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Simon Calder

Simon Calder: How to profit from this 'debt on the Nile' trip

The man who pays his way

"His fame was in all the nations all around": the First Book of Kings actually refers to Solomon, but the description applies equally to Thomas Cook. Starting 140 years ago with a 1s 6d trip from Leicester and Loughborough, the visionary voyager liberated travellers in Britain and beyond.

Now look: his name is being dragged through the markets, with shares in the Thomas Cook Group tumbing almost to the price of that first excursion (now 7.5p), compared with around £2 a year ago. A wise investment? Search me: the firm is saddled with nearly £1bn of debt. Yet a Cook's holiday is a definite "buy".

*** The heart of Thomas Cook's empire is the Nile, which his company opened up to the world. If you happen to be free on Wednesday morning you should climb aboard the Thomas Cook Airlines flight from the Mole (which flows beneath Gatwick) to the greatest river on earth.

You will touch down in Luxor at 5pm, as the crisp blue skies melt towards a golden dusk. A £10 cab will take you from the airport to the El Luxor, the hotel where you stay for a week (with breakfast) as part of the deal of the decade. For the stay, plus 5,000 miles of flying, you pay a grand total of £170 per person. Tempted? Book through thomascook.com.

*** The best time to buy a holiday, and take a holiday, is when no one else is. That advice applies to the traveller who can, next week, uncover the secrets of the Valley of the Kings in relative solitude. And by taking a Cook's Tour to Egypt in the next few weeks, you will bring benefit well beyond your own indulgence.

You may, understandably, fear for your safety. Of the places in Egypt that you are likely to visit as a tourist, only one tiny part is covered by a Foreign Office "don't go" warning: Tahrir Square in central Cairo, though inconveniently this also includes the Egyptian Museum. Everywhere else, from Sharm el Sheikh to Aswan, is like Messrs Cook: open for business, despite popular opinion. The long-suffering people of Egypt deserve support. The BBC's Kevin Connolly reported this week from a 550-room hotel on the Mediterranean where he and two colleagues were the only guests.

For any nation struggling economically, tourism is a godsend: it is labour intensive, and brings in foreign exchange. Fortunately for Egypt, at least the British are still turning up. Any trepidation that we may have about a destination tends to disappear as soon as a bargain arrives – such as £170 for a week of blue-sky thinking in Luxor. With £60 of that going straight to the Chancellor as Air Passenger Duty, Thomas Cook faces further debt on the Nile.

*** Would someone with the wisdom of Solomon book this, or any other, Thomas Cook trip? Yes, so long as other people do. Travel, like banking, relies on confidence. You pay cash to take ownership of an intangible dream, and trust it will not turn into a nightmare. The travel equivalent of a run on the bank is for no one to book holidays, or to forfeit their deposits rather than pay the balance when it falls due.

It could be lonely this Christmas at your local Thomas Cook branch. The wisest way to ensure everyone gets the holiday they expect – and that as many of the firm's excellent staff as possible keep their jobs – is to go against the flow, and book a trip.

Doubting Thomas? Cook's books are well covered

"Holiday disaster looms for millions," yelled the front page of the Daily Express on Wednesday. Not what you want to read when you have a holiday booked with the UK's second-biggest tour operator. Handily, the headline becomes more accurate if you remove the word "disaster".

Unless the banks pull the plug or earnings dry up, Thomas Cook remains a going concern. "Holiday looms for millions" is the most likely outcome, albeit a less compelling headline. Three years ago, you may wish to counter, Britain's third-largest tour operator failed: XL's collapse wrecked 250,000 travel plans. But in the unfortunate event that Cook's pot of cash were to boil dry, replace the word "disaster" with "annoyance".

Thomas Cook sells proper package holidays, which are backed by the CAA's Air Travel Trust. And even though this fund is £42m in hock, secure funding is in place.

For all your concerns, from "Should I pay the balance on my Thomas Cook holiday?", to "What about my pre-paid card?" see our online guide