down to just over $1700, or about $566/person. Which is almost where I started.

As with most things in the Internet world, do your research before plunking down your checkbook. Booking on Expedia was certainly more convenient, since I did not have to go to three different sites and Expedia includes traveler comments and reviews, which is helpful when making a decision. But booking each piece individually could allow more control and opportunities for discounts. In the end, I feel comfortable with having booked my trip on Expedia, and will use the package feature in the future.

Disclaimer: This pricing is not an exact science, airfare and other items change all the time. Other travel sites have similar package features. My information was based on research done online through Expedia, Delta, Springhill Suites and Avis.

Gudrun Enger is a travel, food and lifestyle blogger based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her @kitchengirl on Twitter.

Photo: Victoria White