USTOA tour-selecting tips

To help you in choosing a tour, the United States Tour Operators Association, or USTOA (342 Madison Ave., Ste. 1522, New York, NY 10173), suggests a number of questions to ask and points to consider.

Questions to ask

• What is and is not included in the price? Find out if airport transfers, service charges and airport and hotel taxes are included. Also, find out what sightseeing and meals are built into the price.

• What features are optional? Check out optional excursions, meals and/or transportation, and find out how much spending money you will need for these items.

• Are you getting the best value for your dollar? With the cheapest tour or vacation package, you might have to pay extra for things that aren’t included.

If you are concerned about getting the best quality for your dollars, find out about your hotels — the location, standard and features of each.

If meals are included, what is the category of the restaurants? Will you have a choice of menu?

On an escorted motorcoach tour, find out what type of features the coach has (panoramic windows, reclining seats, washroom, high-deck seating?).

If a rental car is included, what size is it and, if overseas, does it have an automatic transmission?

• Are your dollars protected? Find out if the company you’re traveling with has a consumer protection plan that will reimburse your deposits and payments in case the company goes out of business. All USTOA member companies, for instance, must participate in the organization’s Travelers Assistance Program, which reimburses travelers in case the company goes out of business.

Another such organization is CrossSphere (formerly the National Tour Association; phone 800/682-8886 or visit www.

Also check out trip-cancellation insurance, in case you have to change your vacation plans.

• Are there penalties if you cancel? Read the fine print on your travel brochure and documents. Know when payments are due and what cancellation or late penalties may be incurred.

The most bang for your buck

• By choosing an all-inclusive tour, you often can realize an average savings of 15%-20% over the cost of buying the same elements yourself. Because tour operators contract with properties and buy in large increments, they are able to pass the savings on to travelers.

• You can save money by traveling in the “off-season,” or shoulder (in-between) season, when airfares and hotel accommodations are less expensive. Depending on your destination and date of travel, you can save 10%-30% on land arrangements and up to 50% on airfare. Keep in mind that in certain parts of the world you may be subject to seasonal weather fluctuations.

• A good travel agent can save you time and money. Not only does your travel agent have access to special booking systems, he or she can sell you vacation packages and tours that are not otherwise available directly to the public.

• When your chosen destination is “sold out,” you may want to consider a vacation package or tour. Tour operators contract with hotels and other sightseeing attractions well in advance, reserving blocks of space, so your chances of finding accommodations are better than when you book on your own.

For a listing of USTOA members by the destinations they serve, visit or call 800/468-7862 for a free copy of USTOA’s “Smart Traveler’s Kit.”