Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Trains and boats and planes... for Vancouver and Alaska

Every day our travel guru answers your travel questions

Q I am going to see my family in Vancouver in June. Whilst there I want to take a cruise to Alaska. What would be the best option - just book a return to Vancouver and back to London, and make separate arrangements to go to Alaska? Can I cruise there and fly back to Vancouver? I don't really want to do a round-trip cruise.

Mary Martin, Harpenden

A To keep air fare costs low and minimise your flying time, book an “open-jaw” trip - out to one city and back from another. A typical fare in June, out to Vancouver and back from Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage is £850 return. On a combination of British Airways and Alaska Airlines, for example, you go non-stop from Heathrow to Vancouver, which is great, but return via Los Angeles – which isn’t. You spend five hours flying from Alaska to southern California, then change planes for an 10-hour haul home.

I suggest you take the Icelandic short-cut. Including the time spent in transit in Reykjavik, you can reach the Pacific Northwest from London in 12 hours, and return from Anchorage in 11 hours flat.

The catch is that Icelandair doesn’t fly to Vancouver, so you would need to go to Seattle across the US border. But this is actually an advantage: you can travel on to Vancouver on the fabulous Cascades train, which takes a superb coastal route and, three hours later, deposits you in the centre of Vancouver. The modest fare of $24 (about £15) is more than offset by the lower air fare on Icelandair, around £825. And in between: a number of cruise firms will take you to Anchorage, calling at several fascinating location in the course of a week’s voyage.

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