Something to Declare
THE COLUMN THAT SAVES YOU MONEY
Saturday 21 August 1999
The CFA franc
The euro is hardly a new concept. In Francophone Africa, the CFA franc has been performing splendidly as a single currency for years. With 13 countries signed up, it outclasses the euro. And another advantage: notes and coins are already in circulation.
Any traveller to West or Central Africa will know that in the Francophone area, only French francs or the local variety - whose initials stand for Communaute Financielle Africaine - will do nicely. Handily, the CFA franc is pegged at a rate of 100 to the French franc. Even more handily, this is twice the rate that it was five years ago, meaning that life for the traveller is much cheaper than it was.
Just one hiccup; there are in fact two CFA francs, one for the western area and the other for Central Africa. The Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest issues francs for Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and Togo, while its central African counterpart prints and mints for Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Guinea-Bissau. In theory, these are exchangeable at face value, but sometimes it can be a bit of a struggle.
Just one thought: if two noughts could be knocked off the CFA franc, or it could be renamed the CFA centime, it would match the value of the French franc exactly. But since France's currency is due to expire in a couple of years, once the euro is in full effect, it's probably not worth the bother.
Bargain of the week
One of many Greek islands, from Corfu to Crete, for not a lot more than the cost of a charter
For the first time ever, the week's best travel bargain is a deal on Olympic Airways. As has been reported on this page, the Greek national carrier is in a mess and has brought in British Airways to try to turn it around. The new management is already having an effect, because the airline is now offering a fare of pounds 109 one way from London via Athens to any Greek island, and pounds 210 for the round trip. This represents a saving of around one-quarter of the previous fare, and is available for travel between now and the end of October; in November, the fares fall to pounds 99 single/pounds 186 return.
The deal is available direct from Olympic (0171-409 3400) or through travel agents. One word of warning: the phone lines are very busy, and you could find yourself listening to a bouzouki version of "Never on Sunday" for an annoyingly long time.
Neat idea of the week
Taxi plus train for less than the cost of the rail ticket alone
Anyone living within 10 miles of the main rail line north of London, between St Albans and Bedford, can dispense with that traditional minicab or having to use overpriced parking when using Gatwick airport.
A new ticket called "RoundRider" gives you a taxi from your home to the nearest rail station, a return train ticket to Gatwick and a taxi back home again - for pounds 60 for four people.
If, instead, you just fancy a day at the seaside in Brighton, then a group of four people will pay just pounds 10 each for the taxi and train experience - a lot less than the normal rail fare alone. Call the "Outback integrated transport line" on 0800 389 5577.
Warning of the week
The limit that British Airways Holidays places on compensation if your trip happens to go wrong:
"The maximum amount of compensation we will consider paying is limited to a refund of the cost of your holiday, a refund of any directly attributable expenses, and a daily sum of pounds 25 per person. This maximum applies where everything has gone wrong and you have obtained no enjoyment whatsoever from your holiday. In any other situation, we will pay you a proportion of the maximum at our discretion."
Reminder of the week Thousands of gap year travellers are returning to Britain to start college. Many of them signed up for The Independent/ Boots Gap Year Travel Cover competition, in which the first prize is pounds 2,000. To stand a chance of winning, participants must send in their entries to arrive before 17 September 1999.
The address for entries is Freepost, PO Box 193, Nottingham NG3 1BR. Anyone beginning their gap year now can get details of the special Travel Cover policy from any branch of Boots.
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