Thrifty ways to treat your lover - and some expensive ones, too

IT MAY SEEM contrary to the spirit of romance to worry about how much things cost ("yeah, what about the humming-bird-feather duvet and the penthouse suite full of rose petals?") but some tour operators still seem to think that Valentine's Day is an occasion on which people are looking for bargain breaks.

I would be extremely wary of any lover who proposed taking me to the Far East this Valentine's Day - a part of the world where holiday prices are, once again, hitting all-time lows. For example, nobody on earth is going to seduce me by offering a seven-night package in Bali for pounds 545 with Qantas Holidays (0990 673464), departing on 11 February. Would that not be a case of gross penny-pinching or what?

No. To do our lovers justice, what we need to do on Valentine's Day is to spend money wastefully, not economically. A bit more like it is the "Romeo and Juliet" Package being offered by the Hyatt Carlton Tower in London (0171 235 1234), where, for pounds 399, two people get to spend a single night in the hotel, plus dinner for two in a posh restaurant and a bit of massage/facial treatment thrown in on the side. If that isn't a splurge that you are going to regret the next time your bank statement arrives, then I don't know what is.

Anything to do with Concorde would make equally promising material for Valentine's Day. How about a two-night break in New York for pounds 1,542 with Bridge Travel Service (01992 456171), with one leg flown on Concorde? What gives this its delightfully gratuitous edge is that you have to fly to Paris in order to board your Concorde, thus nullifying the time advantage (and missing the whole point of travelling by Concorde).

In fact, people who believe in these things are facing a hell of a week. This year, the day before Valentine's Day happens to be Friday 13th, which might be an argument in favour of financial caution in the days leading up to your romantic break.

One way to avoid causing offence to your Valentine is to wait until after 14 February, when even cheaper deals will become available. How about four nights in Hong Kong, with flights on British Airways, for just pounds 299 (call Kuoni on 01306 740500)? Or 14 nights in Sri Lanka for pounds 419 per person (call The Holiday Place on 0171 431 0670)?

For the stingiest Valentine's Day offer of all, however, I suggest Kosmar Holidays, which offers "six lucky couples the chance to win a romantic night out whilst on holiday" on condition that they book the holiday with Kosmar on 14 February. In other words, even if you book your holiday on Valentine's Day, all you'll get is the chance of a free dinner. That doesn't sound like the brilliant project that I want to be whispering into the ear of my prospective sweetheart on Friday 13th.

IN THIS AGE of communication, it is always a pleasure to find that some of the old ways still prevail. A good two weeks after the close of the Millennium competition (which we ran in these pages), I am still cowering under a deluge of late entries - from India.

It transpires that, unknown to us, the Times of India ran a version of our competition, asking readers to write in to the Independent on Sunday in England to receive their prize. The snag was that they only did this five days before the closing date for entries, leaving an improbably short time in which to get a postcard from India to Britain.

I do hope that if the Times of India decide to reproduce this column they will convey my apologies to those people whose entries were doomed to heroic failure before they were even sent.

Not that electronic communication would necessarily have been any faster. A couple of days ago, this travel desk received an e-mail that I had sent in from Northern Cyprus last July. We calculate that a person on foot carrying my message in their hand would have arrived at about the same time.

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