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A Clever Secret to Getting a Cheaper Airfare

airplane money There's a secret in the travel world that, once discovered, can make you feel like a great explorer.

Suddenly, you're Marco Polo stumbling onto an overland trade route to China or Magellan finding his way around Cape Horn. This secret is truly sensational -- something that could even change the way you look at the world ... of great deals on airfare.

It happens as simply as booking a deal for a roundtrip transatlantic flight for more than $800 less than the normal ticket price by adding on a rental car. That's right: book more, pay much less.

Normally, if you're booking a trip for a week or so, you only get a cheap fare if you stay over at least one Saturday. Book a Monday through Friday flight, as many business travelers do, and the airlines gouge you. However, if you fly British Airways and book a package deal through its website (flight + rental car, hotel, etc.), you are granted access to the super-secret cheapo rates.

Evidence our sample booking. We were looking for a flight from Chicago to London, and the lowest fare we found for our Monday - Friday itinerary was $1,855 on the British Airways website. But when we clicked on the "flight + car" package option, the total price dropped to $1,044.

Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

We wanted answers. We called one of BA's agents, who confirmed that, indeed, you can get this kind of deal routinely by booking a package. "When we're selling holidays, we're a tour operator and we have preferential rates, which we're able to pass ... on to the consumer," said Tracy Long of British Airways Holidays. "If you're booking anything more than just a flight, you're able to take advantage of deeper discounts."

In this case, booking a package may also have dropped us into the leisure travel category, which usually offers cheaper rates than those for business travelers. The savings aren't always astounding, yet considering that you are getting more -- in some cases much more -- you win if you bundle your travel elements together as opposed to booking each independently.

piggy bank airline ticketsConsider a roundtrip flight on Virgin Atlantic from New York to London that we sampled at $1,855. When we used the Virgin Vacations search to include four nights' hotel and a four-day car rental, we got the entire package from $1,864 per person -- just $9 more for a hotel and rental car as well as a flight.

Using an aggregate site such as Expedia.com can save you money as well. A flight on Air Berlin from Miami to Helsinki would set us back $1,268. On Expedia.com, we'd pay $1,249 -- $19 less -- for a flight plus four nights in a three-star hotel.

How to Create the Perfect Itinerary

Not all airline websites make it as easy to bundle a hotel or car rental as others. Finnair, for example, doesn't offer a bundling option, while Aer Lingus and Icelandair offer only their own prepackaged vacations, which may or may not suit your needs. American Airlines' site has a "Round-Trip + Hotel" button, while Delta provides both package deals and build-your-own options.

Be warned that bundling is not always cheaper, so you'll want to check the individual pricing as well. If you don't actually need a car or hotel, you should not try to book a bundle anyway, lest your entire booking be voided by your failure to pick up your rental or show up at your hotel. Finally, keep in mind that packages nearly always include larger hotels, which might not be your cup of tea if you're inclined to stay in B&Bs or vacation rentals. But if the savings are high enough, it just might be worth staying in that big-box chain for a few nights.

So enjoy your discounted flight and rental car or hotel stay courtesy of IndependentTraveler.com, and when you brag about the deal to your friends, be sure to claim the discovery for yourself.

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--written by Jamey Bergman and Jodi Thompson; updated by Sarah Schlichter

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