Did You Pay Too Much For Your Costa Rica Vacation? Don’t Be Fooled By ‘Deals’ Like These…

It’s official. We are way too protective of Costa Rica travellers. We are obsessed with making sure each of you have the most positive travel experience possible in the most cost-efficient manner. So much so that it hurts.

How do we know? Because it felt as if a part of our heart had been ripped out of our chest this week when we came across yet another example of travellers and their pocketbooks getting taken advantage of so easily by corporate travel bullies. As we elude to in our related blog post 5 Red Flags To Look Out For When Buying A Costa Rica Vacation Package, the term ‘tourist trap’ goes beyond the label given to an overly popular and commercialized tourist destination and encompasses a wide range of shady practices that have unfortunately become all too common within the travel and tourism industries. Although legal, some companies’ practices have caused us to question the ethics behind their business, especially when the end result of their business operation is a blatant disadvantage to a client or customer. Sometimes the line is fine and it’s hard to know what is right and wrong. Other times the line has been drawn over 100 times with black permanent marker and we cannot help but shout and wave our arms around to get your attention when it has been crossed. So here we are, in our leotard and cape, hands on our hips and channeling the superpowers within us to stand up for you (and dare we say, truth, justice, and the ethical way?).

THE EXAMPLE

The other day we came across the following Costa Rica vacation offer on Groupon:

groupon 1

First things first. I love Groupon. I have used the company on numerous occasions to purchase items for myself and gifts for others. I love the concept behind the company, and given that we are discount operators extraordinaire at Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated, we tend to take a liking to most business ventures that share our interest in helping others save money. However, beyond our admiration for Groupon, we were taken aback by the Costa Rica vacation package that one particular travel agency had created and promoted on the website. In fact, it made us a little sick to our stomach to be perfectly honest.

Before you speed read through the rest of this post in search of the name of the travel agency, let me confirm that you will not find it. We do not name names in our blog posts (it is simply not our style or in our character to do so), as we aim to assist and inform travellers – not badmouth other companies. Some days it takes a lot of strength to not give in and post a list of the companies we have come across that operate (in our opinion!) on the other side of the line, but we believe far too much in the power of good to ever do so. Perhaps one day the nice guys won’t finish last.

The following are the details of the Costa Rica vacation offer we came across.

SIX-NIGHT VOLCANOES OF COSTA RICA PACKAGE FOR TWO

Note: the Groupon promotion advertised two Costa Rica vacation packages (one for a 6-night vacation and the other for a 7-night vacation). Although both threw us for a loop, in the example below we focus solely on the 6-night package offering.

  • Airport and ground transfers
  • 3 nights standard accommodations with WiFi at the Sleep Inn San Jose in downtown San Jose (for nights 1, 2, and 6)
  • 3 nights standard accommodations with WiFi at the Magic Mountain Hotel (for nights 3, 4, and 5)
  • Daily breakfast
  • Half-day tour of Poas Volcano National Park with entrance fees and English-speaking tour guide
  • Half-day tour of Arenal Volcano National Park with entrance fees and English-speaking tour guide
  • Half-day Safari float at Peñas Blancas river with English-speaking tour guide

The travel agency noted that the original price of the package was $1,665.00. The Groupon promotion costs were listed as the following:

  • Option 1: $999 to travel 10/8/13–12/10/13 (up to a $1,665 value)
  • Option 2: $1,259 to travel 1/6/14–4/30/14 (up to a $2,100 value)

Note: the below package analysis focuses on the pricing for Option 1.

So you’ve always wanted to travel to Costa Rica. Lucky for you, everything included in the Costa Rica vacation package outlined above is exactly what you are looking for. You’re ready to buy, and why wouldn’t you? You’re already saving $666.00 off the original vacation package cost of $1,665.00 (thanks Groupon!) which leaves more money in your pocket for another trip next year. It’s a great deal. You’re ahead of the game, right?

Wrong.

What if I told you that the value of the Costa Rica vacation package is less than the original cost of $1,665.00? Far less. What if you learned that the Groupon ‘deal’ price wasn’t much of a deal at all, but simply reflected the true cost of the trip. Or worse, that it was priced higher than the package’s actual value. Would you still want it?

Truth be told, the actual cost of the Costa Rica vacation package described above is less than both the original package price of $1,665.00 and the ‘deal’ price of $999.00. How do we know? Because we did the math and read the fine print. Yup, we took those steps that some travel agencies bank on travellers skipping. How else can they get travellers to pay more than necessary for a vacation?

groupon2

groupon 3

First things first, we must level the playing field. The travel agency offering the Costa Rica vacation package through Groupon included in the fine print text that 15% must be added to the quoted cost of $999.00 for ‘tax and fees’. This instantly brings the advertised price of $999.00 to the total purchase price of $1,148.85. Lets look at how this total purchase price should be calculated.

