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Before you search for the lowest airfare on your own, you may want to consider booking your flight as part of a package deal -- a way to travel independently but pay group rates.

A package tour is not an escorted tour, in which you're led around by a guide. Except by cruise ships visiting certain islands, the option of being escorted around six or so Bahamian islands on an escorted tour does not exist.

Package tours are simply a way to buy the airfare, accommodations, and other elements of your trip (such as car rentals, airport transfers, and sometimes even activities) at the same time and often at discounted prices.

One good source of package deals is the airlines themselves. Most major airlines offer air/land packages, including American Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/321-2121; www.aavacations.com), Delta Vacations (tel. 800/654-6559; www.deltavacations.com), Continental Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/829-7777; www.covacations.com), and United Vacations (tel. 888/854-3899; www.unitedvacations.com). Several big online travel agencies -- Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Site59, and Lastminute.com -- also do a brisk business in packages.

Liberty Travel (tel. 888/271-1584; ww2.libertytravel.com) is one of the biggest packagers in the U.S. Northeast, and it usually boasts a full-page ad in Sunday papers. There's also TourScan, Inc., 1051 Boston Post Rd., Darien, CT 06820 (tel. 800/962-2080 in the U.S.; www.tourscan.com), which researches the best-value vacation at each hotel and condo.

For British travelers, package tours to The Bahamas can be booked through Kuoni Travel, Kuoni House, Dorking, Surrey RH5 4AZ (tel. 01306/747-002; www.kuoni.co.uk), which offers both land and air packages to destinations such as Nassau and Freeport, and to some places in the Out Islands. They also offer packages for self-catering villas on Paradise Island.

For an all-inclusive package, Just-A-Vacation, Inc., 15501 Ebbynside Ct., Bowie, MD 20716 (tel. 301/559-0510), specializes in all-inclusive resorts on the islands of The Bahamas, plus other destinations in the Caribbean, including Barbados, Jamaica, Aruba, St. Lucia, and Antigua. Club Med (tel. 888/WEB-CLUB [932-2582]; www.clubmed.com) has various all-inclusive options throughout the Caribbean and The Bahamas.

Travel packages are also listed in the travel section of your local Sunday newspaper. Or check ads in the national travel magazines, such as Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine, Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, and Condé Nast Traveler.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.