Cheap Airfare Step 8: Packaged vacations

Air-hotel vacation packages are a simple concept for powerful savings: you buy your airfare and lodging together at a price much lower than you could get either separately

First things first: a vacation package is not an escorted tour, where they shuttle you around Europe in a hermetically sealed bus bubble of Americanism. With a packaged vacation, your trip is entirely your own—everything expect having to book a hotel separately, that is.

Packages tend to last for a "week" (which might be anything from four to seven nights), and include round-trip airfare, your lodgings, daily breakfast, and sometimes transfers from the airport to the hotel and back.

The biggest drawback to a vacation package is that most of the hotels they offer for you to choose tend to be the huge, cookie-cutter international chains or bland "tourist class" properties, in many cases at the edge of the city center, generally near the train station (ugh!).

Sure, the price is great for that sort of four-star hotel, booking these big ticket items all at once can be convenient, and it saves money over buying the airfare and that hotel separately. However, with a bit of research—and the tools on this site—you can find an even lower airfare and book yourself into an even cheaper, more characterful little pensione in the heart of the historic district.

(I should point out that has actually started finding a few charming hotels in historic or interesting parts of town on a few of its packages—a small inn installed in an 18th-century palazzo in the heart of Rome's Trastevere district, for example. This is an encouraging development.)

Besides the companies listed below (which really do tend to be the cheapest by a long shot), another great place to look for package tours is from the "Vacations" or "Holidays" subsidiaries of the major airlines themselves, though you should know that some of the European carriers sell packages that are far from bargains.

Also note that many of these "Vacations" divisions are actually managed by outside companies—for example, NorthWest uses a firm called Worry Free Vacations; Virgin Vacations is actually back-ended (industry term) by the folks at—and the packages rarely even use flights on Virgin Atlantic Airways! Most search-engine sites offer DIY packages as well, allowing you to book airfare, hotels, and rental cars.

The best vacation packagers ( - Hands-down the cheapest and best packager of air-hotel vacations out there (along with fly-drive tours and some walking and biking tours). They seem to operate under a "we will not be undersold" attitude, and their exceptionally low rates on basic, (largely) six-night "City Breaks" reflect that. One drawback: it's Net-only; you have to pay extra for customer service on the phone.

Gate1 Travel ( - One of the consistently cheapest tour providers around. They cover the entire world and offer a range of travel "products" from air-hotel packages to escorted tours. Also, they're based in Fort Washington, PA, just a few miles from where I live (that's just a random coincidence—I knew about them for years before I moved here—but I think it's cool).

Goway ( - Offers independent vacations and tours to pretty much the whole world (long specialists in Australia, Asia, and the South Pacific, they later added Africa and, as of 2010, Latin America).

The Big Three (Orbitz.comPartner, Expedia.comPartner, Travelocity.comPartner) - Since the three major travel search engines all offer competitive prices on airfares, hotels, car rentals, and the rest, they can easily put together vacation packages as well. OrbitzPartner, ExpediaPartner, and TravelocityPartner now all prominently offer "packages" or "vacations" as a main menu option at the top of the page. The prices can be phenomenal—and the offerings often a bit more flexible than at the competition (number of nights, multiple destinations, a freer mix of lodging, transportation, and sightseeing options)—so it's well worth looking into.

Solar Tours ( - Covers Latin America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean with both packages and escorted tours. Excellent selection of combo packages (combining multiple countries in one package, including transfers between cities).

MLT Vacations ( - Packaging powerhouse that runs the branded and airline packaging arms of Delta Vacations, United Vacations, AeroMexico Vacations, Alitalia Vacations, Air France Holidays, and Worry Free Vacations.

Untours ( - Sort of like the Platinum Edition of a vacation package, taking care of all the major costs, details, and logistics but leaving you to plan your daily sightseeing and travels. For one price, you get airfare, some form of transport (rental car or train or bus pass), lodgings (usually an apartment or rental villa), and a local contact who will help you get settled in, show you the ropes, then be on-call to help with questions. You also usually have one activity during the course of the week when all other "untour" participants in your area are invited to get together. Full story

Regional specialist packagers


North America

Latin America (South America & Central America)



South Pacific

Australia & New Zealand

Africa & safaris

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in June 2012.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.