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Booking an all-inclusive travel package that includes some combination of airfare, accommodations, rental car, meals, airport and baggage transfers, and sightseeing can be the most cost-effective way to travel to Kauai.

Package tours are not the same as escorted tours. They are simply a way to buy airfare and accommodations (and sometimes extras like sightseeing tours and rental cars) at the same time. When you're visiting Hawaii, a package can be a smart way to go. You can sometimes save so much money by buying all the pieces of your trip through a packager that your transpacific airfare ends up, in effect, being free. That's because packages are sold in bulk to tour operators, who then resell them to the public at a cost that drastically undercuts standard rates.

Packages, however, vary widely. Some offer a better class of hotels than others. Some offer the same hotels for lower prices. With some packagers, your choice of accommodations and travel days may be limited. Which package is right for you depends entirely on what you want.

Start out by reading this guide. Do a little homework, and read up on Kauai so that you can be a smart consumer. Compare the rack rates that we've published to the discounted rates being offered by the packagers to see what kinds of deals they're offering: Are you actually being offered a substantial savings, or have they just gussied up the rack rates to make their offer sound like a deal? If you're offered a stay in a hotel we haven't recommended, do more research to learn about it, especially if the franchise isn't a reliable one. It's not a deal if you end up at a dump.

Be sure to read the fine print. Make sure you know exactly what's included in the price you're being quoted, and what's not. Are hotel taxes and airport transfers included, or will you have to pay extra? Before you commit to a package, make sure you know how much flexibility you have, say, if your kid gets sick or your boss suddenly asks you to adjust your vacation schedule. Some packagers require ironclad commitments, while others will go with the flow, charging only minimal fees for changes or cancellations.

The best place to start looking for a package deal is the travel section of your local Sunday newspaper. Also check the ads in the back of such national travel magazines as Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel and Travel Holiday. Liberty Travel (tel. 888/271-1584; ww2.libertytravel.com), for instance, one of the biggest packagers in the Northeast, usually boasts a full-page ad in Sunday newspapers. American Express Travel (tel. 800/AXP-6898; www.americanexpress.com/travel) can also book you a well-priced Hawaiian vacation; it advertises in many Sunday newspaper travel sections.

Other reliable packagers include the airlines themselves, which often package their flights with accommodations. Among the airlines offering good-value package deals to Hawaii are American Airlines FlyAway Vacations (tel. 800/321-2121; www.aavacations.com), Continental Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/634-5555 or 800/301-3800; www.covacations.com), Delta Dream Vacations (tel. 800/872-7786; www.deltavacations.com), and United Vacations (tel. 800/328-6877; www.unitedvacations.com). If you're traveling to the islands from Canada, ask your travel agent about package deals through Air Canada Vacations (tel. 800/776-3000; www.aircanadavacations.com).

Excellent deals, like a rental car and 6 nights in a Kauai condo starting at $460 per person (based on double occupancy), can be found at More Hawaii For Less (tel. 800/967-6687; www.hawaii4less.com), a California-based company that specializes in air/condominium packages at unbelievable prices.

Great Deals at Hawaii's Top Hotel Chain

The Outrigger Hotel and Resorts chain (tel. 866/956-4262; outrigger.com) has hotels and condos on Kauai. They range dramatically in price and style, from the elegant Outrigger Waipoli Beach Resort & Spa to the moderate Outrigger at Lae nani. There are plenty of package deals available, including family plans, discounted senior rates, and room and car package deals.

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.