News: Air battle cuts Italy prices

Affordable flights to Athens
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The Independent Travel

Fierce competition on air routes to northern Italy is forcing fares down, even for weekend departures in the peak season of July and August when prices are normally high.

Fierce competition on air routes to northern Italy is forcing fares down, even for weekend departures in the peak season of July and August when prices are normally high.

Meridiana is the only airline flying from Britain to Florence but intense rivalry from airlines offering cheap flights to Pisa, 50 miles west, means that its flights in July from Gatwick to the Tuscan city are available for as little as £122.

Another gateway to Florence is Bologna, 50 miles north. The city's Guglielmo Marconi airport re-opened this week after a month of maintenance work - and travellers can expect bargains to this beautiful city. Test bookings made for flights on Saturdays in August (out on 14 August, back on 21 August), reveal fares significantly lower than in previous years.

British Airways flies three times a day from Gatwick to Bologna; its lowest fare is £133. BA also flies from Manchester, with a fare of £169. From Stansted, easyJet's daily departure is available for £121.

You can travel much more cheaply on Ryanair from Stansted to Forli, 40 miles south-east of Bologna; for flights on 14 and 21 August, the fare at the time of going to press was £74.

Financial and regulatory problems may be plaguing Italy's national airline, Alitalia, but it is still launching routes. Travellers from northern England are set to benefit from Alitalia's new twice-daily service from Manchester to Milan Malpensa, which began this month. The airline is competing with BA, and has introduced fares as low as £99 return.

Alitalia will get passengers there and back more quickly; its Airbus A319 is faster than BA's regional jet, shaving between 10 and 20 minutes from the journey time. The new flights will also facilitate connections to Alitalia's global network via the airline's Milan hub, providing yet another alternative to travelling via London.

Alitalia (08705 448 259; www.alitalia.co.uk); British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com);

easyJet (0871 750 0100; www.easyJet.com); Meridiana (020-7839 2222; www.meridiana.it/en); Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com)

Affordable flights to Athens

A month from now, Athens will be invaded by tens of thousands of Olympic competitors, sports fans and media staff. But the indications are that many potential holidaymakers have been deterred from visiting the Greek capital by the prospect of high fares and hotel rates that will accompany the event, which lasts from 13 to 29 August.

For key departures before and after the Games, easyJet (0871 750 0100; www.easyJet.com) was previously charging its highest-ever fares for flights to and from Athens: £516 return from Gatwick on 13 August, returning on 29 August. But airlines - including easyJet - have been laying on extra capacity to try to cash in on demand. As a result, fares are now falling, and anyone who booked six months ago has lost out; the same easyJet flights are now available at £456.

Fares on British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) have fallen even more sharply. Flying from Heathrow to Athens on 13 August, returning to Gatwick on 29 August, the current fare is £580 return, down from a high of £861. Olympic Airlines (0870 606 0640, www.olympicairlines.com) has fares for £475 return, down £90.

Fares are lower for travellers prepared to change planes en route: through the website www.opodo.co.uk, Heathrow to Athens via Bucharest on the Romanian airline Tarom is £398.

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