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Destination of the week: North America - from London, cheaper to reach than Scotland

Destination of the week: North America - from London, cheaper to reach than Scotland

Over the Atlantic, the airlines have been waiting to see who would blink first and have now cut fares so savagely that they look almost too good to be true.

This week, it was the KLM/Northwest combo that came up with a tranche of fares, sold through discount agents, that are extraordinarily generous. "It's the best I've seen for a long time," said Peter Grimes of the flight specialist Quest Travel.

What sets the fares apart from the usual New Year deals is the travel dates - departures any day between now and the end of May, apart from the Easter holidays (6-22 April) - and the fares. From Gatwick, you can fly on Northwest to New York, Boston or Atlanta for £174, all via Detroit.

For comparison, a standard-class open return train ticket from London to Glasgow costs £1 more.

Two cities that rarely feature among the bargains are New Orleans (£230) and Las Vegas (£235). To California, the fares to San Francisco and Los Angeles are both £215 - of which a staggering £55 is tax.

Any of these fares can be arranged on an "open-jaw", basis, so you can fly out to one city and return from another for half the sum of the fares; out to Atlanta and back from New Orleans costs £203, while out to Las Vegas and home from San Francisco is £225.

Other North American destinations are served by KLM from 15 UK departure points, via Amsterdam. Mexico City is a snip at £299, while two excellent Canadian fares are Vancouver at £275 and Toronto at £210.

To get these fares, you must book by close of business on Wednesday 31 January. Quest Travel (020-8546 6000) is remaining open to 9pm on that day.

Bargain of the week: buy now to lock into the best fares worldwide

The January sales are drawing to a close in travel, too. To secure some good deals for travel in the first half of 2001, you should be aware of the cut-off dates for the following tickets.

Monday 29 January is the last day for the current round of New Year "World Offers" from British Airways (0845 77 333 77, www.britishairways.com). These are available for travel all the way through to the end of June (with a 10-day Easter blackout from 5 to 15 April), though research suggests that the later the date of travel, the higher the fare - fly before Easter for the best deals.

Pick of the European bargains from London are to Geneva (£77), Copenhagen (£89) and Budapest (£99), though since these have been on sale for the past month many of the choice dates are already full.

Regional departures, as usual, are not so appetising, though Manchester-Madrid for £121 and Manchester-Amsterdam at £89 are worth checking out.

For the best long-haul fares on BA, you will be better off going through an agent rather than booking direct with the airline. From Heathrow to New York, for example, BA sells tickets direct at a minimum of £192, while discount specialists will knock a tenner off. But note that the 29 January cut-off still applies.

Heading east, Trailfinders (020-7938 3939) has time-sensitive deals with Alitalia via Milan Malpensa to Hong Kong for £374 and to Tokyo for £412. These fares apply for departures from now to 24 March, and must be booked by the end of January.

To New Zealand, discount agents are selling flights with Singapore Airlines to either Auckland or Christchurch for as little as £574 return, if you book by 6 February. This fare applies for the low-season months of April to June, corresponding to late autumn in New Zealand.

You have a bit longer to take advantage of the Air France promotion, being sold through the discount agent Airline Network (0870 727 4413) until 17 February for travel before 5 April.

One advantage of this deal is that many of the fares are available from several UK airports for travel via Paris; another is that some relatively obscure destinations are available, including Amman (£266), Damascus (£297) and Caracas (£367).

Warning of the week: safety in the air, and on the ground, in Venezuela

After the crash of a tourist flight in Venezuela, it is worth bearing in mind the latest advice from the Americans before flying on within the country.

The US Federal Aviation Administration says Venezuelan airlines are "not in compliance with international aviation safety standards". It says that Venezuelan airlines flying to the US - principally Avensa and Aeropostal - will face heightened inspections.

The Americans say that "No additional flights or new services to the US by Venezuelan air carriers will be permitted" until safety standards are improved.

Assuming you get there safely, beware of the current crime of choice in the capital, Caracas. The US State Department warns of "express kidnappings" in which victims are seized to get quick cash in exchange for their release. Last September, four Americans were kidnapped and held for a few hours until they got money from a local bank to pay the ransom. Foreigners are targets, warns the State Department, because they are "viewed as more likely to have access to large sums of money".

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