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Check the terms of advertised starting prices

Email|Print| Text size + By Richard P. Carpenter
Globe Correspondent / September 30, 2007

The reader was a tad bit upset. "You mentioned a starting price of $299 [for a charter trip]," he wrote in his e-mail, "but for the week I wanted, the price was about $200 more."

And that raises a good point about starting prices, which are often promoted by travel providers but which their customers sometimes find elusive or, in the end, undesirable. It's not that they don't exist, but several things should be kept in mind when you see such prices mentioned in an ad, in this column, or anywhere else. Among the caveats:

Availability may be limited. If you squint, you might see a phrase in the fine print of an ad that says "limited availability at this price" or couches the information in complex phrases that amount to the same thing.

Not all weeks, or even seasons, are included. For instance, prices drop during off-peak times, such as the weeks after Thanksgiving and shortly before Christmas. But those are weeks when many are unable to travel because they just made a Thanksgiving trip or are planning a Christmas stay - times for which starting prices may not apply.

If flights are part of a package, they may be at the least desirable times, and hotels offered in the plan also may have drawbacks, such as being skimpy on amenities or away from centers of activity. A four-night Walt Disney World package I ran across, for example, cost just $420 per person, but the departure flight from Boston was at 6:30 a.m. and the return got in at midnight. Accommodations at the Pop Century hotel included this notation: "Very basic rooms clean and bright; these rooms will be located a distance from the lobby and food court area."

The lowest-priced package may not always be the best deal because it could be deficient in "extras." Dining is one of the most expensive parts of a trip, and a higher-priced offer that includes a meal or two per day can sometimes save you more than a cheaper one that does not.

That lowest price isn't always as low as it seems because of taxes and fees. As we note at the end of this column each week, these can add significantly to the cost of a trip, 10-20 percent or more in some cases.

If you travel alone, you will almost always pay more. Most prices tend to be based on double occupancy.

While there are potential pitfalls, low starting prices do exist, and some have few, or no, drawbacks. Those who search diligently and find such offers may get a very good deal. For others, though, a starting price may be considered just the starting point.

Philly in the fall

Autumn is a nice time to visit Philadelphia and its countryside. The nonprofit Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. has put together some deals to draw visitors to the area. Philly Overnight Hotel Package remains the most popular offer, with two nights' accommodations, free parking, and a gift. But there is also the Boundless Philadelphia Hotel Package, which caters to outdoor enthusiasts, featuring a one-night stay, a map pack discount coupon book, and free hotel parking. Prices on packages vary with choice of hotel and date or dates chosen.

Visit gophila.com or call 800-537-7676.

Socks for the memories

Pam Osborne of Orange, who was the subject of a travel story this year about a knitting cruise, died this month of cancer. Now her former colleague and organizer of the cruise, Katherine Erwin of Athol, is working on a project to honor her. "I am asking hand knitters across the state to send me socks to be given to the Cancer Clinic at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester," she said. "We knitted all through treatments and gave socks to all the doctors and nurses, as well as some patients. I want to go back the Thursday before Thanksgiving and give socks to the patients and staff who we didn't have time to knit for. We considered these to be Power Socks to be worn when you needed a little extra strength." To contribute, send socks to The Gathering Place, attn: Katherine Erwin, 352 Main St., Athol, MA 01331.

When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy; solo travelers will usually pay more. Offers are subject to availability and there may be blackout dates. Richard P. Carpenter can be reached at carpenter@globe.com.

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