Given that we work with over 250 companies in Costa Rica ranging from hotels to tour operators to transportation service providers, we are familiar with the majority of prices for Costa Rica trip items. In most cases, we can pull out our contracts, check our rate sheets, and see if/when a particular company is overcharging for a particular item. However, since we know that you – the traveller – do not have access to the same information that we – the industry workers – do, we are happy to conduct the package cost analysis in a way that will allow you to repeat the process on your own when examining any other Costa Rica vacation package you come across online.

HOTELS

Start by focusing on the hotels. Since the Groupon offer provided the name of the hotels included with the package, as well as a confirmation that standard accommodations were factored into the cost, a simple search on both hotels’ websites produce the following prices (for stays between October 8th 2013 and December 10th 2013):

  • Sleep Inn (San Jose): $79.00+tax/night, or $89.27/night with taxes included (see the Sleep Inn’s website for a confirmation of the room rate)
    Since the Costa Rica vacation package includes 3 nights at the Sleep Inn, the total cost associated with this portion of the package is $267.81 (taxes included)
  • Hotel Magic Mountain (La Fortuna/Arenal): $105.00+tax/night, or $118.65/night with taxes included (see Hotel Magic Mountain’s website for a confirmation of the room rate)
    Since the Costa Rica vacation package includes 3 nights at Hotel Magic Mountain, the total cost associated with this portion of the package is $355.95 (taxes included)
  • TOTAL ACCOMMODATIONS COST (6-NIGHT STAY FOR 2 PEOPLE): $623.76 (taxed included)

Note: Costa Rican tax is only 13%, not 15% as the travel agency opts to charge on top of the package’s quoted cost of $999.00. See point #3 titled “Hidden Fees And Double Taxation” in our related post 5 Red Flags To Look Out For When Buying A Costa Rica Vacation Package for more information about double taxation scams and how you can protect yourself when reserving a vacation.

TOURS/ACTIVITIES

Second, look at the tours and activities included. Since the Groupon offer provided the name of the tours included with the package, a simple search on the tour operators’ websites produce the following costs (for tours taken between October 8th 2013 and December 10th 2013)

  • Half-day tour of Poas Volcano National Park with entrance fees and English-speaking tour guide: $49.00/person (see Expeditions Tropicales’ website for a confirmation of the tour rate)
    Since the Costa Rica vacation package includes the half-day tour of the Poas Volcano National Park for 2 people, the total cost associated with this portion of the package is $98.00 (taxes included)
  • Half-day tour of Arenal Volcano National Park with entrance fees and English-speaking tour guide: $49.00/person (see Desafio Adventure Company’s website for a confirmation of the tour rate)
    Since the Costa Rica vacation package includes the half-day tour of the Arenal Volcano National Park for 2 people, the total cost associated with this portion of the package is $98.00 (taxes included)
  • Half-day Safari float at Peñas Blancas river with English-speaking tour guide: $49.00/person (see Canoa Aventura’s website for a confirmation of the tour rate)
    Since the Costa Rica vacation package includes the safari float at the Peñas Blancas river for 2 people, the total cost associated with this portion of the package is $98.00 (taxes included)
  • TOTAL TOUR/ACTIVITY COST (3 DIFFERENT TOURS/ACTIVITIES FOR 2 PEOPLE): $294.00 (taxed included)

Note: Costa Rican tax is already worked in to tour and activity prices. This means that the 15% ‘tax and fee’ that the travel agency opts to charge on top of the package’s quoted cost of $999.00 is in addition to the tax already included in the tour and activity costs. See point #3 titled “Hidden Fees And Double Taxation” in our related post 5 Red Flags To Look Out For When Buying A Costa Rica Vacation Package for more information about double taxation scams and how you can protect yourself when reserving a vacation.

TRANSPORTATION

Lastly, look at the transportation services. Under the ‘getting there’ section of the advertisement, it is confirmed that shuttle services are the method of transportation included with the package (in the ‘questions’ section a travel agency representative also confirms that airfare to and from Costa Rica is not included in the package). A simple search on transportation service operators’ websites produce the following costs (for transfer services taken between October 8th 2013 and December 10th 2013):

  • Shuttle service from the SJO Airport to the Sleep Inn: This service is FREE as it is a complementary service included with the stay at the Sleep Inn (see the Sleep Inn’s website for a confirmation of the complimentary airport shuttle service)
  • Shuttle service from the Sleep Inn (San Jose) to Hotel Magic Mountain (La Fortuna/Arenal): $47.00/person (see Interbus’ website for a confirmation of the shuttle service rate)
    Since the Costa Rica vacation package includes a shuttle service from San Jose to La Fortuna/Arenal for 2 people, the total cost associated with this portion of the package is $94.00 (taxes included)
  • Shuttle service from Hotel Magic Mountain (La Fortuna/Arenal) to the Sleep Inn (San Jose): $47.00/person (see Interbus’ website for a confirmation of the shuttle service rate)
    Since the Costa Rica vacation package includes a shuttle service from La Fortuna/Arenal to San Jose for 2 people, the total cost associated with this portion of the package is $94.00 (taxes included)
  • Shuttle service from the Sleep Inn to the SJO Airport: This service is FREE as it is a complementary service included with the stay at the Sleep Inn (see the Sleep Inn’s website for a confirmation of the complimentary airport shuttle service)
  • TOTAL TRANSPORTATION SERVICE COST (4 DIFFERENT SHUTTLE SERVICES FOR 2 PEOPLE): $188.00 (taxed included)

