We visited Ireland in April on a “package deal” offered by Dooley Vacations, that included 6 nights at the Ritz Carlton Powerscourt, a car and R/T airfare from New York.
The quality and value of the accommodations were unbeatable. The same package was offered by Sceptre Tours, which seems to be a related company. While there may be differences between the two companies that I could not detect, the basics seem to be the same: in fact, we confusingly got a mailing regarding our trip from Sceptre Tours, with our Dooley Vacations confirmation number attached. A phone call to a customer rep confirmed that the two companies were “closely related”.
There are already a few threads in the Ireland forum about Sceptre and Dooley. Some people rave about the great value and wonderful trips, while others are very unhappy with poor customer service and difficult communications. I thought I’d try to sum up what I learned from our vacation, for “searches” by future travelers considering using these packages. I hope it will be useful for someone out there. Of course other travelers can add to the thread, if interested.
IS THE TRIP IS GOOD VALUE? Price all the elements separately and make sure it is a very substantial savings. Don’t just take their word for it. Our trip was an amazing value; so much so, that we started thinking about taking another package, to Italy, for next year. We priced it out, and it wasn’t nearly as big a savings. Due to the drawbacks mentioned below, I’ll only use these companies for good value packages, not just as a travel agency.
IS IT THE TRIP YOU REALLY WANT? Don’t buy impulsively. Make sure the included hotel is well reviewed; that it is in an area you will be happy staying; that it is within a reasonable drive to the places you want to visit; and that the time of year that it is offered is an enjoyable time to visit. Research the trip carefully before you buy.
CAN YOU MODIFY THE TRIP? While we loved our package, we wanted to stay longer and visit other areas. We were able to keep the car a few days longer for a nominal cost, and fly out later, from Shannon instead of Dublin, for no additional cost. But these modifications HAD to be done at the time of booking the trip.
DO YOU EXPECT A “WHITE GLOVE” TRAVEL AGENCY? If so, these packages are not for you. I called numerous times, and each time was on “hold” for at least 30 minutes. If booking with these companies, expect to:
1. Before travel, independently confirm all your bookings directly, with the airline, car rental agency, and hotels.
2. Before flying, check with the airline to make sure your flight has not been changed or cancelled. Sceptre/Dooley are not going to keep track of this for you, and if you miss your flight, you are out of luck.
3. Carefully read all the fine print. There isn’t much flexibility once you’ve booked and paid. Make sure you understand that before booking.
4. There are some additional fees. Ask what they are, if you don’t understand.
OTHER STUFF, NUTS AND BOLTS:
1. When booking the trip on the phone, write down any additions to the basic package, itemizing the amounts, and keep that list. We added several things, including car insurance, but I lost the paper that I had scribbled the itemized costs on. When the invoice arrived, all the costs had been combined and the only number was the final amount. Keep your itemized list; otherwise, you won’t be sure if the figure is correct, or be able to remember what, for instance, you paid for car insurance.
2. Price out car insurance separately, before buying from them. I bought theirs, out of laziness. It may have been a good deal, or a rip-off. Research CDW and SCDW on this forum before your final booking, unless you want to possibly pay extra to be spared the bother.
3. Buy travel insurance from another company, through Insuremytrip.com, or Travelguard, or the like. Don’t buy it from Dooley/Sceptre—it isn’t comparable.
4. Your travel documents will come on plain white computer paper, not even company letterhead. It is a bit of a shock. Make sure all the information is completely correct, and that any upgrades are completely spelled out. Make sure there is a separate sheet for each element of the trip (car, hotels, airline, etc.) Read the documents carefully, and then print out extra copies, one to leave at home, and another for your other suitcase or carryon. These papers have your ID number on them.