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Today’s guide looks at how packaging up a flight, even when you may not really need a hotel or a car, can bring big savings to premium flight fares! I personally used this technique in 2018, flying United Airlines in Business from London to Chicago with 3 nights in a hotel for £1,400. At the time you couldn’t even get a flight for below £2,000!
What: ‘Packaging’ a flight is adding on a hotel or car, for as little as one day, at the time of booking in order to get a better deal.
Why: Sometimes OTAs (Online Travel Agents) give access to special fares when booked as part of a package that cannot be accessed when booking the flight alone. Also, many providers guarantee an overall saving when you book a flight and hotel or car together. Finally, cashback rates on packages are very often MUCH better than booking a flight alone!
I’ll cover the three ways packaging can help save you money and how exactly to go about using each technique.
Accessing Special Fares
The example I gave in the introduction, where I saved over £600 on my flight before even accounting for 3 nights in a hotel, was an Expedia ‘Special Fare’. It was only bookable as part of a flight + hotel package.
Unfortunately, there is no search engine like Google Flights that can easily find and alert you to such fares! Therefore, I don’t check for Expedia Special Fares on a daily basis. However. if you have a set departure city, destination and set of dates in mind that you want to travel, it is always worth checking Expedia (or British Airways and Virgin Atlantic if flying those respective airlines). I’ll cover how to find these fares on Expedia, but the same approach works across all sites (Virgin only lets you add on a hotel for all nights though).
On Expedia, you want to select a Flight + Hotel booking. There is no flexibility in date searches here, so you will need to repeat the process for each set of dates you are interested in. Eugh!
We are trying to find special flight fares, so we want the price to not be skewed by the cost of the hotel itself. Therefore, select “I only need a hotel for part of my stay” and enter dates for 1 night only. Typically, the cheapest night would be a Sunday. You do not actually need to stay this night. I’ve called Expedia before when I’ve booked like this and said my plans have changed and I’ll be staying with a friend. They said if I don’t check-in to the hotel, the flight is still valid. You may want to check yourself though.
Finally, under Advanced Options, select your preferred class of travel.
The first search results you see will be for hotels. Order the results by price. If the cheapest price isn’t any different to flight prices you have already seen, for example on Google Flights, then you can stop your check here.
If the lowest price looks good, click onto the first hotel and select the cheapest room, you will then be able to see what your preferred airline actually costs. If it still looks good, check the route and cabin just to make sure.
The purchase page will show your chosen itinerary and the notional 1 night hotel. If you have found a special fare, you will see “Expedia Special Fare” in the flight details at the top. But what you really want to look at is the “Package savings” on the far right. In this case, the special fare still isn’t really saving much versus what the flight would be booked alone. But sometimes you can see savings in the hundreds! Of course, still search on, e.g. Google Flights, to check it really is a saving.
Finally, on this technique, you CAN enter your airline frequent flyer number to accrue points, but the fare code may earn less than a standard fare booked with the airline. You will see the fare code by clicking “show flight and baggage fee details” and it will be the letter next to your class of travel e.g. Business (J). Also, you may not get all the benefits of booking direct. For example, I almost booked Emirates Business Class on Special Fare, but the fare code would NOT have gotten me the chauffeur experience. Be sure to check with the airline if these factors are important to you.
Saving Overall on Flight + Hotel
The above technique is pretty hit and miss. When you do find a special package fare you can save huge, but often my searches will come up at the same price as the flight itself. However, if you do actually need a hotel for your stay, it does often pay to book both together.
Whenever you are looking to book a trip with a hotel, always check the flight and hotel price together versus what you would pay separately (by finding the cheapest flight only and hotel only prices using, for example, Google). When I went to Nashville with British Airways in August 2019, I booked my First Class flight + hotel together, effectively getting about 1 night free. This technique also works with car hire for both Expedia and British Airways.
Further, if booking with British Airways, you will get extra bonus Avios for your hotel that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise! And finally, your holiday will be ATOL or ABTA protected, giving you extra protection in case anything goes wrong.
If searching on Expedia, you can order results by “Package Discount” so that you are seeing the largest (but potentially not overall highest %) savings first.
Saving on Packages with Cashback
Finally, whether you are adding on just 1 night of a hotel/car or booking your full holiday, you can get better cashback rates on packages than you can on just a flight. For example, TopCashback currently offers 3.5% cashback on package bookings made on Expedia, versus 1% for a flight alone. So make sure you check cashback before completing your purchase!