Note: Costa Rican tax is already worked in to transportation service prices. This means that the 15% ‘tax and fee’ that the travel agency opts to charge on top of the package’s quoted cost of $999.00 is in addition to the tax already included in the shuttle services’ cost. See point #3 titled “Hidden Fees And Double Taxation” in our related post 5 Red Flags To Look Out For When Buying A Costa Rica Vacation Package for more information about double taxation scams and how you can protect yourself when reserving a vacation.

With the total accommodations cost ($623.76), total tour/activity cost ($294.00), and total transportation cost ($188.00) in hand, we can combine each to reveal the Costa Rica vacation package’s total value: $1,105.76.

Wait a minute. The original vacation package was advertised as costing $1,665.00 and the ‘deal’ price was promoted at $999.00 (or $1,128.87 with taxes and fees included). We’ve just determined that the actual value is less than both of these amounts, but how is that possible? Did we miss something? Let’s double check.

  • All of the accommodations, tours/activities, and transportation services included with the Costa Rica vacation package have been accounted for.
  • What about the Wi-Fi access and daily breakfast that is also included with the package?
    These are complimentary amenities provided by the the Sleep Inn and Hotel Magic Mountain. They do not require an additional fee as their cost has already been incorporated into the package total via the nightly hotel rate.
  • What about the tour entrance fees and English-speaking guide for each tour?
    All three tours (the Poas Volcano National Park Tour, the Arenal Volcano National Park Tour, and the Safari Float on the Peñas Blancas River) already include an English-speaking guide and any applicable entrance fees. Neither requires an additional fee as their cost has already been incorporated into the package total via the per person tour/activity rate.
  • What else am I missing?

Absolutely nothing. Every item listed as included with the package has been accounted for and the math adds up. The only thing missing is an explanation from the travel agency as to how they calculated the original package cost of $1,665.00 and why they think their special promotion is one travellers would find valuable.

WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON HERE?

Since we know that the actual value of the Costa Rica vacation package is $1,105.76, we also know that the travel agency who created it inflated the price by a landslide. Doing so allowed them to reduce the cost by a few hundred dollars, enough to trick travellers into thinking that the Groupon deal is an amazing one. Sure, in the travel agency’s defense, they likely have a list of reasons for the price gap ranging from the number of employees they need to pay to the commission cut they promised Groupon for the business exposure. However, none of these excuses change the fact that travellers who purchase the Costa Rica vacation package described above will spend more for the trip than it is worth.

GET A COSTA RICA VACATION PACKAGE AT TRUE VALUE, OR FOR LESS!

We feel the need to celebrate. Not only have you taken the time to work your way through this calculated post, but you’ve invested a part of yourself in your own travel experience. If you didn’t care about your vacation or the mark it is bound to leave in your checkbook then this article’s title probably wouldn’t have caught your attention. Thankfully it did, and you’re now better prepared to examine Costa Rica vacation packages with a more delicate eye because of it.

So where should you go from here? Well, for those of you who are not already aware, Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated (partner to Costa Rica Travel Blog) offers more than 2000 discounts for Costa Rica trip items. If you are considering travelling to Costa Rica, why not take a look at what they have to offer. If you’d rather not reserve a Costa Rica vacation package through the travel agency who put the above package together (we don’t blame you!), check out Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated’s sample Costa Rica vacation packages aimed at giving travellers an idea of how Costa Rica trips are best arranged from a time and cost efficient standpoint. Assuming the above Costa Rica vacation package was reserved through Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated, the total vacation cost would be $1,026.91. That’s $638.09 less expensive than the original vacation cost offered by the travel agency who created the package above, $101.96 less expensive than the ‘deal’ the travel agency advertised through Groupon, and $78.85 less expensive than the actual value of the trip, which is what you would pay if you opted to reserve everything yourself. If that’s not looking out for you and providing savings in the most truthful, fair, and ethical way, let us know what more we can do. 

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you spotted a Costa Rica vacation package online and want to know if its a fair deal? Feel free to send us the specific package details and we can let you know if Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated can offer the same trip experience for less.

Pura vida!

2 responses to “Did You Pay Too Much For Your Costa Rica Vacation? Don’t Be Fooled By ‘Deals’ Like These…

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