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Couples Retreat From $479 Per Person*

The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel’s resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She’s always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.

B. Gibson writes, “I am at my wits end and I need your help! My traveling party is a total of 6 people, which is comprised of three couples; my wife and me, my sister-in-law and her husband, and my wife’s parents. We are looking for a trip in March of this coming year for the three couples that will be the perfect getaway from the snow as we all live in places where it snows for the winter in the US. Do you have any suggestions?? We are looking to spend up to $4600 for six round trip flights and three rooms and would like to stay there for a week, and of course want three bedrooms, one for each couple. Is this too much to expect?? Does this exist, Deal Detective?? Please help! Thank you!”

Traveling with such a large group of people can be a difficult task and takes quite a bit of research. However, you can narrow it down to two different ways of planning: booking a package deal or booking independently.

Package deals tend to take a lot of the headache out of planning. They are the one-stop-shop of travel needs. For instance, you can find your hotel, flight, and extras like car rental and activities in one easy place. Plus, the prices for these packages are typically less expensive than booking each item separately. The drawbacks, of course, are that you may have a limited number of hotels, travel dates, and even destinations to choose from.

That’s where booking items independently can be quite rewarding, since it offers a wider range of selections and prices—you can go ultra low budget if need be. One of the best tips when going this route for group travel is to book a vacation rental. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll discuss that a bit later.

Setting a budget and determining your travel dates and areas of travel interest is a great start. These three things are important to know before even beginning your research. As for your budget, I would take it even a step further and price it out per person, which comes to about $766. This will help when looking at packages and individual flights.

Let’s begin by looking at what’s available with packages. CheapCaribbean is offering 2010 Winter Getaways in the Caribbean and Mexico starting at $479 per person (without taxes and fees). Granted, many of the deals are for less time than you originally hoped to spend, but there are still some deals worth mentioning. For instance, the four-night Dominican Republic package starts at $599 per person (without taxes and fees), or $3,594 for the group, in March, and includes round-trip airfare from Miami (other departure cities are available for a higher cost), accommodations at the Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach, Trip Mate weather insurance, and a $100 coupon if it rains. You must book by October 21. Though you have about an extra $1,000 after you book, this package may exceed your budget when you factor in the extra price of flights, but it’s a good starting comparison point.

Now, let’s compare this package to what it would cost to book an independent vacation. Begin by finding a place to stay. Many people start with flights, but it’s important to know that you can afford the destination as well as getting there. The advantages of a vacation rental can sometimes far outweigh the perks of a hotel room, especially for a big group of people. Rentals located in the same area as the aforementioned package hotel start at $400 per night (with taxes and fees) for stays in March. This particular property comes equipped with three bedrooms, three baths, full kitchen, cooking utensils, washer, dryer, and private hot tub. Another way to save with a rental is to skip the extra expense of eating out and instead cook your own meals.

Just for the sake of comparison, let’s say you’ll only spend four nights (like in the package), which comes to a total of $1,600, leaving you with $3,000 for airfare. I priced flights from Miami to La Romana, Dominican Republic, in March starting at $440 per person (with taxes and fees). This means airfare will cost about $2,640, bringing the grand total for booking independently up to $4,240.

Both options have benefits and drawbacks, but both ways of booking are within your budget. It’s up to you to decide if you want a more secluded and independent vacation, or if you’re looking to be taken care of every step of the way. Once you decide, you can start to search out your options.

To get you started, here are a few of my favorite places to look for vacation packages to warm destinations: Pleasant Holidays, which offers deals to Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Mexico throughout the year; CheapCaribbean, the name speaks for itself; and Funjet, which also offers deals to Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean, as well as Orlando and Las Vegas.

I wish you the best of luck in your planning, but I hope that you now realize that yes, B. Gibson, deals like this really do exist. Keep us updated on which way you chose to book and where you landed.

To all my other readers: Have you been in a similar situation to B. Gibson? Have you had to travel with a large group of people on a budget? Please tell us how you went about planning and booking your vacation below.

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