Something To Declare: Australia; premium-rate numbers; high-speed savings

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The Independent Travel

Third time lucky? Britain's biggest holiday company, Thomson, hopes its latest attempt at a winter charter flight to Australia will prove more successful than its two previous efforts.

Destination of the week: the slow way to Australia

Third time lucky? Britain's biggest holiday company, Thomson, hopes its latest attempt at a winter charter flight to Australia will prove more successful than its two previous efforts. From 14 November to 1 February 2006, services will start from Gatwick to both Perth and Sydney. These cities can be reached in one stop on a number of airlines, but the Thomson Boeing 767 will touch down en route at both Abu Dhabi and Singapore. The overall journey time will be about three hours longer than most scheduled services, but the company maintains the extra landing is a positive benefit:

"Many of our passengers have said in the past that they appreciate the two-stop service, offering great duty-free opportunities along with the ability to stretch their legs."

Fares for the new service start at £513 return. You can upgrade to premium class for £500. For peak departures - such as outbound to Sydney on 19 December, returning on 3 January - a price of £1,013 compares well with other airlines; British Airways quotes £1,294 for its one-stop service on the same dates. The best deals will be to fill the first few inbound flights, and the last few outbound flights. These "empty legs" may be sold for as little as £199 each way. To book call the Thomson specialist subsidiary, Austravel (0870 166 2020; www.austravel.com).

Warning of the week: cheap flights, premium-rate numbers

Could your phone call cost more than your flight? Europe's two largest no-frills airlines are penalising customers without access to the internet by introducing premium-rate reservations numbers. So you could spend more on calling the airline than the price of your air fare. This month, easyJet has replaced its former national-rate call-centre number with 0905 821 0905 - to which calls cost 65p per minute, or more from mobile telephones. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) is being slightly more generous - its premium-rate number, 0905 566 0000, applies only for calls made on Sundays. But the per-minute rate is even higher, at £1. Also, both easyJet and Ryanair levy a premium for passengers who book through call centres rather than online.

Bargain of the week: high-speed savings

One thousand miles of rail travel for £52: that is the prospect offered by the current seat sale from French Railways, marketed online in the UK at www.tgv.co.uk. If you can book by Monday, 31 January, and travel by the end of March, you may be able to get a very cheap "Prems" ticket from Paris to Marseille - the 500-mile run that is scheduled to take just three hours. Fares as low as £15 one way are promised, but the cheapest I could find with good availability is £26 each way. You must buy at least two weeks in advance.

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