The airlines are finally beginning to offer business class bargains directly on their Web sites and from their reservation centers. How low are the prices? I’ve heard of some fares dropping to around $1,500 round-trip between certain US and European destinations.

The real news here is not that the major transatlantic airlines are discounting their airfares. It’s that they are discounting openly and selling these discounts directly to the public. For years, business travelers who knew the ropes and who had good travel agents have been able to score consistently lower business-class fares.

Consolidators, the outlet malls of the airline industry, have been selling discounted business-class seats for years. Now, packagers have more flexibility than ever to include business-class fares with hotels and rental cars that can save a bundle.

I just got off the phone and Internet checking on business-class airfares between Boston and Paris for mid-May. For Icelandair, the listed rate on their Web site was $3,559. On Expedia, I found a “special rate” for only $2,136. Destination Europe offered a fare of $2,743.

On days when Icelandair isn’t flying that route the lowest business class fare is about $6,000 on the Internet and about $5,000 from Destination Europe.

The recently-promoted Continental business class deals may exist; however, they are hard to come by. They are limited to routes flown by Continental and then by capacity on Continental aircraft. The consolidator and tour operator business class deals are much more available and offered on dozens of airlines.

The real bargains begin when business-class airfares are combined with hotels, rental cars and other amenities.

Here are some examples from the 1800FlyEurope.com Web pages. These are business class air, car and hotel packages June, July and August departures. Naturally, these are based on two people traveling together. These prices provide an idea of what kinds of business class bargains can be found.

(These prices include business class airfare on major international airlines, 2 nights in deluxe hotel, seven days rental of Mercedes Benz, a GPS and a cell phone. Not all taxes are included.)

* Boston/NY to Paris $4,049
* Miami/Chicago to Paris $4,159
* Los Angeles/San Francisco to Paris $4,319

It’s enough to make a businessman think of bringing his wife.

Yes, I’m overjoyed that the airlines seem to be looking at discounting their business class seats over their own reservation systems. However even better bargains with far more availability can be found through consolidators and packagers.

This is where a good travel agent and a visit to a consolidator site can make a big difference.