You have every right to expect that your travel agent will offer whatever product is best for you. So if you need a business-class ticket to North America and he or she suggests that you fly Icelandair via Reykjavik, the reason is the excellence of Saga Business Class rather than the "pounds 100 of Marks & Spencer vouchers awarded with every business-class booking" that the airline is promising.
M&S does well out of the travel industry: in the past few weeks, the Turkish holiday specialist Savile has been offering a pounds 25 gift voucher, redeemable at M&S, Our Price, Boots or Next. After six bookings from a single branch, the pay-off increases to pounds 50.
The car rental giant Avis promises "Five lucky agents each month go to the hot and happening 'TFI Friday' TV show, then paint the town red at a London hotspot". Even if your agent's luck is not in, three rental reservations will earn him or her free cinema tickets. Across the Channel, Holyman Sally Line has been offering incentives for bookings on the new catamaran service from Ramsgate to Ostend: Odeon cinema tickets or Blockbuster video rental vouchers.
Hard cash is the secret of the Colombian airline, Avianca, which begins flights to Bogota this week. The new service is good for low-budget travellers to South America - since the Venezuelan airline Viasa closed in January, there has been a shortage of cheap seats to Latin America. Your agent stands to benefit, too: Avianca pays double the normal nine per cent commission.
Even the Association of British Travel Agents has got into the act. This year's ABTA convention is to be held in Tenerife. Each summer holiday booking to this Canary Island earns the agent a pounds 20 discount on the convention package
Travel journalists have long had to deal with the incentives offered by holiday companies. From this week's postbag alone, for example, I can select between free rail travel for all the family to Paris, two offers of all-expenses paid trips to South Africa, or this luxury break:
"Mid-morning executive champagne minicoach to Rhinefield House, a magnificent country house hotel at the heart of the New Forest, with delightful ornamental ponds and grounds. Afternoon exploring the New Forest by horse or bike. Return for swimming, solarium or steam room" - and so on for three arduous days.
The Independent saves me the bother of choosing by operating a strict no-freebie policy. Accordingly, I am happy to recommend the services of the low-cost airline easyJet because I have bought plenty of cheap tickets on its flights between Scotland and London - rather than because easyJet's founder has invited me to watch tomorrow's Monaco Grand Prix from his apartment overlooking the racetrack.
In the same vein, this paper will not be entering a new competition to win a million by writing nice things about Portugal. The Portuguese tourism authorities have just raised the freebie stakes by offering 1,000,000 escudos - about pounds 3,600 - for the "best piece of reportage publicising or promoting Portuguese tourism in the media".
The latest improbable location to promote itself as a tourist destination is Hounslow in west London. Adding its weight to the campaign, Greater London Radio ran a competition for the best slogan for this unprepossessing community. that straddles the Great West Road.
The winning entry relied upon the ease of access to the main road to the west: "Hounslow - the foolscap borough, on both sides of the A4."Reuse content