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30 October 2020

Best and worst escorted tour providers

Which escorted tour provider should you use for your next trip? Our survey of thousands of Which? members reveals all.
Tour providers 476250
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WhichEditorial team

With hundreds of escorted tour providers to choose from, which ones offer the most knowledgeable guides, the nicest accommodation, and the best value for money? Here, we reveal satisfaction ratings for the escorted tour providers that are used most by Which? members. 

These are rankings of escorted tour providers – that's companies offering holidays with a planned itinerary, accompanied by a dedicated guide. To read our full reviews, click on the links in the table below or scroll down. Check our table of package holiday providers if you want a traditional beach, resort or poolside package. If you are looking for more freedom to roam, see our best self-guided tour providers. For more specialist holidays, find out how companies ranked for city breaks, ski trips and villa holidays

To be named a Which? Recommended Provider (WRP), companies must be highly rated in our survey. This year, we have taken extra steps to assess their treatment of customers throughout the coronavirus pandemic. We have also spoken to customers who were left out of pocket and scrutinised their refund policies for cancelled holidays.

How you rate escorted tour providers
WRP Holiday company (sample size) Average price per day: short haul  / long haul Accommodation Customer service Description matching reality Organisation of holiday Value for money Customer score
HF Holidays (65) £128 / - 89%
Audley Travel (47)  - / £258 88%
Exodus (70) / £145 88%
Trailfinders (80) £150 / £196 88%
Approve
Riviera Travel (271) £150 / £161 86%
Explore (61) - / £175 84%
Rail Discoveries (32) - / - 82%
  Titan Travel (78) £181 / £187 82%
Great Rail Journeys (94) £175 / £212 81%
Ramblers (30) - / - - - 81%
  Just You (41) £178 / - 80%
  Saga (120) £114 / £173 79%
  RSD (32)  - / - 78%
  Jules Verne (42) - / - 77%
  Cox & Kings (36) - / - 76%
  Leger Holidays (32) - / - 72%
  Newmarket Holidays (59) £125 / - 68%
  Tui (54) £90 / £125 66%

 

Using the table: Star ratings are based on one to five stars. The more stars the better. Sample sizes are in brackets next to each holiday company. A dash indicates we did not receive enough responses to report on a company in that category. WRP stands for Which? Recommended Provider. Escorted tour: Defined as a holiday that had a planned itinerary where customers were accompanied by a dedicated guide. Average price per day: Based on the median price of all holidays taken by survey respondents with the company named. Short-haul destinations are defined as anywhere less than a five-hour flight from London. Customer score: Based on a combination of overall satisfaction and how likely people are to recommend the company. Companies with the same customer score are listed in alphabetical order.

Other escorted tour providers

Rail Discoveries – 82%

Specialising in escorted rail holidays, Rail Discoveries promises to make the journey part of the adventure with itineraries in both close-to-home and far-flung destinations. For those fed up with the hassle of flying, the Scottish Highlands will appeal, while the more adventurous can trundle past the fjords of Norway or take in the frozen wilderness of the Canadian Rockies.

Despite only inching 1% above parent company Great Rail Journeys (GRJ) in our survey of escorted tour providers, Rail Discoveries scored a lacklustre three stars out of five for the quality of its accommodation (compared with GRJ’s five), with one disappointed customer complaining that its hotels did not meet the needs of older passengers. Its service was much better received, with guides described as ‘knowledgeable and helpful’, without being intrusive.

Which? verdict: A slick, well-organised outfit, there isn’t much to separate Rail Discoveries from its parent company Great Rail Journeys – but you can expect smarter digs and a more comfortable night’s sleep with the latter.

Titan Travel – 82%

With a name like Titan Travel, this escorted tour provider is setting its customers up to have big expectations. And with an impressive customer score and excellent star ratings across the board, it isn’t overstating its abilities.

Many of Titan Travel’s customers raved about its VIP door-to-door transfers to and from home and the airport, which proved particularly handy before an early flight or after a long plane journey. In fact, the company impressed with all areas of its customer service and insider knowledge. 

