Cheap package holidays are put together to suit as many people as possible, so they can be piled high and sold at a low price. So if you want a standard seven, 10 or 14-night stay in a traditional holiday destination, it's usually cheapest to get a package holiday. However, this isn't always the case.
Sometimes you can save substantially by putting together your own break. To help you work out the cheapest option for your holiday, you need to ask yourself these seven questions:
1. Where are you going?
One major category where packages tend to compete poorly is with city breaks, because there is simply so much choice for independent travellers. At the bargain basement end of the market, you can fly to the cheapest possible destination, on an early bird booking with a budget airline (for example, you can spend as little as £60 on return flights to Barcelona). You can then choose the accommodation that suits your budget - from a house swap to Airbnb, hostels, B&Bs or hotels. In Barcelona, for example, Airbnb has a host of options from £15 a night; so a four-night break in Barcelona could set you back £120 for flights and accommodation. A package will struggle to compete with that.
2. Are you flexible about your destination?
In some cases, people want a stress-free holiday somewhere familiar, and the package is perfect. In others, travellers want something affordable, and the package just seems to fit the bill.
If you fit into the second category, then you could put together a DIY package in a less popular destination for as little as a third of the price. If, for example, instead of gong skiing in the pricey French Alps, you selected Poland, Romania or Bulgaria, you can put together a cheaper break. If you also considered airports a little further away from the resorts, staying outside popular towns, and opting for a self-catered apartment, you can get a deal for the fraction of the cost of a package.
3. How much value are you getting from the added extras?
It's nice to be able to get a ski pass thrown in, or two-weeks' entry to a theme park. It's also indulgent to be able to have an in-flight meal, and then anything you want to eat a drink at the resort. However, instead of working out how much it would cost you to exactly replicate what you will get from the extras on a package (which will almost always cost more to put together yourself especially if you go all-inclusive), ask yourself what you actually intend to use.If, for example, you are planning a ski holiday but want to have plenty of rest days, then do you need a ski pass for the whole of your break? Likewise, will you go to the theme parks every day, and will you over-eat quite so spectacularly when the food isn't included? There will be some people who want the lot, and for whom an all-inclusive package is an exceptionally good deal, but it's worth checking whether you are that kind of holidaymaker.
4. Who are you going with?
If you are travelling alone, you may well be better off with a DIY break, because package holidays tend to focus almost exclusively on people travelling together, and the per person price is always based on two people sharing. If you cannot share, then you will be charged a single supplement and given far less choice about where you can stay, so you may find yourself better off booking things separately.
5. How much time do you want to spend organising your holiday?
If you are a dedicated bargain-hunter with plenty of time to shop around, then you could get a better deal by piecing together incredible bargains yourself. This may mean going off the beaten track, and using self-catering accommodation from Owners Direct, or Airbnb. While this suits people who get a kick out of creating their own bargain holiday, there will be those who find the whole thing frustrating and time-consuming. For them, the savings involved may simply not be worth the effort in tracking down the break, or keeping on top of things when they go away. If this describes you, then you're going to lose interest well before you've found the best deals, so it's worth signing up for a package and accepting your slightly pricier fate.
6. Are you looking for a last-minute deal?
If you book at the last minute, package holidays are far more likely to offer better discounts. There are a few reasons for this. It's partly because of the way tour operators run their businesses - so at the last minute it's better to sell a holiday at any price than leave it unsold. It's also partly because the hotel and airline are less likely to be concerned about damage to their brand image if the discount is hidden inside a package. And it's partly because of the way air fares increase as you get closer to your departure date, which means that DIY deals are incredibly hard to come by - while packages locked in the price of the air fare months earlier when flights were much cheaper. It means that the last-minute cut-price market is the place to look for a package rather than try to snap up cheap flights and hotels. The discounts in the last-minute market are so striking that in some cases independent travellers will find it cheaper to book a package and then not use the hotel instead of booking a flight separately.
7. Are the savings worth it?
This is something everyone needs to ask, whether they have decided to book a package or a DIY holiday. If you make a decision based on price, you need to be sure that you are still getting the holiday you want.
If, for example, you are at heart an independent minded person who likes to explore and do their own thing, how happy will you be enjoying the all-inclusive entertainments and sitting by the pool? If, meanwhile, you just want to relax on holiday, will you be happy hiring a car, driving to an unfamiliar location and staying in accommodation you found online? Will you enjoy having to hunt down local entertainment, activities, food and drink, or will it be too much work for what is meant to be a relaxing break? In the final analysis, if a holiday doesn't give you enough of what you need, then no kind of saving qualifies as a good deal.
Finally, you need to think about protection. Package holidays are usually protected by ATOL or ABTA, which means that if the travel company goes bust you'll be refunded if you haven't travelled yet, and found alternative accommodation and flights home if you're already on holiday.
