We found five package holidays and booked them independently – the savings were big

By building and booking a package holiday itinerary from scratch, you can save up to 38 per cent
By building and booking a package holiday itinerary from scratch, you can save up to 38 per cent

Many Britons book package holidays for their getaways, whether out of habit, or for the ease and peace of mind it brings.

But in the internet age, we can now book our flights, hotels and transfers or car rental with the click of a few buttons. So would it be cheaper to build and book package holiday itineraries from scratch?

In a word, yes. For each of the five package holidays I found, I managed to construct identical (or very similar) itineraries for cheaper than the listed price. Indeed, some of these savings are as high as 38 per cent and might, therefore, give even the most loyal package holiday purists pause for thought.

A couple’s fly-and-flop escape

The top result was an all-inclusive holiday on the Costa Adeje, Tenerife
The top result was an all-inclusive holiday on the Costa Adeje, Tenerife - Getty

For a basic fly-and-flop summer package, I turned to the country’s favourite tour operator and top holiday destination: Tenerife with Tui, a tried-and-tested formula.

The top result was a one-week, all-inclusive holiday to a four-star hotel called the Riu Buenavista on the Costa Adeje, with flights and transfers included. The best rate was £2,408.84 for two adults sharing a double balcony room, departing from Gatwick at a reasonable hour on July 27 and returning a week later, on August 3.

Booking the exact same holiday independently, I found the same room on the hotel’s website for £1,477.65, equivalent Ryanair flights from Stansted for £666 for two (less palatable arrival times were cheaper), and a private shuttle bus transfer to the Costa Adeje for £21.40. This came in at a total of £2,165 for two adults: a DIY saving of £243.

  • Package: £2,408.84

  • DIY: £2,165

  • Difference: Saving of £243.84 (10 per cent)

Verdict?

A 10 per cent saving isn’t to be sniffed at. However, for that extra £243, you are flying with Tui rather than Ryanair, have a dedicated transfer that will be waiting at the arrivals terminal, a rep at the resort to help with any problems, and that all-important Atol protection. For many, that will be worth the extra cash.

A luxury villa with friends

It's possible to save 34.5 per cent on a luxury villa holiday when doing the booking yourself
It's possible to save 34.5 per cent on a luxury villa holiday when doing the booking yourself - E+

How about a shoulder-season trip to a high-end villa on a Greek island with another couple?

I found a nice-looking property in Zakynthos called Villa Elysian, listed as a package holiday by Simpson Travel for £4,638, departing on October 6, 2024 for a week. That fee is for four adults, with decent easyJet flights from Gatwick and a car rental all taken care of. Also included is a welcome hamper, pre-departure and overseas concierge services, zero excess insurance and an additional driver on the car. Plus, of course, the peace of mind of Atol protection

However, I managed to secure the same property directly through Villa Elysian for just £1,644.98 for four adults. Those same flights, with a hold bag added on (it’s included with Simpson) cost £1,092.60 for four. I found a big enough SUV to get all the luggage into the boot on Booking.com for £234.31 (much cheaper options are available if you are all travelling light). The collision damage waiver insurance cost £33.15 on Travelsupermarket.com, and the additional driver was £29.54. Added together, that comes to £3034.58, a saving of £1,603.42..

Note that, when booking independently through Villa Elysian, I spotted “welcome basket” was listed as an amenity, and they say: “Everything you need our staff will be there for you, whether it is about your stay or if you simply want some help with your time in Zakynthos island. We will be happy to take care of you.” Which sounds like an equivalent to a concierge service.

A spokesperson for Simpson said: “The vast majority of Simpson villas – around 80 per cent – are exclusive throughout the year to Simpson Travel and can’t be booked through any other means. With a handful of villas, in off-peak weeks (such as early May or October), the owners also sell directly.  At this stage, they have discretion over their pricing and should they choose to reduce the price, they are able to do so. However, when booking directly, you have none of the security that you get from travelling with a tried and trusted tour operator such as Simpson Travel.”

  • Package: £4,638

  • DIY: £3,034.58

  • Difference: Saving of £1603.42 (34.5 per cent)

Verdict?

Whichever way you look at it, that is a significant mark-up. It appears that the key differentiators here are the Atol protection and the pre-departure support. Some may be of the mindset that the £1,603.42 saving is a sufficient buffer, were anything to go wrong, whether before the trip or while away.

A solo escorted tour

Replicating a tour is a little more complex and time consuming
Replicating an escorted tour is a little more complex and time consuming - Moment RF

I found a 13-night small group tour of Peru, centred around a visit to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Explore’s itinerary goes for £2,630 on a single-supplement basis, departing on September 8, 2024. This price does not include international flights, but covers 13 nights’ accommodation, breakfasts, one lunch, one dinner, plus an internal flight transfer from Lima to Arequipa, all overland transport and boat transfers, some city tours and entry fees, and the benefit of an expert tour leader and a driver, plus local guides.

Trying to replicate this tour independently was complex and time consuming. I managed to find all of the accommodation (or equivalent), which collectively came in at £697.59 over these dates. The domestic flight cost £39, and I opted for a car rental, costing £375 for the duration plus £65 for the collision damage waiver insurance booked with Travelsupermarket.com. Alternatively, you could try to employ the services of a local personal driver on the ground or use public transport, but the former comes with risks and the latter is prohibitively time-consuming in an already tight schedule. After throwing in the predicted petrol costs, the lunch and dinner, plus boat transfers, some entry fees and the listed tours, I managed to replicate the bones of the Explore itinerary for £1,637 (note this is a rough estimate, and I suspect the real cost would be a bit higher).

