One is 3,500 miles across the Atlantic, the other is less than 200 miles down the M6. But research by The Independent shows it is cheaper to fly from Manchester to New York to buy Christmas gifts than it is to take the train to London for a weekend's shopping.

One is 3,500 miles across the Atlantic, the other is less than 200 miles down the M6. But research by The Independent shows it is cheaper to fly from Manchester to New York to buy Christmas gifts than it is to take the train to London for a weekend's shopping.

Falling flight costs, a weak dollar and the fact that everything from dining out to electronic goods is cheaper in the United States have resulted in thousands of Britons choosing to travel further to save money on their Christmas goods.

A bargain flight from Manchester to the Big Apple, two nights in a three-star, central hotel and a suitcase full of this year's "must have" goods such as an Apple iPod, designer jeans and a pair of best-selling trainers comes to £982.85, according to our research.

The same goods, plus a return ticket from Manchester to London on Virgin trains and two nights in the three-star Thistle Hotel in the West End will cost £1,143.94, meaning that Atlantic-crossing shoppers save more than £160.

The biggest bargains were to be had in the purchase of Seven For All Mankind designer jeans, which cost $215 (£116) in New York's Barney's store, compared with £220 in Harvey Nichols. Apple iPods were the equivalent of £58 cheaper in New York, while the top five chart CDs came to more than £32 less in the American city.

British travel to New York is now on the increase for the first time since the 11 September terror attacks and Britons have overtaken the Japanese in the international league table of travellers to New York. More than 870,000 flew from London to New York last year, an increase of 4,000 on 2002, according to the tourist body New York & Company.

A staggering 91 per cent of them go shopping while there - the only activity that is more popular is eating. The average stay is five nights, although a third stay for just two to three days, reflecting the scale of the minibreak market.

Sean Tipton, of the Association of British Travel Agents, said: "Our members have seen a huge increase in the numbers of people booking pre-Christmas minibreaks to New York over the last few months The cost of flights to New York is now cheaper than it has ever been, partly because airlines are desperate to drum up custom after 9/11.

"In the 1960s, a ticket to New York would have cost £200 when the average weekly wage was £20 a week. Now you can pick up a bargain flight for less than £200."

He added: "The weak dollar has helped to make going to New York even more of a bargain for Britons, and in any case, goods have always been cheaper in America.

"In addition to that, Brits know that they are going to get a warm welcome in the US, and aren't going to have any problems with a language barrier."

However, British consumers heading Stateside for a festive shopping frenzy may risk having their Christmas spirits dampened by the sudden appearance of a customs officer in the Nothing to Declare channel at Manchester Airport.

A spokeswoman for HM Customs and Excise refused to give exact details for "operational reasons", but confirmed that extra staff are drafted into Britain's ports during the run-up to Christmas.

Customs regulations impose a maximum limit of £145 on gifts and souvenirs that you may bring into Britain from the United States without paying duty and value-added tax. Any purchases over this amount are subject to 17.5 per cent VAT plus import taxes, which vary from item to item. An inability - or refusal - to pay could result in your goods being impounded until you come up with the cash.

The duty laws came as shock to the footballer Wayne Rooney's girlfriend, Colleen McLoughlin, after she indulged in a shopping spree in New York. As she dragged two large suitcases of designer clothes through the green channel of Manchester airport, she was stopped by customs officers and landed with a £3,000 demand for duty.

"We do accept that people make a genuine mistake about the duty payable, and sometimes come back with their last fiver in their pocket and cannot pay straight away. The action taken varies from person to person, and we do give people time to pay," the friendly customs spokeswoman said.

For more details, visit www.hmce.gov.uk.

THE MANCUNIAN SHOPPER'S CHOICE

Apple iPod
New York: £161 ($299)
London: £219
(both from Apple iPod stores)

Nike Air Max 95s Men's
New York: £54.04 ($99.99)
London: £115
(both from Niketown stores)

Gap women's velvet jacket
New York: £47.56 ($88)
London: £68
(both from Gap stores)

Seven For All Mankind jeans
New York: £116.21 ($215 from Barney's)
London: £220 (from Harvey Nichols)

Nintendo Gameboy Advance SP
New York: £43.23 ($79.99 from the Best Buy chain)
London: £69.99 (from the HMV chain)

Five top album chart CDs
New York: £37.81 ($69.95 from Virgin Megastore)
London: £69.95 (from HMV store)

THE TOTAL BILL

NEW YORK
Return flight from Manchester with two nights in the three-star Roosevelt Hotel: (package with www.expedia.co.uk)
TOTAL: £523
TOTAL, INCLUDING GIFTS: £982.85

LONDON
Return train ticket to London with Virgin Trains (£182) plus two nights in the three-star Thistle Hotel (£200)
TOTAL: £382
TOTAL, INCLUDING GIFTS: £1,143.94

THE SAVING: £161.09

Comments