Like most things in life, price comparison is tricky business, and it can be difficult to truly compare apples to apples. But let’s try.
Below are direct quotes from the fine print you’ll find when looking at group tours. Some are from well-established companies who do a fine job, others are from newer companies, who also probably do a fine job. This isn’t to knock how others do things, but rather give you an idea of how to properly price compare.
There are many things that factor into the cost of the trip, but these are some of the biggies, and easiest to compare…
How long is the trip? How big is the group? What is actually included? What’s the quality of what’s included (meals, local guides, etc)?
How many days is the trip?
It’s been standard practice for decades to count the two travel days as part of the package – even when flights are not included. And that’s fine. It’s how most companies do it.
So you’ll see things like:
Day 1: Your experience begins today by boarding your flight to Rome.
Day 12: We will transfer to the airport this morning to board your return flight home. Arrivederci!
Now if you are the kind of person who compares prices simply on the number of days, you might do some math like…
$4,000 / 12 days = $333 a day.
Then if you look at another company, like mine, for example, the math would be…
$4,000 / 10 days = $400 a day.
How large is the group?
I am totally aware that there are some Catholic personalities who can only get away once or twice a year, and so they need to offer a pilgrimage for as many people as possible.
I am also aware that some parishes can only do one “once-in-a-lifetime” trip.
In both of these cases, the group size could be large.
However, not everyone knows this going in.
So always pay attention to the fine print, like this:
Prices are based on minimum 80 passengers.
Rates assume a minimum of 30 full-paying pilgrims.
up to 45 pax
Those first two also alert you to the fact that if they don’t get 80 or 30 sign-ups, the price will be adjusted.
Pay attention to what is not included in the price
Drinks and tips, which are rarely included in most other tour company prices can add several hundred dollars to the sticker price of your trip.
I always include drinks. I have always included drinks since my very first pilgrimage back in 2005.
Most people do not include drinks, and when they do, it’s often:
Glass of wine or beer with each dinner
But usually you will see…
Not included: Drinks at meals
Not included: Beverages at meals
For me, it seems silly not to include drinks, but even more so, it seems logistically frustrating for those in the group. I was recently in the Holy Land. My group arrived at a typical “Saint Peter’s fish” restaurant. As we arrived, another group was finishing up. Their group was a two bus pilgrimage of around 75 people – one that did not include drinks with meals. Shortly after we were served our first course, they started lining up to pay individually for drinks. I am not exaggerating when I say that my group of 24 people finished our leisurely two course lunch and were back on our bus before that group had finished paying for their drinks. What a fun way to spend a pilgrimage!
I also always include tips, and always have.
I once had someone opt out of my pilgrimage because tips were included. She wanted to tip based on “worthiness” of the service. But here’s the thing, while tips are rarely included in the sticker price for most group pilgrimages, tips are usually not optional.
Rather tips are added to your final invoice:
Not included: Gratuities for the guide(s), driver, and wait staff, however, for convenience we will add $240 per person to the final invoice to be dispersed on your behalf
Or you are expected to bring the money to hand over to your tour director on the first day:
Tips for guide and driver ($150 per person, USD cash, collected the first day and distributed by the pilgrimage director)
Nice how both of these do not include tips in the advertised price, but then add it to your final bill. How many people miss this and get surprised when they go to pay the balance?
In some cases, you are just expected to leave one or two euro / dollars at each meal:
Tips for your guide and driver: The recommended amounts of tips per person are $7.00 – $9.00 per day for guide(s), $5.00 – $7.00 per day for driver(s), $1.00 – $2.00 per day for hotels, and $1.00 – $2.00 per day for restaurants.
How many meals are included and where are you eating?
Look for things like this:
Dinner and overnight accommodations will be available at your hotel.
Five hotel dinners
Breakfast daily and one dinner
Not included: Lunches and Dinners (except for one dinner)
7 hotel dinners at the hotels [sic]
For me, the saddest part of all these hotel meals, is that I pulled this text from different pilgrimages to Italy!
Imagine paying thousands of dollars for a bucket-list trip to Italy and all your meals are at a hotel.
Who is your local guide / tour escort?
Usually you will have no clue before arriving, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Some companies have multiple tours in the same city at once. How are they all getting the best service?
There are many pilgrimage tour escorts who are not Catholic, some are even anti-Catholic. I’ve sat in Saint Peter’s Basilica during a NAC ordination and heard several bashing the Church during Mass, all while their groups were watching their seminarians ordained.
In the Holy Land, there are very few Catholic guides. Most pilgrimage companies use the same ones, but occasionally they will have to use a Jewish or Muslim guide. I’m sure these are great guides, but wouldn’t you prefer learning about your faith from someone who shares it?
For all my pilgrimages, I work around the schedule of my local guides. And for all my trips, over 150 since I started The Catholic Traveler, I am the tour escort.
Those are not the only factors for pricing a trip. There’s also the hotel class/location, amount of free vs scheduled time, and the expertise of those planning and leading the trip.
Anyway, this should help you in comparing prices.