However, my £993 saving comes with caveats. While Peru is now very much on the backpacker trail, trying to navigate the country independently comes with challenges, and my self-built tour is notably absent of the expertise offered by Explore’s guide or the local contacts who are pivotal to ensuring a smooth experience far from home. Not least, they will be able to assist with acclimatisation, and help to keep you safe (they audit all of the sights on the itinerary).

  • Package: £2,630

  • DIY: £1,637

  • Difference: Saving of £993 (38 per cent)

Verdict?

Yes, a skeletal version of the Explore trip can be constructed independently, but the expertise and curation offered by a tour operator like Explore is worth its weight in gold, particularly in unfamiliar territory. The escorted tour wins, unless you are a time-rich backpacker up for an adventure.

A week on the slopes with the family

Booking lift passes independently can also be a cheaper option
Booking lift passes independently can also be a cheaper option - TVB Saalbach

For this one I thought I’d splash out on a family holiday on the slopes of the Grand Massif in France during February half term next year (February 15–22, 2025). For two adults and two children aged 8 and 13, I found a package with Crystal Ski staying at the Totem Friendly Hotel in Flaine (two twin rooms), with return easyJet flights from Luton plus transfers from Geneva Airport, for the princely sum of £9,692. Adding on ski passes, the total was £10,826 for the family.

Booking independently, I found two double rooms at the same hotel over these dates for £4,426.43. Flights were expensive: the exact same easyJet flights from Luton cost £2,220 for the family of four, plus £247.92 for four 23kg bags (included in the Crystal package). With the lift passes added on – which were slightly cheaper when booked independently – plus transfers with Bens Bus (£226 total, return), the total for my hand-built holiday was £8,175.

  • Package: £10,826

  • DIY: £8,175

  • Difference: Saving of £2,651 (24 per cent)

Verdict?

That is a significant saving. Crystal’s holidays come with 24/7 phone support and a rep in your resort, and of course Atol protection. However, whether that is worth £2,651 is up for debate.

Christmas in Dubai

A trip to Dubai has to include a visit to the Dubai Aquarium
A trip to Dubai has to include a visit to the Dubai Aquarium - AFP

For a romantic, festive escape in the sun, I found a BA Holidays’ week-long package deal to The Palm, Atlantis in Dubai (for two) staying in an Imperial Club King Room with an ocean view, plus breakfasts, for £10,608. Departs December 21, 2024 and returns on Saturday December 28.

Booked independently, I found the exact same room direct through Atlantis for £8,369.26. The return flights cost £1,749 for two (with luggage), adding up to £10,119.04. However, the full amount of the hotel room when booked direct through The Palm, Atlantis must be paid in full and is non-refundable, whereas the BA holiday can be secured for a £600 deposit with the balance payable seven weeks before travel.

  • Package: £10,608

  • DIY: £10,119.04

  • Difference: A saving of £488.96 (4.6 per cent)

Verdict?

The BA Holidays mark-up brings reassurances for an expensive getaway, and flexibility in how you pay. You may also wish to collect the extra Avios points accrued through BA Holidays. On balance, the added cost may feel worth it for the peace of mind.

What wins: package or DIY?

The package holiday has seen something of a resurgence in recent years. During the pandemic, many holidaymakers lost large sums of money having booked their trips independently. On the flipside, bonded operators had to offer vouchers, rebooking options or a refund. As a result, once travel resumed, tour operators and travel agents saw a big spike in demand.

“Packages remain the most popular way to travel for people travelling overseas, with 61 per cent of people who went abroad last year booking this type of trip. Booking a package trip with an ABTA member gives holidaymakers the highest level of protection and peace of mind,” said an ABTA spokesperson.

“Benefits of booking a package include ease of booking, access to expert advice, as well as help and support if something goes wrong,” they added.

However, the worst of the pandemic travel chaos was a few years ago now, and as memories fade consumer priorities are shifting. With the cost of living crisis hitting disposable incomes, some are looking to take their itineraries into their own hands: the Ski Club of Great Britain recently revealed that 43 per cent of skiers are now booking with a tour operator, compared with 63 per cent pre-Covid.

The risk of booking independently is that the smallest hitch to your holiday can have a knock-on effect. A cancelled flight, caused by an air traffic control problem or airport strike action, for example, may mean that your holiday cannot go ahead; if you have booked independently, you may struggle to get a refund from your car rental company or accommodation provider.

If you do not book with an Atol-protected company, your best bet is to book your flights using a credit card as you will get your money back if the operator goes bust – failing that, you should find a policy with SAFI (scheduled airline failure insurance). You should also consider buying a travel insurance policy that covers end supplier failure, meaning that if your airline or hotel goes under, your insurer will foot the bill for alternative accommodation and flights, plus other travel components.

Across the five package holidays I analysed, the average DIY saving was 23 per cent. If you find an attractive package holiday, there is a good chance that you will be able to build it yourself for less. Whether the risk of potentially losing money (or finding an appropriate insurance alternative to Atol), the hassle of self booking, and the absence of vital expertise is worth the financial savings is an important call, but it’s important to know it’s yours to make.

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