I have a confession to make…
I have become a travel snob! Package holidays are something I have snubbed for over ten years. Hordes of drunken Brits making a nuisance of themselves in hotels around Europe is not my idea of fun.
I don’t go away to spend time in British and Irish bars, don’t feel the need to indulge in an English breakfast daily, and am not phased by local cuisine (unless it involves snakes or eyeballs!!). I’m also very capable of amusing myself for hours on end reading, writing and spending time with my husband. I certainly don’t need an animation team.
It seems I’m not alone in my aversion to a package holiday. The Financial Times reports that only 37% of consumers took a package holiday in 2010, but the package holiday may be making a comeback.
In 2014, that figure had increased to 51%, whilst the numbers for those taking self organised trips reduced from 42% in 2011, to 30% in 2014.
So why, you might ask, am I on a return flight from Tunisia with Thomson Airways having just spent a week on a package holiday?
Good question! The honest truth is that we took 6 weeks off to travel around Asia at the beginning of the year, and whilst we came in significantly under budget, we still spent a substantial sum. That money was largely spent covering our UK costs. Those bills don’t stop just because we decided to run off on a middle aged sabbatical!
So, really this holiday was simply an opportunity to escape for a week in the sun, combined with a little culture in a country neither of us have visited before. The only criteria was that it needed to be cheap, as we have other travel plans on the horizon, and those luxury hotels don’t quite fit into the budget category!
Rekindling a romance
Rather surprisingly though, I have rediscovered a long suppressed love and respect for the much loved British package holiday.
Here’s five reasons why:
We booked this trip with just three weeks notice, and it cost a grand total of £740. That was for seven nights all inclusive in a three star hotel on the beach. You can check out last minute hotels directly on the package holiday sites.
Even better the flight departed from Doncaster airport which is around 40 minutes from home, and we managed to park our car about 30 metres from the airport’s entrance! Wow…that is a first!
You may be thinking that is not such a deal, but had we booked on the 17th March when I originally started pricing up trips to Tunisia, we could have had a week in a four star hotel for £340 on a half board basis.
Package holidays offer great opportunities to snap up a last minute deal, if you are flexible on destination, airport and departure date.
2. Hassle Free
Now I’m usually one of those irritating people who loves planning trips. My idea of a great rainy, Sunday afternoon, is to surf the net seeing if I can bag a bargain weekend break, or some other luxury experience for half the usual cost.
Of late however, things have been pretty hectic. Work is manic, I’m studying for my MBA, and I’m trying to bring you wonderful readers regular content. That all takes time!
Planning was not a luxury I had on this occasion, so the thought of someone else organising my transfers, hotels and dining appealed for the first time in a long time!!
With a package holiday, you simply choose the hotel, and date of departure and everything else is taken care of for you. Pretty appealing right?!
3. Additional Protection
My husband and I seem to have had more than our fair share of disasters following in our wake.
I’ve lived through a hurricane in Florida, a tropical storm in the Turks and Caicos, and had an holiday abandoned due to a severe hurricane causing horrendous damage in St Lucia just as we were about to board our flight.
I left Indonesia the day before the tsunami hit, the Cook Islands the day before a cyclone tore it apart, and got stranded in Brazil courtesy of the Icelandic ash cloud in 2010.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about the latter. There are certainly worse places to be stranded. Sipping caipirinha and acai juice is not a bad way to while away the days.
Unfortunately that stranding cost us an extra £1,000. Yes we were insured, but insurance typically doesn’t include cover for natural disasters (albeit you can now add this as an additional option).
Our airline did automatically rebook us onto a flight as soon as the ban on flights was lifted, however we had to cover extra accommodation costs, hire car costs, food and drink for the extra time we spent in Brazil. I also received no compensation for the additional leave I was forced to take from work.
EU regulations apply to flights starting in the EU and flights operated by EU-based carriers. This requires the airline to provide food, drinks, hotel accommodation and transfers.
