THERE are very few things we can be sure of in this life: death and taxes are unavoidable - the other sure- fire certainty is that tour operators will begin the year by saying that there will be no cut-price offers this summer. And as summer approaches, they will start wielding an axe to the prices.

This year looks like being no exception. A trawl through the ITV 'Teletext on 3' travel offers (a useful starting place for bargain hunters - begin with the index on page 200) usually has the best at-a-glance guide to the state of the low-price, seat-only market.

Most of the agencies who advertise on teletext quickly have to adjust their prices according to supply and demand. Of course, there are a lot of 'come on' deals that have magically disappeared by the time you ring to inquire about them. But by telephoning a selection of agencies at random, it is clear there are a lot of spare seats around this summer - and, once again, operators are cutting prices as low as possible to sell them.

Fancy Athens next week? You don't have to phone around too far to find a seat-only return for pounds 99, including airport tax (Greece is levying a flat-rate supplement on passengers to pay for improvements to Athens airport). Even during June and July, you will probably not have to pay more than pounds 130 or pounds 140. Given that in June the cheapest scheduled return with British Airways to Athens costs from pounds 278 - a less restricted Eurobudget fare is pounds 524 - the charter prices are a superb deal.

The crafty way to organise a cheap trip this summer is to monitor prices and trends. Because of the airport tax and attempts by local hoteliers to earn a better living, package prices to Greece have gone up and bookings have fallen. So Greece and its islands are a red-hot favourite for good deals this year. Cyprus is also a good bet: bookings have slumped by up to 50 per cent compared with last summer.

In this series we shall look at the main seat-only destinations and outlining their potential for travellers keen to put together their own low-cost packages.