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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 $1,400 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 Web site (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 London to either Philadelphia or New York, and after a few hours of searching, the lowest fare was £1,497 (a little over $2,300) on the British Airways Web site. But when we clicked on the "flight + car" package option, the total price dropped to £555 (about $880).

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 tickets Consider a roundtrip flight on Virgin Atlantic from New York to London that we sampled at $1,442. When we clicked on the Build Your Own Vacation tab, we got the flight and a hotel for four weeknights from $1,288. We saved only $154, but that was with the addition of a four-night hotel stay.

Using an aggregate site, such as Expedia.com, can save you money as well. A flight on Finnair from Atlanta to Oslo would set us back $1,735. A hotel for four nights started at $549. On Expedia.com, we'd pay $1,931 for both and save $353. Sure, the overall price isn't less than just airfare, but it's still a deal.

One drawback: Both Virgin Atlantic and Expedia.com take the opportunity to bombard you with offers of passes, tours, parking and other activities -- all in the name of assisting you in building your vacation. No harm, no foul, as you can easily say no thanks.

How to Create the Perfect Itinerary

Not all the airline Web sites 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 packages, which may or may not suit your needs. On American Airlines' site, as with Virgin Atlantic, you simply click on the Vacations tab and you can choose to bundle a flight with a hotel and/or a car. Delta provides both package deals and build-your-own options. Before you assume that more is always less, we offer a bit of a caveat. In a quick search, we found that the city combination often determines the extent to which you save.

An American Airlines flight from Chicago to New Orleans came to just less than $400. Adding a hotel stay and a car rental bumped the total to $772. Booked separately, the total came to $1,213. Bundling saved $441 -- like flying for free with a couple of cocktails thrown in for good measure.

Traveling from Philadelphia to New Orleans, however, only saved us $142 for the airfare, hotel and car. Not a huge savings, but enough for a nice meal on Bourbon Street.

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
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