Something to declare: Cheap last-minute flights

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Bargain of the week: cheap last-minute flights

Bargain of the week: cheap last-minute flights

Where have all the standby flights gone, I wondered a fortnight ago. "Switzerland," writes Yael Gozin. He has found a website run by the country's new airline, Swiss, that flogs off cheap seats for the coming week from a number of starting points – including Britain.

If you visit www.swiss.com/index/tg-to-ws-web-specials.htm, you will find a list of destinations that changes every week, which are on sale from noon on Monday to noon on Friday. Departures are on the coming Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and returns on Saturday, Sunday or Monday.

"Only a few clicks to the destination of your dreams," promises Swiss. Yesterday, the website was selling flights from London Heathrow to just three destinations, but the prices looked good. The destinations on offer were Geneva for £124 return, Madrid via Basel, Geneva or Zurich for £161, and Graz in Austria via Zurich for £215. Uniquely, the site shows exactly how many seats are available at that price – even just before the sale ended at noon yesterday, there was plenty of availability.

For comparison, the lowest no-frills fares I could find from Luton to Geneva on easyJet (www.easyJet.com) was £140, and to Madrid £220; Ryanair ( www.ryanair.com) was selling Stansted-Graz tickets for £205.

Destination of the week: Milton Keynes, gateway to the north

In the week that new cheap flights from Birmingham to the Continent were announced, the city is now cut off, at weekends, from London Euston. From today, Milton Keynes becomes the official southern terminus for Virgin Trains departures on the West Coast Main Line on Saturdays and Sundays. Buses will be laid on to Hemel Hempstead, where you transfer to a Silverlink train for the stretch to London Euston.

A faster, cheaper alternative between London and Birmingham is to take a Chiltern Train, linking Marylebone with Snow Hill in two and a half hours for a Saver fare of £25.50 return.

Virgin suggests that you travel between Manchester and London via Sheffield, a four-hour-plus journey that costs £52.30. Alternatively, settle for the attractions of Milton Keynes, which include the Snozone – Europe's biggest indoor ski slope – and the Milton Keynes Gallery, whose current exhibition deals with the relationship between art and rock music.

Warning of the week: St Petersburg

Start planning now if you hope to visit Russia's former capital next year, for the tricentenary of its foundation by Peter the Great in 1703. Despite the tourist potential of the anniversary, the authorities appear keen to keep visitors out. "St Petersburg 2003 is shaping up to be a fiasco," says Neil McGowan of the Moscow-based Russia Experience (007 095 456 0422; www.trans-siberian.co.uk). "The city has failed to build new hotels, despite there being numerous vacant sites all over the city (some empty since the Second World War), and the work on the infrastructure is not going to be finished in time.

It appears that tourists may be banned from St Petersburg altogether between 15 May and 6 June next year during an international congress of government-invited guests.

Current visa rules mean the authorities cannot prevent tourists from travelling to St Petersburg from elsewhere in Russia, but Mr McGowan believes that they intend to "have airports and borders watched for sneaky foreigners trying to get into St Petersburg to pursue activities incompatible with their status as tourists – such as enjoying themselves, for example."

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