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Inside travel: How to pick up a treat on a special trip

The couple canoodling in the back row of British Airways flight 2588 in May during the cabin-crew strike were in luck. Not only did the flight operate normally, but when the on-board staff on the flight from Gatwick to Venice discovered the pair were newlyweds, they decided to help them celebrate their honeymoon. Two quarter-bottles of champagne were brought discreetly from the Club Europe cabin to the rear of the plane. Only later did it transpire that the assumption that they had married in the past day or two was slightly adrift; they were, in fact, heading home after a honeymoon in London.

The happy couple comprised one example of how the travel industry, even in difficult times, can make a difference for people with something to celebrate. The Independent Traveller has been investigating some other possibilities.

If you are just married, or booked to travel on your birthday, calibrate your expectations correctly. Low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet never offer freebies, whatever the cause for celebrations. So, book on a "full-service" airline; at least some fizz may be sent back for you.

A celebratory upgrade is unlikely, given that airline accountants are increasingly hard-nosed about indulging passengers in a manner incompatible with the price of their ticket.

If you are determined to try it, then wait for a year in which your birthday falls on an off-peak day; Tuesdays and Wednesdays are best. Don't be tempted to fib: it will take only a second for your story to be verified by checking your passport. But should you be blighted by a birthday a few days before Christmas or from 2-5 January, or in late July or August, you can probably forget about an upgrade: airlines are usually flying full.

To avoid the embarrassment of proclaiming your good news, enlist the support of generous friends or family: they can pre-book and pre-pay an on-board treat for you, such as a birthday cake. Sometimes the crew will add some extra value, such as presenting a bottle of champagne to someone who has a cake booked for them.

But as airlines trim back their costs, such special services are dwindling. While Virgin Atlantic offers four personalised cupcakes as a birthday gift for £6 (including a birthday card that can be presented to the person during the flight) or a bottle of champagne for £25, British Airways unromantically suggests buying a cake at the airport and taking it on board.

The chances of benefitting from a birthday bonus increase if you head west to the US.

It is well worth calling ahead or checking online to see if there are any special deals. In Tampa, Florida, the Busch Gardens theme park offers a free safari on your birthday (normally $33.25/£17 per person). Follow it up with a free high-calorie treat from Krispy Kreme doughnuts – only in America.

High culture is also on offer, particularly in the city of Boston. The excellent Gardner Museum awards free admission on your birthday – and if the anniversary happens to fall on a Monday, when the gallery is closed, you can opt for the Sunday or Tuesday instead.

Close by, you used to be able to benefit if you chose to visit the fascinating John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum at Columbia Point in Boston on President's Day (16 February), though this courtesy appears to have been withdrawn and there is no way to avoid the $12 (£8) admission fee. Go skiing instead. Numerous US winter-sports resorts in America offer free skiing or snowboarding on your birthday; they include Belleayre Mountain in New York State, Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire, and Bear Mountain, the Homewood Mountain Resort and Snow Summit in California.

Closer to home, skiers with a birthday during the winter should consider the pretty Italian resort of Pinzolo. Anyone celebrating their birthday gets a free lift ticket – and a free three-course lunch in the mountain restaurant. At the same resort, even your gender could be a benefit. To stimulate business before Christmas, the resort deems 17 December to be Ladies' Day: all women receive a free lift ticket for the Superskirama region (covering six resorts, including Madonna di Campiglio and the glacier skiing of Passo Tonale). Call 00 39 0465 501 256 or see funiviepinzolo.it.

Honeymooners can benefit from some long-established deals. Kuoni offers a range of honeymooners' benefits, which includes free upgrades and gifts at certain hotels.

One destination that has done more than anywhere to entice couples to wed abroad is the Atlantic island of Bermuda: take a look at gotobermuda.co.uk/ freeweddingairfare.aspx.

Couples intending to tie the knot by the end of October get a refund on the price of two BA returns from Lodon to Bermuda, in return for marrying there and booking at least four nights' accommodation on the island.

Finally, if you don't have the right kind of marital status or birthday, then you might have the right sort of name. A firm specialising in walking holidays in the Alps offered a discount to anyone named Alf who booked to stay at the Hotel Alf.

And when Ryanair first established a hub in Charleroi, south of Brussels, a decade ago, the rival carrier Virgin Express dreamt up a publicity stunt to appeal to expatriates working in the Belgian capital. The Brussels-based airline offered any Irish citizen with the last name of Ryan a free flight – but it was only available as far as Gatwick.

Additional research by Laura Ridgers