Something to Declare: Festive flights; California Rail Pass

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Warning of the week: Festive flights to the southern hemisphere are filling fast

Warning of the week: Festive flights to the southern hemisphere are filling fast

With just 17 flying days until Christmas, the options for a winter warmer in Australasia or elsewhere in the southern hemisphere are looking thin. For the prime dates, departing in the third week of December and returning in the first week of January, some airlines are reporting availability in business-class only.

"To get a decent fare, try to fly out in the next few days, and come back in the week between Christmas and New Year," advises Peter Grimes of the discount specialist Quest Travel (020-8546 6000, www.questtravel.com). The week between Christmas Day and New Year will constitute a lull between the travel peaks, with lower fares and more seats.

If you are restricted to the school Christmas holidays, he suggests you "half-and-half" a trip, going out in business and back in economy; Malaysia Airlines offers this as an option. Alternatively, there are some attractive discount deals available in British Airways' World Traveller Plus cabin to Melbourne and Sydney, offering substantially more space for only a modest supplement.

To South Africa, it is a similar story, though some airlines have switched capacity from transatlantic routes to serve the southern hemisphere. There is still some availability to the US at low prices, for departures as late as 19 December. A good option is the Premium Economy cabin on Virgin Atlantic, for as little as £495 return to East Coast destinations, or £645 to San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Destination of the week: On the rails around California

Combine a cut-price flight to the Golden State with the California Rail Pass, bookable on www.amtrak.com or through UK agents such as Leisurail (0870 750 0222). For $159 (£110), you can travel anywhere Amtrak trains or buses go in California on seven days of your choice, within a three-week spell. If you prefer to concentrate on one half of the state, a five-days-in-seven pass lets you roam southern or northern California for $99 (£69). The dividing line is the beautiful town of San Luis Obispo.

Simon Calder

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