Last Minute Blues

Book a last-minute holiday. There are bargains galore for late bookings. So I was assured by the advertisements on the travel pages of every paper. And this year I decided to be bold, wait till the last moment, have a great holiday, save a fortune and wave to all those suckers who had paid full price.

Book a last-minute holiday. There are bargains galore for late bookings. So I was assured by the advertisements on the travel pages of every paper. And this year I decided to be bold, wait till the last moment, have a great holiday, save a fortune and wave to all those suckers who had paid full price.

Except that the ads don't tell the full story. I first tried booking a family beach holiday through Virgin, which has an encouraging phone message directing you to its "10 top offers". But, as with every travel firm I tried, after a week or so studying the brochures, I found I was rather better informed than the "travel consultants" who answered the phone.

My travel consultant could add nothing to the brochure descriptions and, after I had done the sums, agreed with me that the last-minute offers, with extra "flight supplements" and the fee for picking up tickets on departure, added up to more than the brochure price.

"How can you call it a last-minute offer?" I wailed. "Ah," she replied triumphantly, "this is a 'late search', not a 'late deal'."

At JMC, a delightful Scottish lady found me a couple of last-minute deals. But my suspicions were aroused when she began to flatter my virility. "It's a short walk to the beach," she said. "Och, you'll probably sprint it." No description was available, and again it didn't seem to be any cheaper than the brochure price. The word "deal" has a curious meaning in travel circles.

So, where better to go for a last-minute deal than lastminute.com? I tried the website and commendably it also gave a phone number for the lastminute.com "travel specialist". Even more commendably, the travel specialist was honest enough to tell me that she merely had in front of her a list from a travel agency and that, if I wanted their number, I could ring them. My faith in Martha Lane Fox's magical powers is not what it was.

Deciding on France, I then found a company which did cheap fares to Nîmes, only to find that Nîmes airport was to close in August. Time was getting short, I was getting desperate. I turned to my local Lunn Poly. "We don't recommend last-minute holidays for families. We can't guarantee where you'll end up."

In the end I did find an excellent last-minute holiday, an apartment in a complex, with pool, in the Cÿte d'Azur resort of Ste Maxime. But even that wasn't entirely happy travelling. I phoned the company, Motours, on the Sunday before we were due to leave. Apparently, the French firm in the resort were on answerphone on Sundays, so no bookings could be made on that day (it's only the busiest holiday month after all). They'd ring back next day.

They didn't. So I phoned them and booked a brochure-advertised family apartment with an extra shower room and a balcony overlooking the pool. There was no shower room. The balcony overlooked a busy road. But, a midnight haranguing of the man at reception led to a change of apartment to one with the advertised facilities.

We did have to change all the sheets, but as we stripped beds and chucked out dirty linen at 1am, I finally had that magical feeling of being on holiday - a very last-minute holiday.

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