Discounted fares take off

AFTER last week's announcement (Independent Traveller, 4 December) that discounted fare specialists - known in the travel industry as consolidators - were planning to set up their own trade association, competition in the cheap ticket business has begun to hot up.

Britain's second biggest travel retail group, Pickfords Travel and Hogg Robinson (061-477 6835 and 0733 313888), owned by the package holiday group Airtours, has launched an assault on the independent travel market by promoting a new range of low- cost offers from its 'Special Fares Unit'.

Deals now available from the unit include return flights to Miami for pounds 188, Athens ( pounds 158) and Bangkok ( pounds 427).

But while airlines supply cheap deals through consolidators such as Pickfords/Hogg Robinson, they also continue to offer bargains direct. For example, the British Airways reservation department (0345 222111) always has a range of 'Seat Sales' deals: current offers include Athens for pounds 179, Berlin for pounds 189 and Copenhagen for pounds 150.

For readers who have written requesting names and telephone numbers of cheap ticket consolidators, here is a beginner's guide to some of the main specialists:

Benz Travel (for Germany), Suite 507, Radnor House, 5th Floor, 93 Regent Street, London W1R 7TG (071-439 4181; fax 071-287 9721).

Bluebird Express (France and Italy), Vanguard House, 277 London Road, Burgess Hill, West Sussex RH15 9QU (0444 235678; fax 0444 235789).

Hamilton Travel (Scandinavia), 6 Heddon Street, London W1R 7LH (071-439 3199; fax 071-344 3347).

Major Travel (worldwide), 28- 34 Fortess Road, London NW5 2HB (071-485 7017; fax 071-267 6780).

Mondial Travel (Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary), 154a Rushey Green, London SE6 4HQ (081-314 1181; fax 081-314 5865).

STA Travel (worldwide), 86 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3LQ (071-937 9921; fax 071-938 5321).

Trailfinders (worldwide),

42-50 Earls Court Road, London W8 6EJ (071-937 5400; fax 071-937 9294).

Unijet (worldwide), Sandrocks, Rocky Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH16 4RH (0444 458531; fax 0444 417100).

Women wanted

TEN more single women are being sought by Longstaff Leisure (0756 760246) to make up the numbers on its Christmas and New Year house parties in the Yorkshire Dales. The five-day singles house parties are for people aged between 30 and '50ish' and cost pounds 325. 'We know Christmas is a rotten time to be single,' says Lawrence Earnshaw, who runs the company, 'so we offer the chance to get away from it all, meet other folk in the same boat and enjoy an active country holiday.'

Christmas walks

THE Ramblers' Association and the National Trust are combining to offer a choice of 100 walks in England and Wales between Boxing Day and New Year's Day. The walks are generally suitable for all ages, though some are too difficult for children.

On 26 December, for example, a four-mile circular walk in the Montacute area, in Somerset, will leave from the Montacute House car park. On 28 December, from the National Trust car park at Much Wenlock, Shropshire, there will be a 10-mile walk over the wooded limestone ridge 'with no steep climbs': participants are advised to bring a packed lunch.

Details of the walks, including times and meeting points, are available from The National Trust, 36 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AS, or The Ramblers' Association, 1-5 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 2XX: enclose a stamped addressed

envelope.

The National Trust says that more than 60 of its holiday cottages are still available for letting over the Christmas and New Year period. Availability is mainly in Devon and Cornwall but there are some cottages in the Cotswolds, Yorkshire and the Thames Valley.

Among those free, for example, is Coastguard Cottage in Devon - part of a row of former coastguard cottages about a quarter of a mile from Peppercombe beach. It sleeps four and costs pounds 415 for the week. For a brochure, telephone 0225 705676.

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