One couple managed to dodge the crowds by bringing their holiday forward by a week to avoid public holidays in a destination, as advised by staff. ‘They were helpful, knowledgeable and really went out of the way to personalise the holiday to meet our needs. [For] hotels we didn’t like, they found alternatives,’ they concluded.  

Which? verdict: All signs point to Titan Travel being an excellent escorted tour provider – however, it’s outclassed by others in our survey. Check out the likes of Audley Travel, Trailfinders and Riviera Travel for a truly exceptional experience – all three are Which? Recommended Providers.

Great Rail Journeys – 81%

Whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool train fanatic, or just find the notion of chugging along the tracks in foreign lands appealing, Great Rail Journeys (GRJ) has one of the widest choices of rail-based excursions on the market. Its 81% customer score and five-star rating for customer service suggest its 40 years’ experience at putting together rail packages has been put to good effect. One couple were impressed that GRJ arranged and paid for an extra night in a London hotel when they were delayed coming home, despite the disruption not being the fault of the company.

Many customers raved about the ‘excellent’, ‘first-class’ hotels – earning GRJ top marks in this category. The guides were equally popular, with one customer telling us: ‘Hotels and food were all excellent, as was the knowledge and enthusiasm of the local guides, whose personal life stories added greatly to our understanding of the history and current situation in Cambodia and Vietnam.’ Although another traveller pointed out that busy itineraries coupled with hauling luggage on and off trains was ‘stressful’ for some of the older passengers.

Which? verdict: If travel by rail holds a certain allure for you, a Great Rail Journeys holiday is very likely to tick your boxes. However, you may want to consider other companies, including high-scoring Trailfinders, a Which? Recommended Provider which also offers journeys by rail.

Ramblers Walking Holidays – 81%

A social enterprise, Ramblers Walking Holidays channels a portion of its profits back into the more disadvantaged areas it visits. Covering six continents, its itineraries range from ‘lowland ambles’ to ‘high mountain trekking’. 

This escorted tour company is perfect for those who want to explore the great outdoors by foot without the hassle of organising meals and accommodation along the way. Even the map reading is taken care of, leaving travellers unburdened to take in the spectacular scenery. 

In fact, the walking specialist excels with its organisation, with one customer telling us: ‘The walk leader was very experienced, took everybody's abilities into account and delivered an interesting, informative and enjoyable itinerary.’ Unfortunately, the company’s accommodation failed to match up – scoring an underwhelming three out of five stars. 

Which? verdict: Ramblers Walking Holidays is a solid choice without being exceptional. If you’re prepared to put in some extra legwork, Which? Recommended Provider Inntravel also provides self-guided walking itineraries across Europe and further afield.

Just You – 80%

Single-traveller specialist Just You provides escorted group holidays designed for anyone who wants to travel solo at a range of worldwide destinations including Antarctica, Croatia and Japan. 

Outstanding customer service is one of the areas where Just You excels in our survey of escorted tour providers, being rated a full five stars in this category. With four stars for accommodation and value for money, Just You is a good all-round travel provider. 

However, the holidays on offer are at the more expensive end of the spectrum, at an average cost of £178 a day on a short-haul trip. One recent customer summed it up when they said: ‘Overall, it offers a good experience, if a little expensive.’

Which? verdict: While there’s some room for improvement, Just You is a good option for solo travellers who don’t want to explore the world alone – provided you have the budget.

RSD – 78%

A relative newcomer, RSD offers a range of escorted tours on coaches in Europe, Asia and North America. It’s a better option than rival coach tour providers, Leger Holidays and Newmarket Holidays, but it still ranks in the bottom half of our results table, so there’s room for improvement. Customer comments such as ‘adequate’ and ‘OK’ reinforce this.

RSD’s holidays tend to be slick and reasonably priced – customers rated the company four stars out of a possible five for both the organisation of the holiday and value for money. However, the quality of accommodation and customer service aren’t as good, and were rated just three stars. Some customers also complained about being taken to shops and pressurised to buy merchandise.

