In many resort communities, from Orlando to Acapulco, the market for transportation to and from the airport is dominated by transit companies offering fixed-price tickets to major hotels. Since taxi prices vary, buying a ticket from one of these companies can save you time and money.
When you make your purchase, you’ll generally be asked whether you want a one-way or round-trip ticket. At first glance, this seems like a no-brainer: if the service is reliable to get you to your hotel, why would you not want to work with the same company to arrange your return trip? Turns out, there are good reasons why not.
First of all, the price may not be as much a savings as you expect. Once you get to your hotel, you’ll have a better idea of how much a taxi will cost. You can also get solid information on the local bus service. One or both of these options may prove to be a better deal than you were offered at the airport, especially if your resort has arranged discount fares or if there are official rates to bring passengers back to the airport from their hotels.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the return service may not be very convenient. You are typically asked to call 24 hours in advance to schedule your pickup for return to the airport. However, the implication that you can choose your pickup time is not necessarily correct. In Orlando, for instance, my girlfriend and I called to request a 4:00 a.m. pickup for our 6:00 a.m. domestic flight, only to be told that the closest available pickup would be 2:15 a.m.
Overseas, the convenience factor takes on a whole new level. Depending on where you are traveling and where you are staying, it may be confusing to call to make your pickup reservation. When you do reach someone, he or she may or may not speak English, and phone quality can make communicating in otherwise-passable “travel language” relatively difficult. That means you might be stuck wondering whether you’ll miss your flight if the shuttle doesn’t show up, even Spontaneous Tourists don’t welcome that sort of stress.
Of course, as long as you keep some money handy, you can always forgo the return service and take an official-rate taxi (as I did on a recent trip to Acapulco). If that happens, though, understand that you’ll have wasted the money on your round-trip ticket, because no one else will honor it and there are no refunds, ever.
My advice? Buy a one-way ticket to your hotel, and figure out your return transportation once you get checked in. Even at a travel hostel, there will be people who can help explain your options, and you’ll maintain the flexibility you need to enjoy your trip.