Look for best value in escorted tours

Look for value on escorted tours. (Shutterstock)

Look for value on escorted tours. (Shutterstock)

DOUG ENGLISH, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Why would the price of one escorted tour work out to $120 a day and another, to the same country at the same time of year, only $74?

I wondered about that after leafing through some of the big tour operators' Britain/Europe catalogues for 2012.

Globus has a 14-day Turkish Delight for as little as $1,689, or $120 a day. Cosmos, Globus's budget brand, has a 13-day Grand Tour of Turkey starting at $959 or $74 a day.

Both include ground transportation, accommodations and a tour director's services. So why such a big difference?

I asked Stephanie Bishop, Globus's managing director in Canada, and she created a chart comparing the two.

There were several differences, but the main ones concern the class and location of hotels, number of suppers and how much sightseeing is included.

Those are areas to look at when considering an escorted tour anywhere.

Bishop says Globus's Turkish Delight uses "superior class hotels in the heart of the action, often within steps of the world's greatest sites." Cosmos's Grand Tour uses one first-class hotel and a mix of superior tourist-class and tourist-class ones, "some in residential areas and in the outskirts."

There are 12 three-course dinners with Globus, eight with Cosmos.

The Globus tour offers "more in-depth experience," Bishop says, while Cosmos passengers have more free time.

Globus and Cosmos target difference audiences, Bishop adds.

The traveller profile for a Globus client is an average age of late 50s, with a lower percentage of under-30s, looking for hassle-free and time-efficient vacation.

Cosmos clients are more independent- and budget-minded, she says. Their average age is early 50s, with a higher percentage of under-30s.

Two of the half-dozen escorted tours my wife and I have taken were in the budget category. But we could have easily spent several hundred dollars more on optional tours, which were aggressively promoted at every stop.

We bought few optionals, preferring to spend the extra free time wandering on our own. If you wouldn't be comfortable outside a group, then the more inclusive and more expensive tour is for you.

One of Globus's biggest rivals, Trafalgar Tours, is moving into the budget market with its new Europe & Britain CostSaver brochure.

Trafalgar says it's for travellers "looking to get the best value for their money while still seeing all the essentials of their destination."

It estimates that a CostSaver trip is up to 30% cheaper than the cost of arranging it yourself. They're also cheaper than similar tours in Trafalgar's main Europe & Britain catalogue.

CostSaver's 11-day Britain & Ireland Delight, for example, starts at $1,475; Trafalgar's 11-day Britain & Ireland Highlights starts at $2,125. A 10-day CostSaver trip to southern Italy and Sicily starts at $1,499, an 11-day one in the main catalogue $2,350.

My advice is to look for value, not simply the lowest price. Compare tours carefully, paying particular attention to not only what is included but what's not covered.

"Saving money on travel should never mean sacrificing the quality of the experience," says Trafalgar Canada president Doug Patterson.

Insight Vacations, another big player in the escorted tour business, goes the opposite direction with Insight Gold, described as "luxury escorted journeys featuring the most sought after destinations, the finest hotels, renowned restaurants and exceptional service."

Flipping through Insight's Europe & Britain, I couldn't help but wish the tours we'd taken had involved sleeping in fancy hotels, such as the five-star Westin Palace, Madrid, used on Insight's Iberian Classic gold tour, or the Grand Imperial Hotel in Vienna, used on their Alpine Harmony.

Or riding first class on a TGV train from Paris to Reims during the Esprit de France tour. Or enjoying dine-around evenings instead of facing yet another prearranged supper in the hotel.