Package vacations are typically the most economical way to go if you're looking for a week or two in the sun.

By combining charter airfares with group rates at hotels, tour companies are able to offer these packages at a total price which is lower than if you were to arrange the air and hotel separately. Packages almost always include transportation between the airport and hotel and, increasingly, meals and drinks. Many Florida packages also include a rental car.

In exchange for great rates travellers give up some flexibility and variety. Most package vacations are for 7 or 14 nights (although 3, 4 and 10 night packages are available to a small number of destinations liks the Bahamas, Cancun and Las Vegas). To keep prices low, packages also tend to feature larger, more "touristy" hotels rather than smaller, more unique options.

Here are some pointers to finding the best deal for you.

Sell Offs and Last Minute Deals

To get the best prices, tour companies buy in advance blocks of seats on flights and rooms at hotels. If the company hasn't sold out its block as the departure date nears, it reduces the price to "sell off" the remaining space. These are the famous last minute deals that many travellers covet. In the past, tour companies would only start selling off two or three weeks prior to the departure date. However, in many competitve markets like Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver some tour companies began reducing their prices three or four months out, and consumers started expecting "last minute" deals earlier and earlier. More recently most tour companies have been returning to the original principle of last minute deals and have pulled back from early sell offs.

These days most tour companies start reducing their prices about 6 to 8 weeks prior to the departure date with the most substantial price reductions occuring about 2 weeks before departure.

Check prices on Wednesdays and Saturdays

Tour companies advertise special offers and sell offs in the travel section of local newspapers. Most papers have a travel section on either Saturday or Sunday and some papers have a second travel section on Wednesdays. To take advantage of these advertising opportunities, tour companies make price reductions at the end of business on Tuesdays and Fridays so that they are in place for the promotions in the following day's paper. If you're keeping an eye out for a sell-off, make sure you check prices on Wednesday and Saturday mornings (or in some cases late Tuesday and Friday). But keep in mind that tour companies are always fiddling with their prices, so reductions can be made at any time.

Meals and Drinks

Increasingly packages are "all inclusive". This means that in addition to the flights, accommodation and transfers, meals and drinks are also included in the package price. In most cases meals are buffet style and drinks may be limited to domestic brands; however, some higher-end resorts offer a la carte dining (i.e., you can choose what you want to eat from a menu). Some resorts are called "semi-all inclusive" or "almost all inclusive" and this means that there are some restrictions on the meals and drinks (e.g., the bar may close early or meals may not be available throughout the whole day). In these cases it's important to read the hotel description thoroughly to know exactly what is and isn't included.

Some packages (like those to Florida) do not include any meals. (These packages are referred to as "EP" or "European Plan" packages and EP typically appears alongside the resort name to indicate that meals are not included). Other packages may include breakfast only ("BP"), breakfast and dinner ("MAP"), a full American (cooked) breakfast ("FAB") or a continental (cold) breakfast ("CP"). A small number of resorts also offer both all inclusive and EP packages.

Travelling Single

Package prices are typically advertised as "double occupancy". This per person price is based on the assumption that two people will be travelling together. If you are travelling on your own, most resorts add a single supplement. The single supplement can vary considerably depending on the hotel, destination and time of year.

Resorts in Cuba often waive the single supplement, making it a popular destination for people travelling on their own.

Save on "Off the Beaten Track" Destinations

Smaller, less-known destinations can often be the source of great bargains. Consider packages to the Cuban cayos (i.e., Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo and Cayo Santa Clara) for superb beaches and excellent prices throughout the winter season. Roatan and Belize are economical dive locations while Margarita Island and San Andres are not very gay but are cheaper options.

Save in January

The Christmas/New Years holiday is one of the most expensive times to travel; however, once everyone is home and the kids are back in school, prices drop dramatically. Traditionally, package prices are at their lowest for the whole winter for departures during the first two or three weeks of January. (The first two weeks of December are also usually cheap.)

Prices start climbing from the end of January through February and peak for the March and Easter breaks.

Travel Mid-Week

For travelers from Calgary, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver who have a number of departures to the same destination throughout the week, prices are invariably lower for departures on Mondays through Thursday. For example, 4-night packages to Las Vegas which depart on Mondays are typically less expensive than the 3-night packages that depart on Thursdays.

So Who Really Has the Lowest Prices?

All the tour companies like Sunquest, Transat Holidays and Air Canada Vacations give the same prices to all retailers. With very, very few exceptions, the prices that you see here at Rainbow.Travel are identical to the rates you'll see at places like iTravel2000, RedTag or SellOffVacations.

What's more, the tour companies have specifically prohibited discounting of their package vacation prices, forcing everybody to sell at the same price.

So why buy from Rainbow.Travel/Rainbow High Vacations? You get the same price from us as you'll get from the big guys plus you get advice and support from real gay and lesbian travel experts who actually "get" you and what you're looking for. Also by spending your money with us you know it's going to an LGBT business that participates, operates in and supports the community every day of the year.

Call 800.387.1240 to speak with one of our friendly travel consultants.

Travel is their passion. They are happy to share their knowledge and expertise to help you choose the best vacation for you.