Vacation packages to Italy
Packaged vacations are a simple concept for powerful savings: you buy your airfare and lodging (sometimes with rental car or train tickets as well) together at a price much lower than you could get any of those big-ticket travel items separately
Packages tend to last for a "week" (which might be anything from four to seven nights), and include round-trip airfare, your lodgings, daily breakfast, and sometimes transfers from the airport to the hotel and back. (Some versions also include a rental car or train tickets or rail pass.)
How packages save you money
You end up paying less because the packager (usually a tour company, travel agent, or search engine) has agreements to buy up blocks of travel products at whoelsale rates and passes some of these savings along to you.
A few downsides to vacation packages
The biggest drawback to a vacation package is that most of the hotels they offer for you to choose from tend to be the huge, cookie-cutter international chains or bland "tourist class" properties, in many cases at the edge of the city center, generally near the train station (ugh!).
Sure, the price is great for that sort of four-star hotel, booking these big ticket items all at once can be convenient, and it saves money over buying the airfare and that hotel separately. However, with a bit of research—and the tools on this site—you can find an even lower airfare and book yourself into an even cheaper, more characterful little pensione in the heart of the historic district.
(I should point out that Go-Today.com has actually started finding a few charming hotels in historic or interesting parts of town on a few of its packages—a small inn installed in an 18th-century palazzo in the heart of Rome's Trastevere district, for example. This is an encouraging development.)
The best vacation packagers
Besides the companies listed below (which really do tend to be the cheapest by a long shot), another great place to look for package tours is from the "Vacations" or "Holidays" subsidiaries of the major airlines themselves, though you should know that some of the European carriers sell packages that are far from bargains.
The price champs
Go-Today.com (www.go-today.com) - Hands-down the cheapest and best packager of air-hotel vacations out there (along with fly-drive packages and some walking and biking tours). They seem to operate under a "we will not be undersold" attitude, and their exceptionally low rates on basic, (largely) six-night "City Breaks" reflect that. I used them once for a family trip to Paris, and everything went pretty smoothly. One drawback: it's Net-only; you have to pay extra for customer service on the phone.
Gate1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com) - One of the consistently cheapest tour providers around. They cover the entire world and offer a range of travel "products" from air-hotel packages to escorted tours. Also, they're based in Glenside, PA, a little over a mile from where I grew up (that's just a coincidence, but I think it's cool).
Sceptre Tours (www.sceptretours.com)- Does an excellent air-car-B&B package to Italy (modeled on its successful version in Ireland, which I have done and is phenomenal). Also has standard air-hotel packages—and an intriguing Tuscan castle trip and a countryside villa package (designed for families or other groups of four or more).
Auto Europe (www.autoEurope.com) - This car rental consolidator is also an airfare consolidator—which means it can offer air-hotel packages starting as low as $707. Not necessarily always the best rates, but a good place to check. You can also put together an inexpensive air-car-hotel package on your own using its excellent rates.
The Big Three (Orbitz.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com) - Since the three major travel search engines all offer competitive prices on airfares, hotels, car rentals, and the rest, they can easily put together vacation spackages as well. Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity now all prominently offer "packages" or "vacations" as a main menu option at the top of the page. The prices can be phenomenal—and the offerings often a bit more flexible than at the competition (number of nights, multiple destinations, a freer mix of lodging, transportation, and sightseeing options)—so it's well worth looking into.
Tourcrafters (www.tourcrafters.com) - Great values on everything from simple air-hotel, air-car, and car-hotel packages (sometimes with something extra, like a cooking class, thrown in) to full escorted tours. Just be sure to read the fine print. The prices are great, but not always quite as amazing as they seem at first, since Tourcrafters often stuffs all the fees, taxes, and fuel surcharges into the fine print. Annoying.
Donna Franca Tours (www.donnafranca.com) - Italy specialist, offering independent vacations, escorted tours, and he ability to put together your own, personalized touring program. Not the cheapest, but of impeccable quality. Donna Franca and her team really know their stuff.
The top generalists
Italiatours (www.italiatourusa.com) - Former vacations branch of Alitalia, now run by TourPackagers.com. Everything from escorted bus trips to active adventures to learning vacations to day trips and half-day experiences.
Central Holidays (www.centralholidays.com) - Long-established packager and tour company specializing in Europe with Italy as its signature product—nearly 50 different trips, tours, and cruises, many with made-to-order themes like "Florence Cooking" or "Honeymoon in Venice & The Amalfi Coast."
Italy Vacations (www.italyvacations.com) - The new "customized vacations" branch of the juggernaut Perillo Tours (the parent company specializes in escorted trips). Everything from basic air-hotel packages to full tours. Not always the cheapest, but pretty customizable.
Liberty Travel (ww2.libertytravel.com) - One of the biggest old school travel agencies, with offices across the country. The kind of place where you still call up and arrange everything in person. May not be the cheapest, but impeccable quality and pretty much guaranteed to run smoothly.
Something between a package and a tour
Untours (www.untours.com) - Sort of like the Platinum Edition of a vacation package, taking care of all the major costs, details, and logistics but leaving you to plan your daily sightseeing and travels. For one price, you get airfare over there, some form of transport (rental car or train or bus pass), lodgings (usually an apartment or rental villa), and a local contact who will help you get settled in, show you the ropes, then be on-call to help with questions. You also usually have one activity during the course of the week when all other "untour" participants in your area are invited to get together. While you can link together a few different week-long stays (say you do the Tuscany package, but also add a week in Rome), it is really designed for a home-base style of touring, not hotel-to-hotel trips that meander farther across the map. » more
- Air-car vacation packages
- Untours (air, hotel, rental car, and more—the Platinum Package)
- How to find the cheapest airfare every time (so you can compare package prices to standard ones)
- Lodging options in Italy
- How Italian hotels work
- How far in advance to book airfare to Italy
- Escorted group tours
- Active vacations (bike, hike, horse)
- Educational tours (cooking, language, art/history/cultural, study)
- Special interest & niche tours (family, seniors, student, women, gay/lesbian, religious, handicapped, singles)
This material was last updated December 2010. All information was accurate at the time.
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