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The Independent Travel

Every autumn, ski tour operators repeat the same mantra: "There will be few bargains for late-bookers this season." But last October they said it with more conviction than usual. After the dismal sales of 1999/2000, most of them restricted their capacity, in the hope that they might have no more seats and beds than bums and bodies to fill them. Coupled with the strong sales of holidays for 2000/1, it appeared anyone looking for deals in the busy month of February was likely to be disappointed.

Every autumn, ski tour operators repeat the same mantra: "There will be few bargains for late-bookers this season." But last October they said it with more conviction than usual. After the dismal sales of 1999/2000, most of them restricted their capacity, in the hope that they might have no more seats and beds than bums and bodies to fill them. Coupled with the strong sales of holidays for 2000/1, it appeared anyone looking for deals in the busy month of February was likely to be disappointed.

Debbie Marshall, managing director of Crystal Holidays, reports sales "20 per cent up on last year, and better than two years ago, our best-ever season". Because the bulk of France's half-term holidays fall a week later than those in Britain (mainly in the week beginning 17 February), Crystal has secured some extra beds for its busiest period, though at the brochure price. The company has some half-term deals in Austria. It is offering a saving of £86 on a week's holiday at the three-star Hotel Weisbauer in St Wolfgang, departing Gatwick on 17 February: the price is now £429, half-board. A week's half-board at Chalet Ilona or Chalet Schlosshof in St Anton (same day, same airport), is £449, saving £120.

For the following week, Neilson is cutting prices by £150 to Bulgaria (Rila Studio, Borovets, half-board; from Gatwick, 24 February; now £229) and £170 to Norway (Hotel Ustedalen, Geilo, half-board; from Gatwick, 25 February; £399).

Airtours also has some good half-board deals for departures on 24 February, to the Chalet Sonnenalp in St Anton from Manchester (down £190 to £369) and the Chalet Ours Brun in Courchevel from Gatwick (down £140 to £449).

Finally, Inghams has an 11-night holiday in Banff/Lake Louise in Canada, room-only, at £329 (saving over £300), flying 17 February from Gatwick.

Crystal, 0870 848 7000; Neilson, 0870 599 4444; Airtours, 0800 028 3344; Inghams, 020 8780 4433

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