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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to


Valerie Mitchell and her husband were determined to have a great vacation without the hassle of having to carry credit cards everyplace they went or putting out a lot of cash once they arrived at their destination. Their solution was to find a package deal or an all-inclusive resort. The Mitchellís thought their search would be easy. Their first stop was the Sunday travel section of the Los Angeles Times. Their search quickly turned into a major headache. How were they going to decipher the hundreds of ads quickly to take advantage of what appeared to be some pretty good deals? Were these legitimate travel providers? Would you know what to look for or the right questions to ask? After a month of fruitless searching the Mitchellís turned to a travel agent for help.

What Valerie and her husband settled for was an all-inclusive resort in
Antigua. We hand a wonderful time lounging by the pool, jet-skiing and
eating. The best part, we didn't spend a dime on extras. Therein lies the value of an all-inclusive resort. But like everything else no two all-inclusive resorts are alike.
First we need to define all-inclusive versus vacation packages. An
all-inclusive is a vacation where accommodations, food, activities, tips and extras are all included in the price. All-inclusive doesn't usually cover the cost of airfare, although some do. A package deal in its most basic form
usually combines air and hotel, or air, hotel and car rental, but you have to
spring for incidentals like food and nightlife. You may want a special
interest package like a casino package to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, a ski
package or a golf package. Package deals can be extremely risky unless you
buy from a reputable tour operator or travel agent, more on that in a moment.

All-inclusive resorts cater to different clientele, like honeymooners or
singles, while others like Club-Med have more of a family appeal. Some
all-inclusives charge extra for, liquor, sports, spa services and excursions
away from the resort. Valerie and her husband stayed at a resort where no
meal was served after 9pm and had very little in the way of nightlife.

Some all-inclusives have limited dining options, but offer something called
exchange dining with selected restaurants and hotels. Be careful as many
will tack on a surcharge for certain menus items.

Now here's a look at what might be included in an all-inclusive; daily
sightseeing tours, breakfast, lunch and dinner, massages, tennis, volleyball,
golf, sailing, windsurfing, cocktail parties, room service, need I go on.
It’s important when picking an all-inclusive that you choose one with
activities that you're sure to participate in. Don’t choose an all-inclusive
that has scuba diving as the primary activity if you're not a scuba diver or
have no plans to learn. The all-inclusive price is sure to include a few
dives, a huge waste of money. All-inclusives are popular in the Caribbean,
Hawaii and Mexico.

How many of you have opened the Sunday travel section of your local newspaper
and been inundated with adds that read 6 days/5 nights to Paris including
round-trip airfare for $489, or 7 nights in Tahiti with airfare for $799?
Package deals like these are a staple of the travel industry, but how do you
know if these are legitimate deals coming from reputable travel providers.
To find out if you're dealing with a reputable travel provider, call the
American Society of Travel Agents or the United States Tour Operators

Let's assume the companies are legitimate, next you want to find out if the
deal is too good to be true and what's included in the price, and more
importantly what's not. First, find out what they mean by accommodations.
Some packages come with one or two star hotels, not exactly ideal if you're
looking for privacy and romance. When traveling overseas, be careful with
hotel ratings. A five star hotel in the United States can and often is
something quite different in a foreign country. Find out from the tour
provider the name of the hotel if its not listed in the brochure and do your
own research.

When it comes to hotels watch out for run of the house rooms. Run of the
house essentially means they can give you any room the hotel operator deems
appropriate. When it comes to package deals that often means the room next to
the disco or gym. Try to lock in a room beforehand. And watch out for
phrases like superior room or ocean view. You may in fact have an ocean view
provided you use a telescope. And what exactly is a superior room?

Be careful with the word free. Whether its a package deal or an
all-inclusive nothing is free, the cost is just rolled into the price of the
deal. Many deals come with a free meal, usually breakfast. If you like a
hardy breakfast you probably aren't interested in a continental breakfast.
Some deals come on European Plan (EP), which means no meals are included in
the room or package rate. The American Plan (AP) usually includes all meals
and a Modified American Plan (MAP) usually means a breakfast and dinner meal.

Prices on these vacation packages vary and it’s a great way to determine if
you're getting a bargain package or a luxury deal. There's sure to be a price
range and comfort level to fit just about everyone. As the travel industry
recovers from the dual affects of September 11 and the economic recession
these package deals could be a great way to save money, as much as 40 percent
depending on destination and time of year.