If you go on a DIY break, then in most cases you are not ATOL protected. However, since 2012 it has been possible to get the protection if you book a flight, hotel or car hire together - or within 24 hours of each other. If you book using a credit card, and the holiday costs at least £100, you will also have the extra protection from the credit card firm if any of the companies involved go out of business.
World's best all-inclusive resorts
Package holiday or DIY break: Which is better value?
Bringing a new meaning to the term 'all-inclusive resort,' Laucala Island offers luxurious splendour of 3,200 exclusive acres in the Fijian Pacific archipelago and a staff ratio of 7:1. The beyond-five-star luxury private island resort is set amidst coconut plantations, sandy beaches, turquoise lagoons, rich green mountains and breathtaking natural beauty. The resort boasts 25 villas and gives guests the freedom to experience a variety of activities with spontaneity, ranging from pro golfing to beachside horseback riding, and watersports, including diving, snorkelling, surfing and game fishing. Romantic candlelight dinners on the private beach, fine dining in the Plantation House Restaurant, authentic Asian delicacies in the Seagrass Restaurant, spectacular sundown cocktails in the Rock Lounge, avant-garde finger food at the Pool Bar and barbecues at the Beach Bar all capture the tropical atmosphere. There is also a superbly stocked wine cellar which acts as a treasure trove for the most discerning of oenophiles. Scott Dunn offers seven nights at Laucala Island from £9,980 per person based on two sharing, including return flights, private plane transfer in Fiji, full-board in one bedroom villa, select wines and spirits and access to activities such as diving, sailing and cookery classes.
Situated along a white sand beach on Mexico's stunning Caribbean coast, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is fringed by lush tropical Yucatan jungle and natural freshwater wells locally known as cenotes. The resort offers an unparalleled all-inclusive experience with gourmet dining on par with some of the finest eateries in the world. The internationally-acclaimed Cocina de Autor signature restaurant was awarded five AAA Diamonds, the highest rating for restaurants on the American subcontinent (the equivalent of three Michelin stars). What’s more, the resort's spa boasts 40 treatment rooms and 75,000 square feet of relaxation space, with a revolutionary hydrotherapy circuit and an avant-garde menu of treatments inspired by the ancient healing practices of Mexico. Grand Velas Riviera Maya is divided into three different sections with their very own atmosphere: adults only ocean-front, family friendly ocean view and a Zen tropical setting. Each of the resort’s suites feature a balcony and some have private plunge pools. Kuoni offers seven-night holidays on an all-inclusive basis at Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort from £1,979 per person, including return flights from London Gatwick to Mexico with Virgin Atlantic and transfers. Quote tour reference KU0180 to book.
Enjoy all-inclusive heaven at the five-star Dream Gran Castillo Resort in Lanzarote, located in Playa Blanca, where there are super spacious rooms, 11 different swimming pools and an excellent kids' club to keep the little ones entertained. With four restaurants, including Guangzhou (Oriental cuisine) and Portofino (Italian), plus six bars, there are plenty of options for relaxing in the evening, while the Vitanova Spa is the ideal place to indulge in a session of thalassotherapy during the day. A seven-night all-inclusive stay costs is from £750 per night for two people.
Hip adults-only resort Couples Negril in Jamaica is surrounded by lush tropical gardens on one side and a white sand beach on the other. Expect a beachfront swimming pool, a spa situated over a natural lagoon and a fabulous selection of bars and restaurants. One for water babies, take advantage of the all-inclusive watersports including professional tuition for water-skiing, windsurfing and hobie cat sailing. Scuba diving is also on offer for certified divers and those not yet qualified can take part in a resort diving course and take a supervised dive to experience the underwater world of the Caribbean. By night, indulge in romantic dinners with a choice of Mediterranean, Asian and Caribbean cuisines, a beach grill and a selection of bars perfect for sipping on cocktails while looking out to the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Western & Oriental offers a seven-night stay from £1,085 per person based on two sharing a Garden Deluxe Room on an all-inclusive basis, including return flights from London Gatwick and transfers.
Buccament Bay Resort is the ultimate all-inclusive resort in St Vincent & the Grenadines offering more than just a meal plan and drinks on tap. The resort has built a strong reputation in the sporting world, signing up legends to coach at its sports academies, which include The Liverpool FC Academy Soccer School and the Pat Cash Tennis Academy. As well as football stars, Buccament Bay Resort lines up guest coaches, including netball's Sam Bird and Rugby's Lewis Moody. The Performing Arts Academy is also a must for budding singers and actors, with coaching sessions led by West End star Phil Cavil, Les Miserables' longest running lead. In addition, the resort has plenty of other experiences on offer, with a gym, world class spa, sunset cruises, volcano hikes and nature trails. Eating is an experience in itself and guests can enjoy award-winning steaks at Jacks, handmade sushi at Ginger & Co or a curry at Indian restaurant Safran. All accommodation at Buccament Bay is in individual villas with private plunge pools. Caribbean Warehouse offers a seven-night stay at Buccament Bay Resort on an all-inclusive basis for £1,149 per person, based on two persons sharing a one-bedroom garden villa based on October, November and December departures. Return flights from Manchester and inter island flights between Barbados and St Vincent are included, as well as all coaching at the sports and performing arts academy, a sunset cruise, spa treatment and private beach dining.
For affordable luxury in the Maldives, look no further than the new Atmosphere Kanifushi Maldives, which offers an all-inclusive Platinum Plus plan that allows you to budget and pay for your entire holiday before you go. The resort is located in the sparsely populated Lhaviyani Atoll just a 35-minute sea plane transfer from Male and specialises in offering the best of Maldivian culture and cuisine for less. The accommodation suits couples, families and friends alike, with 150 elegant detached villas in four categories, each offering direct access to the beach and spacious open-air bathrooms. In addition to covering all food and drinks at four different dining outlets, Platinum Plus also allows you to access to the first full-sized 50m swimming pool in the Maldives, a second swimming pool, a sports complex, a kids' club, live musical performances, sunset fishing, one from a choice of excursions to local islands, twice-daily snorkelling excursions, a daily programme of activities inspired by the local culture and resort-wide internet access. A seven-night all-inclusive stay with return sea plane transfers and return international flights costs around £2,000 per person.
Club Med's new luxury family resort, located just 30 miles from Hong Kong in the 'Chinese Maldives,' boasts a stunning setting overlooking the sea on remote Dong'ao Island, while offering a huge range of facilities for children and adults, such as water sports, hiking, and sailing and fitness academies. At Club Med Dong'ao Island, you can experience Tai-Chi, meditation and yoga for relaxation, as well as a L’Occitane spa offering reflexology sessions and massages on the beach in front of the China Sea. Upgrade to a 5T space and you can also enjoy a premium balcony room facing the sea, a cardio and yoga room and an outdoor infinity pool. The dining options include the main, seafood and Mediterranean restaurants, while there are four bars to choose from.
Go all-inclusive at Heritage Awali in Mauritius, where each room opens onto a private terrace, some onto the resort’s long white sandy beach. There are nine restaurants and bars to choose from, each included in the all-inclusive package, with Balafon offering buffet breakfast, English tea time and dinner, the newly refurbished Infinity Blue offering a la carte lunch and dinner, and Amafrooty offering a la carte snacks. One dinner per stay is included at Le Chateau de Bel Ombre, a romantic 19th century mansion, which offers a fine-dining experience with 90 per cent of ingredients sourced from around the estate. The all-inclusive offering also includes a one-hour spa experience at the award-winning Seven Colours Spa which features nine treatment rooms, a hairdressing and nail salon, a hammam, a hydrotherapy pool and a sauna. Guests have free access to the Umuzi Sports and Fitness Centre which offers aerobics, aquagym, yoga and tai chi classes. Free daily green fees and complimentary golf clinics at Heritage Golf Club are included and Heritage Awali is the only five-star all-inclusive golf resort in the world. At the C Beach Club, water sports are free of charge so guests can try out paddle boarding, windsurfing or water skiing and then relax with a cocktail by the poolside. And if that's not enough, the resort has its own nature reserve which offers quad biking and 4x4 excursions and fitness treks. Expressions Holidays offers low-season break from £1,915 per person for seven nights, including flights, private transfers and accommodation on an all-inclusive basis.
Set on Sharks Bay in Sharm El Sheikh, Xperience Sea Breeze Resort is an adults-only, five-star all-inclusive resort offering three buffet and a la carte restaurants, drinks at the beach and pool bar services, use of the Spa & Health Club’s facilities. Around the resort, you can relax on the private beach, in the five swimming pools, Jacuzzis or the rooftop bar. With 284 Xperience rooms and 20 deluxe rooms or suites have private balconies or terraces for enjoying the South Sinai’s blood-orange sunsets. A seven-night all-inclusive holiday, including flights, transfers, accommodation in a sea view room, all meals, drinks and many activities, costs from £689 per person with Olympic Holidays.
Designed exclusively for families, Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa caters for the young to the young at heart. Children can enjoy hours of fun at the 45,000 square-foot Pirates Island Waterpark, featuring nine slides, a lazy river and thrilling 'surf simulator,' while the 12-mile white-sand beach, exclusive scuba programme and Xbox 360 Play Lounge will keep the teens entertained. From ocean view rooms and suites, to quaint villas, there is a huge selection of accommodation options, including the new Key West Luxury Village, which features more than 150 suites and villas, 20 of which offer exclusive personal butler service catering to families' every whim, private pools and three additional gourmet restaurants. The resort offers an impressive total of 19 gourmet dining spaces, so you don't have to eat at the same restaurant more than once.