Planning on giving someone a trip for a holiday gift? Here’s how to do it right.

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You see it on TV, a woman ripping open an envelope and breaking into smiles.

“Two tickets to Hawaii!!” she gushes when her husband gives her the gift.

But is giving a trip for a gift in real life a good idea — or an expensive mistake?

“It would be heartbreaking to have a gift like this rejected,” says Robin Weber Pollak, president of Journeys International tour company in Ann Arbor. But, yes, she has seen a few surprise gift trips actually work.

The idea of giving a trip as a gift is a good one. People, especially the twenty-something millennial generation, increasingly value experiences over material possessions. Travel is recalled as an “extraordinary experience” just below life’s milestones, according to a study on happiness done by researchers at Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania in 2013. More important, experiences like trips are far better remembered over time than material comforts are and get a rose-colored patina with the retelling of memories, found Cornell University researchers in a 2014 paper aptly titled “We’ll Always Have Paris.”

Message? Even a gift trip that doesn’t go so well will eventually be remembered fondly.

“We can all give material things, but those things will break, or not be needed in the future, be forgotten or become obsolete,” says Carol Burgess, a former Michigander who now lives in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. She and her husband gave their adult sons and their families a gift trip in 2007 to Las Vegas for a four-day vacation. The group of seven had good times mingled with minor mishaps: someone sprained an ankle, they could have used an extra car. But that trip is now a grand memory made even better by the hazy eight-year passage of time.

Ellen Prebelich, owner of World of Travel in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., sells travel gift certificates at her travel agency. People can buy them in any amount, then give them to someone for airfare, hotel, cruise or toward a package trip.

“I actually just sold two $1,000 gift certificates to a company who gave them to employees who were retiring,” she says. “One of them used it toward a trip to Hawaii, and the other one redeemed it for a weekend in Las Vegas. What a great way to kick off your retirement, right?”

So how exactly can you properly give someone a trip, a honeymoon, cruise, passport, family vacation or airline ticket? It depends on the gift itself:

Giving someone a trip: Unless you are positive the person will go at a certain time and date, make your gift open-ended, or make sure they are able to change the reservations. Wrap up a travel guidebook or get a travel brochure and enclose your gift inside. The gift could be as simple as a letter explaining what you will pay for or an actual gift certificate, gift card or check.

Honeymoon: Many couples ask for pieces of their honeymoon as a wedding gift. Sites like mean you can pay for things as specific as “shuttle ride from Paris airport” or “entrance tickets to the Louvre.” If you know a couple’s destination, get them a gift card for a great restaurant meal, spa appointment or Jet Ski rental. Some resorts like Sandals have their own gift registries.

Cruise: Unless you plan to surprise someone with cruise tickets you already bought, it is best to get a gift certificate from a travel agency or buy a gift card from a cruise line. Double-check the cost, because you don’t want the person to be in the position of having only half the cruise paid for and being unable to afford the balance. If you want to take someone with you on a cruise, make sure they are available before you surprise them. Cruises generally are nonrefundable, and you can’t change a passenger’s name once booked.

Passport: This actually is a great gift for someone. A new passport costs $110. You can’t actually get it for them, but you can download the forms from and give them the money so they can get a passport, which is good for 10 years and can take them anywhere in the world.

Family vacation: If you are trying to surprise your children with a trip, leave a few of the decisions to them. Parents might decide on the destination — Disney or Colorado, for example — but let the children have a say on some activities to make them feel they are part of the planning fun. Some parents keep kids in the dark about where the family is going until that very day, but that robs the kids of the anticipation of going — which is half the fun of traveling.

Airline ticket: Yes, you can buy someone else an airline ticket. You also can use your frequent flier miles to buy someone else an airline ticket, which is far cheaper than trying to buy miles or transfer your miles to them. If you plan to pay for the ticket or use miles, simply enclose a card with a handmade coupon explaining that. Otherwise, airlines do sell gift cards in various amounts that can be used toward airline tickets.