By Echo Montgomery Garrett

(MONEY Magazine) – First, the good news: with travelers on the prowl for bargains and an industry in the doldrums, scores of value-packed vacation packages are popping up. ''All-inclusive vacations have come a long way since those bus tours of Britain,'' comments Robert W. Joselyn, president of a travel management consulting firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. Spurred by the success of cruises -- which generally include air fare, cabin accommodations, meals and entertainment -- tour operators and resorts are packaging one-price deals on land. ''Consumers want to know vacation costs up front,'' says Joselyn, ''rather than suffer sticker shock at the end of a trip.'' Now for the bad news: There is no industry standard to define ''all inclusive'' exactly. And that can make for nasty surprises. Even Club Med, which has profited nicely from providing vacationers with one-price-covers-all packages since the 1950s, is now charging extra for some activities, such as $18 or so an hour for horseback riding. To guarantee that your vacation package is all you expect, here's help: -- Know the lingo. Typically, all inclusive means that lodging, meals and some sports or entertainment are covered. Ground transportation, such as transfers to and from airports, is usually included as well; air fare varies considerably. Most per-person prices are based on double occupancy. If you sign on for a ''modified American plan,'' you'll get breakfasts and dinners but no free lunch. A ''land only'' package will not cover air fare. ''Foreign independent travel'' means traveling on your own while getting package prices with prepaid vouchers. -- Ask the right questions. There's now enormous flexibility in all-inclusive vacations. Describe your dream trip to a travel agent, see what's available, then get down to specifics: Does the cost include tax and gratuities? Are transfers free? Find out exactly which meals and beverages are included. Can you order from regular menus, for example? Are there any surcharges for using recreational facilities or equipment? For instance, at beach resorts, you may pay for poolside chaise longues. If you're interested in adventure vacations, ask about the guest-to-guide ratio. Ideally, suggests Pat Halty of All Adventure Travel in Boulder, there should be eight to 10 guests per guide when you're going on safari or tackling tough sports such as mountain climbing. -- Read tour material with great care. Advises David C. Smith of Maupintour, a Lawrence, Kans. tour operator that offers 145 different itineraries: ''If any part of a brochure seems vague or confusing, something is probably being hidden.'' -- Get every service and promise in writing. When making reservations, ask whether the price covers the activities you're banking on. Then request a letter or fax to confirm arrangements. Last August, for example, Laura Popper, a New York City pediatrician and golf aficionado, booked a seven-day family package at the renowned Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. With her husband and two children along, she figured the steep $650-a-day rate would cover practically everything. But there were charges for many children's activities, plus extra golfing fees. ''It was more like $1,000 a day,'' says Popper. Here's a sampling of high-value travel packages now available. Prices are based on double occupancy. -- Skiing. Keystone Resort (800-222-0188), 75 miles west of Denver, just completed a $32 million expansion. A five-night stay, complete with air fare, rental car with unlimited mileage and lift tickets (no meals), starts at $753 per person from New York City. Prices for kids 12 and under vary with the package. -- Desert oasis. Starting in January, The Boulders resort (800-553-1717), north of Scottsdale in Carefree, Ariz., will include tips and taxes in all prices. ''It's convenient for guests,'' says publicist Sharon Pitts. A one- week stay for two in one of the 136 Mexican-style cottages runs $2,765 from Jan. 1 to 18, and $3,465 from Jan. 18 to April 6. But you pay $95 a day for golf and $15 a day to rent a bike. -- Family idyll. Pullman Morgan Bay (800-221-4542) opens doors on St. Lucia in mid-January, offering all meals, drinks and lots of sports. Seven nights at & the 240-room resort starts at $1,190 per person, not including air fare. Parents may pay $50 a night for one child under 12 in the room. Bolongo Beach Resorts (800-524-4746) on St. Thomas now features a range of packages at its Limetree, Elysian and Bolongo Bay beachfront hotels. Book one and you can visit all three, including the free day camp (ages three to 12). Eight days costs $2,940 per person, without air fare. -- Road scholars. Archaeological Tours (212-986-3054) provides 14- to 21-day trips to ancient sites in Europe, Asia, the Mideast and Central America. A typical tour: 18 days in Sicily, without air fare, runs $3,645 per person in groups of 20 to 25. -- Yee-ha. A week of horseback riding, rodeos and more at Double Diamond X Ranch (800-833-7262) in Cody, Wyo. costs $1,400 to $1,950 for two, depending on which room and season. Tax and gratuities are not covered. -- Spa treatment. Rancho La Puerta (800-443-7565) in Baja, Calif., where you can choose among 40 daily fitness sessions, cooking classes, four pools, six tennis courts and other options, costs $1,200 to $1,900 per person for a week.


A 1990 survey of 1,600 members of the American Hotel and Motel Association on services showed: -- 81% offer kids-stay-free programs. -- 62% offer discounted weekend packages. -- 49% offer special rates for reunions.