While most winter vacationers still prefer all-inclusive resort vacations, there has been a slow but profound change in the way many are choosing to travel. This column will provide an overview of some of these changes, in addition to responding to recent questions.
Question: Most of my recent vacations have been organized around well established tours, or the packaged vacations offered by most Canadian tour companies.
However last year I worked with a travel agency that helped me create an itinerary of my own, based on meetings with me, my wife and the travel agent.
It became one of the best holidays we ever took. Is this type of travel planning common?
Answer: While so far it has not become significant for winter destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean, beyond that independently planned travel, or FIT vacations as they are known in the industry, are gaining more adherents every year.
Travellers like the flexibility this type of travel offers.
Charter flights may seem like a good bargain compared to regular scheduled airlines, but time and flight restrictions define the duration and sometimes nature of these vacations.
And today's airlines are surprisingly competitive. Often connecting to overseas flights from the United States through hubs like Minneapolis or Chicago opens many more destinations while flying in comfortable seats, better flight times, and at reasonably good prices.
There are also many companies today that offer excellent prices on hotel properties around the world. Finding reasonably priced accommodations through travel agents who know these suppliers well has become simpler and more affordable.
A 10 or 12 night vacation is as easy to create as a three to four week option, within a plan that lets you stay longer in one area that interests you most, while spending a shorter time in others.
While packaged vacation prices tend to go up and down based on regional holidays and spring breaks, FIT prices tend to stay the same all season long.
Interestingly, travel agents love planning these types of vacations for clients.
Firstly, it creates a more interesting and genuinely satisfying challenge for the agent. And with shrinking commissions from tour operators, the agency is able to make even more commissions since the planning process is done by them and not the tour operator, essentially removing the so called middle man.
FIT's allow for combinations that otherwise don't exist on packaged options.
Want to rent a car for only a few days and then take a couple of motor coach day trips? That can be arranged. Want to go into a lesser known tourist region of a country? That also can be built into the plan.
While this kind of FIT holiday may be some time away for sun destinations, it is growing in these destinations as well, and with each passing year it appears to becoming a significant emerging trend.
Question: I am an avid collector of frequent flier points, but recently heard that at least one airline, Delta, will be moving from a miles flown reward program to a fare-based program.
Is that true, and will it also be coming to home based airlines like Air Canada and Westjet?
Answer: The Westjet Airlines new program is essentially that already, and while the concept of earning rewards based on distance flown is well in-trenched, I can understand the airline dilemma in the current model.
The question can be fairly asked, should the person who finds an extremely low priced fare to Toronto, for example, earn as much as the business person who pays more than full price for the comfort and convenience of a business class seat?
The last minute traveller will most often opt for an economy seat than someone who booked a seat sale many months in advance.
It is a complicated argument from both sides, but the straightforward answer as always is where one airline leads, the other follows.
I would be prepared for a change of program in most airlines in Canada and elsewhere.
Question: For some reason I have always perceived spa vacations as a women oriented thing.
Yet on a recent cruise, and on another holiday, because the gym in both cases was near the spa, I noticed many men as well as women using the spa facilities.
Is this common?
Answer: Not only men, but families also have become a part of this ever growing trend as well.
While still on the women side, mother-daughter spa experiences have become very popular. And for couples on a holiday, the time spent on the massage bed relieves the stress and strain of either male or female who may have spent the last few months at work, or under family stresses of all kinds.
Wellness has become an objective for a significant percentage of vacationers, who not only want the benefits of the spa experience, but the health education options that are frequently offered in conjunction with spa resorts.
Finding balance in our lives is important, and the shared experience of a spa related holiday for spouses and families is proving to be both healing and invigorating.
There are few resorts now that don't have quality spa facilities built into them, and the options for a complete spa vacation anywhere in the world, is easily found.
Forward your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org . Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca