Tailormade Holidays: Booking Tips

There’s different types of holidays.  The young, and young at heart, who have plenty of time on their hands often travel backpacking style, booking nothing or little in advance.  Some people like package holidays, where everything is arranged for them in one big (usually tasteless) lump.  There’s also group tours, where one travels with a group of hopefully like-minded individuals on a set itinerary organised by a tour operator.  Then there’s tailormade travel, where everything is pieced together to perfectly suit an individuals requirements.  Tailormade travel is invariably more expensive than these other forms of travel, but it’s inherent advantage is that it should suit you, the traveller, perfectly.  As an ex Latin America specialist tailormade travel consultant, here’s some travel tips to get a better deal when booking a tailormade holiday.

There’s two ways to approach designing a tailormade holiday.  It can either be pieced together bit by bit by the individual - booking some hotels and transfers directly with the hotel, other hotels through hotel booking sites like travelocity and hotels.com, and booking all the flights online in a similar fashion.  The alternative is to book everything through a tailormade holiday specialist.

I used to work as a tailormade travel consultant, and have a few tailormade tips to share. The first tip is that everything is almost always cheaper when you book it yourself.  A two week trip visiting, say, 5 different locations would cost maybe 15% to 20% less if you booked it all yourself rather than letting an agent do it for you.  Whether this is worth the hassle is debateable - by booking with a tour operator you do have added safeguards for when things go wrong, which they often do eg. turning up at a hotel at 11pm and their having no record of your reservation.  If you’ve booked it online, you’ve a big problem.  If you’ve booked through a tour operator this is much less likely to happen, and if it does, they’ll sort it out pronto.

Tailormade holiday specialists invariably offer the same products.  On the whole, they all receive the same net (contract) rates from hotels, and all add very similar mark-ups to the total cost.  It’s a waste of time to call multiple specialists asking for similar quotes - the price difference is likely to be less than 5%. If one tour operator offers an itinerary that seems exactly the same as another operators intinerary, but it’s 20% less, look closer.  Unless one is trying to rip you off (unlikely), you’re missing something.  Are transfers or excursions shared in one of the quoted itineraries, while they’re private in another? Is one itinerary based on standard rooms, while another based on superior rooms? Are breakfasts included?  Are the hotels the same?

For those that do choose to book their tailormade holiday through a tour operator, it’s a hassle free way to do so. My advice would be to just book the flights, transfers and hotels with them - book the excursions yourself locally, as you’ll probably save over 30% if you arrange these with the hotels themselves once you arrive.  If the excursions are very popular and likely to get booked up (eg. carnival tickets, the Inca Trail etc.) book them in advance of course.

Personally, I’ll occasionally book through a tour operator, and occasionally book everything myself. It depends on the product - if it’s unique, I’ll go to a tour operator. If I’m very busy, or if it’s a last minute booking (leaving in under 6 weeks) I’ll book with a tour operator.  If I’m going to Cuba, I’ll always book with a tailormade specialist as Cuba is a very complicated country travel wise. However, if it’s quite a simple case (as most tailormade holidays are) of flying between places, and staying in hotels, I’d normally sound out a tour operators advice and expertise, get them to propose an itinerary to suit me,  then have a look into booking all the pieces myself.  I’d save about 20% by doing so on average.

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