Travel Long Haul: Luxury within easy reach

The strong pound means that five-star breaks are on offer for pleasingly small amounts.
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Seasons are easy to predict in travel: in summer, the strongest demand comes from holiday-makers, in winter from business travellers. This applies on everything from hotel rates to air fares. During the summer peak, for example, the gap between economy and business-class fares narrows because of the extra demand from leisure travellers.

As soon as autumn arrives, though, the special deals on air fares reappear - and the four- and five-star hotels raise their rates to benefit from higher demand from business travellers.

This September, the cheap flights are certainly back; the past few weeks have seen the mother of all fares wars on European airlines. But among upmarket hotels some bargains have stuck, which means you can enjoy a luxury break for pleasingly small amounts this autumn. Whatever the strength of sterling does for Britain's manufacturing industry, the effect for the traveller is to bring luxury within easy reach.

A company called Magic Eye is offering a week in the five-star Don Carlos in Marbella costing pounds 545 this month and next, including flights from Gatwick, car rental and breakfast. Good value, indeed - but for only 20 per cent more you could enjoy a fortnight in the Far East. A Singapore and Penang combination, for example, costs pounds 659, with three nights on the first island and 10 on the second, staying at the Casuarina Beach. And for even less, pounds 595, there's a three-centre Malaysian trip taking in the capital, the Taman Negra jungle resort and Langkawi Island, including flights on British Airways.

If you can't spare a fortnight, how about a pre-Christmas long weekend in the five-star Hotel Sacher in Vienna? A three-night stay could be yours for a shade over pounds 500, including scheduled flights from Heathrow on Austrian Airlines. Further east, a three-night B&B package at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel in Oman works out at pounds 828, including flights on BA.

The image of Africa, and in particular Kenya, has taken a hammering this year. Consequently a 12-night stay at the five-star Indian Ocean Beach Club 20 miles south of Mombasa costs a ridiculous pounds 699. Further south, the Mount Nelson in Cape Town has a special of around pounds 200 per night double, which you could combine with air fares of under pounds 400 at present for a spring break.

The one place in America where daylight is irrelevant is Las Vegas, which opens its latest luxury lodging on 15 October. Even by the extravagant standards of Nevada's largest city, Bellagio is breathtakingly ambitious. Built around the theme of northern Italy, it will have an imitation Lake Como and real works of art by Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse. If this doesn't appeal, you need not wait long for the Paris Casino Resort - which promises the unusual concept of French-style gondola rides - or the Mandalay Bay, (very) loosely based on Burma.

Back in the real Asia, the Peninsula in Hong Kong is building up to its 70th birthday celebrations on 11 December. If you want to join in, there is still availability that night - and on many others - at an autumn special rate of HK$2,240 (pounds 178) for a "superior double".

Finally, the most crowded place on earth in 2000 could well be Sydney: firstly for the millennium celebrations, but later for the Olympic Games. If you visit Australia's largest city now, you'll have to endure a veritable Beirut of building works. But from the swimming pool on the roof of the Old Sydney Parkroyal, you can float above the turmoil of George Street and gaze instead on the harmonious trinity of the Bridge, Opera House and Harbour. The weekend special rate (including the 10 per cent tax used to finance the Olympian building works) is just A$253 (pounds 144) double, including a heavenly breakfast.

All prices are quoted per person, based on two people sharing, except in the case of accommodation-only quoted as double rooms.

Al Bustan Palace Hotel, Oman: packages are available through Elite Vacations, 0181-864 9818. Bellagio, Las Vegas: 001 702 693 8771, or 001 888 987 6667 for reservations. Don Carlos, Marbella: packages available through Magic Breaks, 0161-929 5268. Malaysia: packages available through Airwaves, 0181-875 1188. Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town: 00 27 21 23 1000. Peninsula, Hong Kong: 00 852 23 666 251. Sacher, Vienna: packages available through Austria Travel, 0171-222 2430. Singapore and Penang: packages available through Premier Holidays, 01223 516677. Old Sydney Parkroyal, 00 61 2 9252 0524