'Great' vacation deals lose shine in the fine print

Q: I've received another email for sunny vacation specials that look like a great deal. My friend and I are considering taking a week and going, but are these deals too good to be true?

A: During the long, dark days of winter, any mention of sunshine is welcome. The vacation offers that come by email or fax are meant to tempt you with the low cost of a basic flight and hotel. You're wise to take a look at these offers carefully and make sure the company offering the vacations is properly licensed, well established and has a good reputation. Before you say yes, consider all of the costs you're likely to incur:

- Taxes on flights and hotel (and ports for cruises).
- Food, beverage and activity costs.
- Transportation, to and from the airport at home and at your destination.
- Spending money.
- New vacation clothing and shoes.
- Supplies for your vacation (sunscreen, medication, etc.).
- Travel insurance.

In our excitement to go on a much-wanted holiday, we tend to forget about all of these extra costs. Because we haven't budgeted for them, we use credit to cover the costs.
I encourage you to look at your budget and decide what you can realistically afford. Then discuss your vacation budget with your friend to see if the great deal really is such a great deal.

If you use your credit card and don't pay it off every month in full by the due date, you are adding as much as 50 per cent to everything you buy. If you will carry some debt for a few months after you return, decide what you can afford to pay off within three months.