I recently booked a fly-drive holiday to Florida at a cost of pounds 119 per person, plus a whopping pounds 158 per week for car insurance. If I just wanted the flight, knowing I could get a fully insured car for less than pounds 158, the flight-only price was pounds 169. It was therefore less expensive to pay the outlandish insurance costs. Phoning around the various firms advertising on teletext, it seems that the ruse is not unusual. How can we beat the system? Can we not take out our own insurance before we travel?

Eileen Heathfield


The Travel Editor replies: Holidays to Florida are cheap this year - it's the old story of supply outstripping demand, although more due to a rise in capacity than a lack of consumer interest. There are more companies trying to sell seats cheaply and teletext is an effective way of doing this.

Since 16 November, this market has benefited from the removal of "compulsory" holiday insurance. Until then, tour operators offered "discount" holidays on condition that customers bought their (often inflated) insurance. Now you can travel with independently organised insurance. However, car insurance is different.

Tour operators generally display their fly-drive prices to the US excluding car insurance costs. These are separately levied in dollars by the car- hire company in the US. The car-hire companies subsidise the tour operator, allowing for cheaper fly-drive prices. In short, you have to take out the insurance offered by the American company that the tour operator books the car with. You can take out your own insurance before travelling, but you will still be bound to the costs levied by the car-hire company.

Some travel clubs offer discounted insurance deals. For example, Talk Travel Direct (tel: 01709 513852) charges a pounds 25, all-inclusive booking fee, which allows members to make substantial savings on their holidays by avoiding the usual 10 to 15 per cent agency commission or by purchasing insurance and car hire at cheaper rates.

Travelling independently - flight only, separate travel insurance and car hire - is not cheaper. Even with the hidden, "outlandish" insurance costs, fly-drive packages seem to be the least expensive option.