A PLANE

Lufthansa and BMI have an interesting relationship. The German national airline owns a chunk of the carrier formerly known as British Midland. Many flights within Europe are "code-shares" - ie, one airline operates the flight but the other attaches its prefix (LH or BD, respectively) and sells seats on its own behalf.

The funny thing is that fares for seats on exactly the same flights can vary widely, depending on which airline you ask. From London Heathrow, a weekend return flight to Cologne on sale at £161 on BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com), was only £112 through Lufthansa (08457 737 747; www.lufthansa.co.uk). To Munich and back, BMI quoted £269, while Lufthansa wanted £244.

Even if your travel plans do not include Germany, you should check out the fares offered online by both airlines to other destinations. On the Heathrow-Paris run, BMI came out ahead with a fare of £63 return, £5 lower than Lufthansa. But make sure you are comparing like with like - to Madrid, for example, BMI quotes £149, while Lufthansa's fare is only £118 - this price, however, involves a change of planes in Frankfurt rather than BMI's direct flight. These fares were researched for travel out on Friday 26 September, returning on 29 September, and are likely to increase close to departure.

A TRAIN

In much of Europe, there is no advantage to booking rail tickets in advance. But in Germany, travellers who book long-distance trips ahead are rewarded by substantial savings. On a trip from Frankfurt airport to Nuremberg, for example, the "walk-up" return fare is €79 (£56). Book a week in advance through the German Rail/Deutsche Bahn office in London (08702 43 53 63), and the fare falls to €42 (£30). Between Munich airport and Salzburg (on German Rail, even though it is in Austria), you can save €27 (£19) on the normal fare of €62.50 (£45) if you book ahead. There are further savings if you travel with one or more companions.

A BOAT

Hoverspeed doesn't hover anymore, and its Newhaven-Dieppe run ends for the winter at the end of this month, but the fast-ferry operator still skims from Dover to Calais in about an hour throughout winter. The company (08705 240 241; www.hoverspeed.com) has just released its early-booking offer for Christmas and New Year. If you book by 20 November, a Dover to Calais return costs £119 for travel in December and the first five days of 2004.

The last outbound ferry on Christmas Eve leaves at 4pm; inbound at 7pm; on Boxing Day, the first service from Dover is at 7am, and from Calais at 9.30am.

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