Nice Prices

Do you consider yourself a free spirit who'd rather stay home than take a pre-packaged trip?Well, consider this: You may be able to cut your travel costs nearly in half by booking isolated elements of your journey through a package tour operator.

Packagers buy hotel rooms and plane seats at bulk rates, and pass some of the savings on to clients. Independent travelers often can take advantage of these rates without signing on for the complete deal.

How do you save?If you find a package trip that includes a stay at an interesting hotel, call the tour operator and ask about making room-only reservations. Room savings typically range from 10 to as much as 40 percent, according to Bob Whitley, president of the United States Tour Operators Association. If you want only the air portion, ask whether the company has an air consolidation department.

Tour operators can also sell discounted rail passes and car rentals, as well as rooms in sold-out cities. Some tour operators will work only with travel agents. For more information, call USTOA at 800/468-7862.