Which? verdict: RSD is a mediocre travel provider and only worth considering if it offers the itinerary you’re looking for. Otherwise, it’s unlikely to blow your socks off.

Jules Verne – 77%

Jules Verne offers escorted small group tours to all four corners of the globe, from well-trodden destinations such as Spain and the USA, to more unusual locations like Namibia and Papua New Guinea.

The travel company’s impressive customer score reflects the fact that many recent customers have had a positive experience, but it’s not on the same level as rivals HF Holidays and Exodus, both Which? Recommended Providers for escorted tours. The quality of accommodation and the value for money of Jules Verne’s trips could both be improved.

Which? verdict: Overall, Jules Verne is a solid escorted tour provider, rather than a spectacular one. While you’re unlikely to be disappointed, holidays booked with higher-scoring specialists are likely to be better in every respect.

Cox and Kings – 76%

Cox and Kings describes itself as the world’s oldest travel company, providing high-quality small group escorted tours across the globe – the average group size is 14 guests. India, the Galapagos Islands, Argentina and Australia are just some of the popular destinations customers can travel to, but despite having ‘260 years of expertise’, as mentioned on its website, Cox and Kings sits four from the bottom in our results table of escorted tour providers.

The quality of accommodation provided is, however, better than many of its rivals, scoring the maximum five stars out of five. One customer described the hotels they stayed in as ‘superb’. But there’s work to be done when it comes to Cox and Kings’ organisation. A recent customer said it felt like the itinerary ‘had not been properly thought through in some places’.

Which? verdict: While certainly not a terrible escorted tour provider, it’s probably only worth booking with Cox and Kings if the itinerary on offer is exactly what you’re after. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to look elsewhere.

Leger Holidays – 72%

Coach operator Leger Holidays offers trips all over the world, but it’s particularly popular for its European battlefield itineraries. Journeys of ‘remembrance and discovery’ take travellers to sites of both World Wars, as well as significant other wars, with each tour having its own specialist battlefield guide. One satisfied customer described their guide’s knowledge as ‘second to none’.

The quality of the company’s customer service and the accuracy of its tour descriptions is enough to earn it a decent customer score, four percentage points ahead of its rival coach company Newmarket Holidays. However, Leger Holidays has fallen down our escorted tour provider survey rankings in recent years, largely due to the lacklustre accommodation – in this category, Leger only received two stars out of five, with one customer going as far as to call it ‘awful’.

Which? verdict: Overall, Leger Holidays is a reasonably priced and respectable coach holiday provider, but European battlefield tours is still where it stands out.

Newmarket Holidays – 68%

Newmarket Holidays offers coach-based escorted tours in the UK and Europe, as well as cruises and long-haul destinations in Africa, America and Asia. ‘Not a bad holiday’ was one customer’s underwhelming description of their recent trip, which perhaps best summarises the company’s mediocre customer score – out of the 18 escorted tour providers that appear in our results table, Newmarket Holidays is in 17th position, only beating Tui.

It’s the only escorted tour provider that doesn’t earn more than three stars out of five in any of our categories, suggesting the travel company doesn’t really excel in anything. And the quality of accommodation is poor, receiving just two stars – one customer said the location of their hotel was further away from the town centre than they were led to believe, while another described their hotel as ‘not very good at all’ and said they became sick after eating the ‘disgusting’ food.

Other customers reported more positive experiences, but these didn’t help Newmarket Holidays’ overall satisfaction score.

Which? verdict: Consistent mediocrity makes Newmarket Holidays one of the worst escorted tour providers around. Look elsewhere.

How we researched holiday companies

In March and April 2020, we asked Which? Connect panel members and the public to complete an online survey about their experiences of booking and going on holiday in the last two years. We define a package holiday as a traditional beach/resort holiday combining flights and accommodation. We only reported on companies and star rating categories when we received at least 30 responses. TEST

You can have your say on what we research and help us achieve change by joining Which? Connect