For the first time in a generation, the supply of last-minute holidays from the UK to the Mediterranean has almost run dry.
The big package-holiday companies have scant availability for one-week departures from any airport this weekend. As post-Olympic demand surges, bargain trips have vanished: the cheapest departure tomorrow from Gatwick with Thomson, the UK’s biggest tour operator, is a week in Mallorca for almost £900.Kane Pirie, the chief executive of Travel Republic, said: “Consumers seem to be in a ‘post-Mo glow’. The combination of a strong pound to euro, wet UK summer and punishing APD [Air Passenger Duty] charges on long-haul flights is fuelling a mass exodus to the Med.” His company is offering a week in a hotel in Faro on the Portuguese Algarve, departing tonight from Stansted, for about £600.
Resorts from Portugal to Greece have plenty of beds to spare, but there are insufficient aircraft seats to meet demand over the two remaining weeks of the school holidays. Donna Waddington, an agent in Cheshire for Travel Counsellors, has been selling holidays for 23 years. “I have never known anything like it,” she said. “We are getting people away, but only if they are prepared to be flexible with their destination – such as Turkey rather than Spain – and are prepared to trade up.”
The Independent telephoned a dozen agents around the country in search of a last-minute one-week package for two to Spain or Greece, departing this weekend. An agent in Nottingham initially offered a self-catering apartment in Mallorca, but could find only one seat on the inbound flight.
In Crawley, the agent suggested a week in Greece with outbound flights from neighbouring Gatwick – but with the return leg landing in Manchester. “There is nothing left from the North-west,” was the blunt response from a Liverpool travel agent.
Travellers who decide to put their own trips together have access to plenty of beds, from Portugal to Turkey – but fares to the sun are at record highs. Between Gatwick and Malaga, the prime holiday route from the UK, the cheapest non-stop flights departing today for a week were being sold by easyJet for £518 return.
Connecting flights are cheaper, with the best deal on the comparison website Skyscanner involving an outward flight via Copenhagen and, on the return leg, an overnight stay in Trondheim. Routings via Stockholm, Oslo and Frankfurt also offered savings.
British Airways last night had two seats left for the Gatwick-Malaga-Gatwick trip at £759 – more expensive than a BA long-haul return flight on the same dates to Dubai, more than three times the distance.
But the high prices end abruptly once the school term starts. Matt Hall, the deputy managing director of Low Cost Holidays, said: “For the next seven to 10 days, it is very tight. If you can leave your departure for a couple of weeks, availability is much better. Prices in the next week are roughly double what they are for September.”