Destination of the week: Parliament
Since the invasion of Iraq, the area around the Houses of Parliament in London has become heavily fortified, surrounded with barriers designed to thwart suicidal terrorists driving trucks packed with explosives.
But the heart of Westminster has not become entirely tourist-unfriendly. Guided tours during the summer recess take in the House of Commons, House of Lords and the Royal Robing Rooms. Tours, priced £7 for 75 minutes, must be booked in advance through Keith Prowse (0870 840 1111; www.keithprowse.com).
They operate daily except Sunday until 30 September; basic opening hours are 9.15am-4.30pm, but on some days the palace may not open until 1.15pm due to ceremonial commitments.
Warning of the week: a case for surcharges
Aer Lingus has followed FlyBe and Ryanair in announcing that it will charge passengers extra for baggage that is checked into the hold.
From 17 January next year, the Irish airline will levy a fee of up to €8 (£5.50) for each bag checked in for short-haul flights, or half that if booked online in advance. The fee will apply to all bookings made after next Tuesday, 8 August. The new policy reflects the moves among some low-cost airlines to apportion costs for "optional" services strictly to passengers who wish to use them; Aer Lingus has already abolished complimentary catering across its European network, and is no doubt impressed with the €1 (70p) profit per bag that Ryanair is said to be making from its luggage charge.
The new policy will not affect British Airways passengers who are booked on "code-share" flights that are operated from Heathrow to Dublin, Cork and Shannon by Aer Lingus; BA has negotiated for its passengers to be exempt from the charge.
Bureaucracy of the week: time for a new passport?
The latest 30 per cent price rise for passports takes place on 5 October, when the charge rises from £51 to £66. To put this figure in perspective, it represents a six-fold increase since the early 1980s, giving a "passport inflation rate" of around 20 per cent per year.
Anyone whose passport is set to expire before July 2007 should certainly renew before the price hike: if you apply within nine months of the expiry date, you get the extra months "credited". For example, a passport that expires in May 2007, which you renew in September 2006, will be valid until September 2017.
Even if your passport is due to expire after July 2007, it could still be worth your renewing. Effectively, you don't buy a passport - you rent it from the government. That annual rent will go up from £5.10 to £6.60 in October. So if your passport runs out at the start of 2008, you could consider surrendering 18 months' of validity in order to cut the cost of renewal. More information: Passport Advice Line on 0870 521 0410 or www.passport.gov.uk
Bargain of the week: Milan, if you start in Manchester
The latest air fares war is about to break out between Manchester and Italy's fashion capital. When the winter flight schedules begin at the end of October, Jet2 (0870 737 8282; www.Jet2.com) launches a new service from Manchester to Milan's Bergamo airport; the return fare for a one-week trip departing 1 November is £46.
British Airways (0870 950 8950; www.ba.com) is increasing its services from Manchester to Milan Malpensa for the winter, with return flights widely available at £86; this is operated by BA Connect, so you must pay for food and drink. The other current carrier on the route, Alitalia (08705 448259; www.alitalia.co.uk), is set to axe its Manchester-Milan flights for the winter.
Simon CalderReuse content