Something To Declare: Budapest, the Canaries, free flights, Tyrol
Saturday 02 February 2008
Warning of the week: strangers in Budapest
If you were inspired by last week's 48 Hours in Budapest (still available online at travel.independent.co.uk), then beware of bonhomie from strangers when you get there. The Foreign Office has issued an alert about being coaxed into "certain bars, clubs and restaurants" in the Hungarian capital: "Common scams include adding a 20,000-forint (£60) surcharge per drink to the final bill, or charging up to 100,000 forint (£300) for a meal."
Being unable or unwilling to pay is, says the Foreign Office, no defence: "Individuals who have been unable to settle their bills have frequently been accompanied by the establishment's security guards to a cash machine and made to withdraw funds under threats of violence."
Be warned also that some taxi drivers are accomplices in these frauds: "You should never ask a taxi driver to recommend a bar or club. If a driver offers to take you to one, or you are approached on the street with an invitation to enter a club, you should treat that advice with extreme caution."
Destination of the week: the Canaries
What is the ideal average daily high temperature for a holiday destination? If your answer is 70F (corresponding to 21C), then the latest temperature chart supplied by the Spanish meteorological office makes interesting reading.
This month, two Spanish locations make the 70F grade: Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, and the neighbouring island of Tenerife. In March, Seville steals the crown (actually 69F, but closer than any other Spanish location), while the 70F title in April is held jointly by the Andalucian coastal cities of Cadiz and Malaga.
By May, Barcelona is the only city in the survey to hit exactly 70F – a feat it repeats in October. Between these months, from June to September, those in search of the 70F ideal should congregate in the port-resort of Santander on the north coast.
In November, Alicante has its month in the 70F sun – but deep midwinter means it's time to head south again. Tenerife enjoys 70F through December, while Las Palmas takes the title in January.
The Canaries have also been awarded the unofficial accolade of being the UK travel industry's favourite archipelago: the travel association Abta has selected Gran Canaria as the venue for its 2008 Travel Convention. Last year's took place in Tenerife. This year, it will be held at the Maspalomas Conference Centre in Gran Canaria on 7, 8 and 9 October.
Note that flight seats and hotel beds are likely to be scarce and expensive immediately before, during and after the event.
Bargain of the week: really free flights
Air Miles, the retail reward programme from British Airways, last provided genuinely free flights in 1995. Since then, it has added a range of "taxes, fees, charges and surcharges" to each ticket redeemed. Now, though, those extras are incorporated into the Air Miles "fare" for each flight, meaning no cash need change hands.
In addition, the pricing structure has been simplified with a series of zones. The cheapest are Amsterdam and Paris, at 750 Air Miles – an increase in "price" of 67 per cent since the scheme first began, despite the overall drop in fares across Europe. Note, though, that Scotland's Western Isles – plus Orkney and Shetland – are also available in this band.
Because of BA's abandonment of regional European departures, all these are based on departures from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City. Add-ons from regional airports to Heathrow or Gatwick are available at a flat 500 Air Miles.
The industry-watcher Richard Madge notes that Russia's two leading cities, Moscow and St Petersburg, have both been placed in the 5,000 Air Miles zone, despite being significantly closer than Larnaca and Cairo – both in the 2,500 band. In addition, "Addis Ababa, Almaty and Damascus have mysteriously doubled in price in the last couple of weeks, from 2,500 to 5,000 Air Miles".
He adds: "The 2,500 zone contains two destinations that are likely to be of no use to independent travellers: Tripoli in Libya, to which independent visits are extremely difficult to make, and Algiers, which is too dangerous according to the latest Foreign Office advice."
Other oddities: the 5,000-mile zone extends as far east as Dhaka in Bangladesh, and as far west as Washington, DC; and while Rio de Janeiro is in the 8,000-mile band, Sao Paulo – which is an en-route stop on British Airways – is in the 10,000-mile zone. This is the most expensive category, shared only with Sydney in Australia.
Ski area of the week: Tyrol
Our story about the Austrian region last week stated that Tyrol's 115 ski areas share a total of 387km of groomed pistes, which underestimated the correct number by a factor of 10: they actually have 3,875km.
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