Once again the green light is flashing on the road to travel, and people like you are actively planning vacations you put on hold when the gulf war began. Yet, you are typical if -- beset by an uncertain economy -- you are looking for bargains. You're in luck. The travel industry, thirsting from the long drought, is trying its best to entice you with everything from low air fares to bargain rates at exotic destinations.
It's time also to be cautious. When is what appears to be a bargain the genuine article? Cole Porter wrote, "Is it Granada I see or only Asbury Park?" Whatever the Granada of your dreams happens to be, you don't want to see a low-priced ticket turn into a high-priced vacation.
"Value and service as well as reasonable cost are the mix you should look for," says Mario Perillo, president of Perillo Travel, a company based in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. "What good does it do if you get the lowest price imaginable and have a terrible time? You may save dollars but it doesn't make sense.
"In order to make the value and service mix work for you, remember two words: all inclusive."
In basic terms, this means everything is paid for in advance. Air fare, transfers, hotels and perhaps even meals. No hidden surprises.
There are, of course, many all-inclusive holiday packages to choose from. But once you have selected your trip, be sure to check out the packager or organizer's reputation and responsibility. It can be embarrassing, as well as expensive, to be left at the airline gate without a flight or in a hotel lobby without a room.
"One way to limit your exposure to a packager who doesn't deliver what you contracted for," Perillo points out, "is to check his credentials with the American Society of Travel Agencies (ASTA) or the Better Business Bureau. Dealing with a reputable organization is the first step toward a successful vacation."
"The trend is toward the all-inclusive package," says Joel Abels, publisher of Travel Trade, a weekly magazine for the industry. "People have found that, if they buy the low
est end airline ticket, they may wind up having to book their own hotels. This can turn out to be both expensive and time consuming."
Perillo goes one step farther. "The lowest air fares are hedged about with many restrictions and, in most cases, you can't beat the fares a packager can pass along to a customer because of the large number of seats he repeatedly purchases.
"For instance, a low-ball round-trip ticket to Italy will run generally from $600 to $750, depending on the city you start from. Add two weeks of first-class hotels, meals, sightseeing, tips, transfers and transportation within the country and probably you will come up with a cost of around $4,000. We can give you all this for a little more than half the price, with a tour guide thrown in."
Suppose, however, an escorted tour to Italy (or anywhere) is not your cup of cappuccino. Perillo advises you to consult a trusted travel agent, have the agent check two or more competitive airlines for prices, then make up a list of the hotels you want. Be sure to obtain firm prices and written confirmations before your trip begins.
As for travel within Italy, you can buy tickets for day, week or month excursions at special rates from Italian Rail before you leave home.
"Whether you choose Hawaii or the Bahamas, Europe or the Orient," Perillo emphasizes, "you get what you pay for. If you buy a package tour, one price covers all. If you do it on your own, then consider yourself the packager and pay for as much as you can before leaving home. In this way you will save money and aggravation once you get to your destination."