Simon Calder: A tenner to Oz? Terms and conditions apply

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The Independent Travel

The overnight queue for tomorrow's Men's Singles Final at the All-England Championships will look like a pathetic straggle in comparison with the crowds you can expect outside eight UK travel agencies a month and day from now.

The reason: a promotion that appears, at first sight, to plumb even deeper discounts in the long-haul fares war that escalated last month when Singapore Airlines started selling flights to Christchurch for £359 return: New Zealand and back for less than the price of a first-class train ticket between London and Manchester. Now Qantas has gone one better, with a promotion that appears to offer a £10 one-way fare to the landscapes, coastlines and cities of Australia for less than the price of a rail ticket to Heathrow.

"We're giving you, the lucky British public, the chance to fly to Australia for just £10," trills STA Travel. "Yep, you heard us correctly, that's £10 to fly all the way to Oz!"

Since Air Passenger Duty alone amounts to £40, could the recent heat have gone to the heads of STA Travel and its partner, Qantas?

Not a bit of it: this is simply an inspired publicity campaign that harks back to Australia's Assisted Passage Scheme of the 1950s and 1960s when thousands of Britons emigrated to "the lucky country" for a flat fare of £10. In one sense the two policies converge: they are all about filling space. Half a century ago the Australian government sought to populate the wide-open spaces on the sparsest continent on earth by effectively offering a free one-way trip; today, the national airline believes that the eye-catching £10 fare will help to fill its planes. But that is where similarities with the original "Ten-Pound Poms" programme end.

Once you untangle the terms and conditions (available at tiny.cc/SZM3p ), you realise that the deal is, in fact, the longest of shots.

For a start, almost all British travellers are excluded from the £10 ticket. The only people who are eligible to apply are the several thousand holders of Working Holiday Visas for Australia. To qualify for one of those valuable documents (price £149), you must be aged 18-30. And for the £10 deal you must be able to depart in specified windows later this year, amounting to 10 weeks.

Even if you can tick all these boxes, your problems are only just beginning. The offer claims to "provide anyone with a valid Working Holiday Visa the chance to get to Australia for just a tenner". The crucial word there is "chance". It turns out only 150 seats are available, representing two travellers a day for the dates on which departures are allowed: from 15 August to 30 September, and through November. This isn't a promotional deal so much as a queuing contest open to a limited number of competitors.

To become one of the lucky, 21st-century, "Ten-Pound Poms", you have to be at the front of the queue at one of eight specified STA Travel offices across the UK when they open on 5 August. The advice from the company: "Line up, camp out, rent a flat next-door ... do whatever it takes to make sure you get there before they are sold out. Once they're gone, they're gone." No doubt prospective applicants are already computing the ideal location (I reckon Southampton is a safer bet than London, Leeds or Manchester) and working out how early they should start to queue. The "real" value of the ticket is about £350, so staking out your place on the pavement at noon on 2 August, three days ahead, represents an hourly rate of £5.

The French are currently trying to fill their restaurants. Dining out across the Channel becomes even more alluring this week. First, summer trains direct from London St Pancras to Avignon start next Saturday, reaching Provence in six hours; they run every Saturday until 5 September; this week return fares at £149 were available. Next, the French government has reduced VAT on restaurant meals from 19.6 to 5.5 per cent, meaning the price of a €40 meal should fall to €35.

Offre soumise à conditions, as they say. Before you book a table at Maxim's, note that the reduction applies only to food; wine is still taxed at the higher rate. Restaurateurs are not obliged to pass on the full extent of the tax cut. It also shows just how high VAT rates have been in France compared with elsewhere. Spain charges just 7 per cent, while in Greece the rate is 9 per cent.

Italy levies 10 per cent, and to make sure the proprietor actually passes on on, diners are obliged by law to take the tax receipt away from the restaurant. The penalty for discarding it is rather more than £10.

Rail deals that don't deliver

The publicity machine that drives much of the travel business rumbles on relentlessly, come hell, heatwave or wholesale collapse of the industry. This week a couple of announcements may have led you to believe that the expensive business of access to and from London's airports had been solved, thanks to initiatives that took effect on 1 July.

On the Heathrow Express between Paddington and Europe's busiest airport, children travel free during July and August; each adult who pays £16.50 for the privilege of travelling slightly less than 15 miles can take an under-16 free. But parents possessing a Family & Friends Railcard should avoid this offer and instead use their discount card; total for parent and child, £14.

At last, an airline is selling Oyster stored-value cards on London-bound flights. These are essential accessories for anyone using buses, tubes and the Docklands Light Railway. The trouble is: the innovative airline is easyJet. Only two of capital's five airports have transport links on which you use Oyster, and these are the only two that easyJet doesn't serve: Heathrow and London City.

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