Bargain of the week: Long-haul Christmas for couples
Weak consumer confidence, as reflected in late bookings, low prices and tour-operator failures, appears to be affecting even late December – normally a time when flights and hotel beds are in short supply. To boost sales, the very robust Trailfinders (0845 050 5871; trailfinders.com) has packaged flights and rooms to desirable festive destinations, aimed at couples; all prices are per person based on two travelling together, and for specific dates.
A four-night stay in the mid-range Metro Hotel in New York, leaving on 23 December on BA from Heathrow, costs £769. Unusually for the US, the deal includes breakfast. Book by next Friday, 27 August.
A week at the five-star Indigo Pearl resort on the Thai island of Phuket (below), departing 20 December, is £1,785 including flights from Heathrow via Mumbai to Bangkok with Jet Airways; domestic transfers on Bangkok Airways; transfers; and breakfast. Book by 31 August.
The same booking deadline applies for the most luxurious – and expensive – option, to St Lucia. Fly non-stop from Gatwick to the Caribbean on 19 December, with Virgin Atlantic, and transfer to the Sandals Grande St Lucian Spa for an all-inclusive week. At £2,229, it works out at £318 per person per day.
Warning of the week: Tunisian treasures
"At Tunisia's archaeological sites, you may well be offered ancient coins for sale," warns the new fifth edition of Lonely Planet's Tunisia (£14.99). "Buying looted ancient artefacts is not only unethical but illegal – but if this does not deter you, bear in mind that they may well be fakes. Official guards have also been known to offer visitors ancient tesserae [individual tiles from mosaics] and the like as souvenirs. Taking such objects out of the country is illegal." The Foreign Office concurs: "It is not permitted to remove antiquities from Tunisia without first obtaining permission from Customs authorities". Offenders risk fines and imprisonment.
Destination of the week: Flying around India
Indian Railways may still be the world's greatest transport undertaking, but the expanding number of low-cost airlines provide tempting alternatives for travellers anxious to see as much of the country as possible in a limited time. The problem: as in Europe, it is expensive and difficult to change dates, making impromptu travel impractical.
The solution could be to book an itinerary through Jet Airways (0808 101 1199; jetairways.com), where date changes are available for a nominal fee of 750 rupees (about £10). The Independent Traveller asked for an itinerary around southern India starting and ending in Chennai (formerly Madras). It encompasses Bangalore, the Portuguese colonial city of Kochi (formerly Cochin, above), Trivandrum (for beaches and backwaters of Kerala) and the religious hub of Madurai. The price is £331.
While Jet Airways is one of the few airlines still to offer unlimited-travel air pass options, its "Visit India" fares do not represent good value. A one-week pass costs US$360 (£240), but surcharges of US$80 (£53) are payable on every flight.
Tip of the week: Time your Channel hop
Crossing the Channel this weekend for France or beyond for a week or so? Adjust either your return date, or your expectations for crowds and congestion.
Dover expects Saturday 28 August to be the busiest inbound from France. On the corresponding day last year more than 70,000 passengers sailed in to the port. SeaFrance, which sails from Calais to Dover, says 28, 29 and 30 August are looking the busiest in terms of advance bookings.
According to Eurotunnel, bank holiday Monday (30 August) and the following weekend, 4-5 September, are likely to be busiest through the Channel Tunnel from Calais to Folkestone.