It is beyond doubt that low-cost airlines and the internet have made DIY holidays in even the most exotic of locations easier to organise than at any point in history, but question marks hang over whether consumers are getting better value by going it alone as opposed to booking with tour operators or travel agents.
Consumer watchdog Which? has just released an extensive piece of research attempting to answer that question and its suggests that package holidays are likely to work out considerably cheaper than DIY bookings to the same destination. Not only that but they also offer much greater protection if a trip is affected by coronavirus or other disruption.
The research is focused on the UK and includes holidays departing from Belfast but no other Irish airport, but based on analysis by The Irish Times, the same rules apply for the wider market on this island
The consumer group looked at the price of the cheapest package holidays available online from five UK airports from both Jet2holidays and Tui, and compared them with the cost of identical DIY holidays. It found the package holidays were cheaper in eight out of 10 cases – with the biggest saving more than €430 on a holiday to Greece.
The research suggests holidaymakers taking the package route could save hundreds of euro on the cost of their trip, while also avoiding the risk of losing their money if they can’t travel due to government restrictions, lockdown or if their airline or hotel goes bust.
A package holiday is a booking comprising at least two travel-related services made through the same source, most commonly flights and accommodation.
Under EU-wide rules if a package holiday is cancelled by the provider, the customer is legally entitled to a full refund within 14 days of the cancellation while operators who sell package holidays in the Republic are required by law to be bonded which protects consumer’s money in the event that the tour operator goes out of business before or even during a holiday.
In the examples Which? looked at, researchers calculated the cost of the DIY package using the cheapest airfare from the same airport on the same date as the tour operator package, and included one check-in bag per passenger. The cost of return airport transfers was also included in the DIY bookings if these were included in the corresponding package booking, to create an identical holiday.
The biggest saving was just under €500 for a two-week holiday for a couple flying to Rhodes from Bristol, booked through Tui. The same holiday with travel and accommodation booked separately would cost €1120, compared to €637 when booked as a package - an increase of 76 per cent.
The average saving across the eight packages that were cheaper than a DIY booking was €171.
Only two package holidays worked out more expensive than their DIY counterparts - one Jet2holidays trip to Salou and one Tui holiday to Majorca. But even when it was cheaper to book flights and hotels independently, the maximum saving was less than €40 per person.
We also had a look at some holiday options, this time departing from Dublin.
Taking the DIY route, a fortnight in self-catering accommodation for two in Ibiza for May 2021 came in at €1,497.
The cost of the accommodation when booked directly with the resort was €927 while return flights to Ibiza with Ryanair for the same fortnight including one checked in bag per person came in at €520. We added transfer costs of €25 each way.
The TU price for the same holiday in the same resort for two, meanwhile was €1,395.
A week in self catering accommodation in the Algarve in July booked with Sunway came in at €883. By booking directly with the accommodation, the price for a standard studio apartment was €472.50 while the exact same flights as those selected with the tour operator with the same airline – Aer Lingus – cost €466 taking the total cost of the holiday to €938.50.
And by booking directly with the airline and accommodation our would-be holidaymakers were sacrificing protections they would otherwise have got when booking a package.
If the Department of Foreign Affairs advises against non-essential travel to a country, tour operators and travel agents typically cancel the holiday and refund customers if that advice changes at short notice due to coronavirus or another reason.
On the other hand, throughout the pandemic many airlines and online travel agents have continued to fly to countries where DFA has advised against non-essential travel due to Covid-19 and have refused to refund passengers who follow the guidance and do not travel.
The coronavirus crisis has shown that while booking a package offers holidaymakers greater protection in the face of a number of problems, not all package providers have abided by the law on refunds when holidays have been cancelled, with some companies doing a much better job of swiftly returning money to customers than others.
"Throughout the pandemic, we've been urging holidaymakers to book a package if they were considering a holiday over the summer or are looking to book for next year, given the unparalleled protections they offer if things don't go to plan," said the editor of Which? Travel, Rory Boland.
“Many people are put off booking a package because they worry they’ll have to pay more than booking their flight and accommodation separately, but as our research shows, a package could save holidaymakers hundreds on the cost of their holiday.”
He pointed out that not all holiday providers are equal and said that anyone “planning on booking a holiday for 2021 should strongly consider booking a package with a reputable provider that has treated customers fairly in recent months, to ensure their cash is protected if something goes wrong.”