For Non EU carriers, the Civil Aviation Authority offers the following advice:
‘Some airlines may provide refreshments and accommodation for passengers while they wait for their delayed flight. Some airlines will not. If they do not, you can try to claim for reimbursement of your expenses due to the delay. You have the right to claim for this under the Montreal Convention. Be aware that you may struggle to be reimbursed for anything other than meals or overnight hotel accomodation, so spend wisely. Keep receipts.’
In other words, it is highly unlikely a claim would have been successful, and our appeal to the airline while we were in Brazil proved futile.
Now had I been on a ATOL backed package holiday, it would have been a whole different story. We would have been rebooked on flights once the ban was lifted, offered complimentary accommodation for the extra nights and, then would simply have had to cover our food and drink.
Stephen Wilmot, from the Financial Times confirms ‘Tour operators are legally responsible for their customers during the holiday, which involves looking after them in the event of natural or geopolitical crises’.
Never has this been brought home to me more clearly than during the events of this last week in Tunisia. Having the support of a travel representative providing advice and information is invaluable when news is thin on the ground, and the Internet reception is sketchy at best.
I have to commend Thomson Holidays on the sensitive way in which they have dealt with the crisis, the support we received during our stay, on the return flight home, and since our return. They have impressed me no end!
4. Inclusive Entertainment
Perhaps it is simply because I am a little contrary (some might say cantankerous!) but I normally hate organised activities. Suggest an organised tour to me, be it city tour or country tour, and you will be met with a look of disgust. I am very much of the mould that I like to avoid rigid schedules, vary the company I keep, and avoid the animation team intent on badgering me into water polo, dancing, volleyball or whatever other activity they have dreamed up.
However when you find yourself confined to your hotel, at the request of your tour operator, and to a lesser degree on the advice of the Foreign Office, things get dull pretty quickly. I’m the kind of girl who gets claustrophobic being in the same place for more than a few days, so the concept of a week within the hotel compound fills me with trepidation and has me feeling imprisoned in no time at all.
The entertainment schedule, as cheesy as It may be, provided some much needed laughs in the aftermath of the tragedy which hit Tunisia on Friday 26 June. Yes we felt guilty enjoying ourselves knowing that others were suffering. Yes we felt it inappropriate to be joking around, but equally, we felt a need to make light of our situation given the frightening events which had taken place further down the coast.
Of course, if you have kids, the animation team is invaluable and possibly the one thing that prevents you from being driven insane by your children.
Memories of taking my step-children away for our first family holiday abroad make me sympathise with families seeking relaxation in the form of a package holiday. I made the mistake of booking a swank villa on a complex, complete with private pool, a zillion bathrooms, games room and clubhouse.
What I didn’t count on was the weather being WET! October in Florida is outside the hurricane season, isn’t it? Clearly that year was a freak occurrence as we were met with daily deluges, which confined us to the villa, or had us engaged in multiple expensive activities all designed to occupy the bored children. NEVER AGAIN!!
After that, we changed tack and accepted that for one week a year, I would suffer a permanent bad back, lack of space, and the screams of children ringing in my ears, and decamped to Eurocamp. Much cheaper, more entertainment for the children, and more relaxation for us!
Those holidays may not have been my idea of a fantastic trip, however I’m grateful to them for providing me with a surprisingly relaxing holiday, knowing the children had plenty of activities to keep them amused.
The animation teams do an incredible job of compiling a programme of activities to amuse toddlers through to those in retirement.
Stretching maybe? Dance classes? Water polo? Beach volley? All are on offer, and whilst I might not normally be remotely interested, these activities proved to be a welcome relief when we felt uncomfortable venturing further afield.
Children are very well catered for, and our hotel had an evening entertainment programme suitable for children and adults alike.
5. Know how
Normally we need to read the guide book to figure out what to visit, when to visit and any customs we should be aware of.
Instead Rose, our rep, provided us with this information and went off to investigate train times for us for a trip we wished to undertake.
At the airport, the airport guide told us everything we needed to know about departure tax, exchanging money, check in and facilities in the departures area. All this without opening a guide book!
I don’t think I’m ever going to become a full blown package convert, but maybe once a year, just for a bit of sunshine, maybe I could…
What are your thoughts re package holidays? Please feel free to share.
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