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France will be better served by air from the UK regions than ever before in 2007, with Flybe, now the owners of former BT subsidiary Connect, starting new services to Avignon, Bergerac, Brest, Limoges, Nice and Rennes.
They will be flying from Exeter to Avignon, Nice and Rennes, from Manchester to Brest and Rennes, from Edinburgh to Bergerac, and from Newcastle to Limoges.
The Exeter-Avignon route begins three times a week in March, with one-way fares priced at just under £35 including taxes and charges. From next May flights from Exeter to Rennes will also be three times weekly, at almost £32 one-way, and to Nice twice a week, at almost £35 one-way.
The Manchester-Brest and Rennes routes begin in April, with three flights a week to Brest and four to Rennes. Flybe services from Birmingham to Bergerac and La Rochelle also start again in March, with one-way fares starting at just under £40 including taxes and charges.
Flybe’s main summer programme out of Southampton also gets under way on 26 March, with services to Angers, Avignon, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Perpignan. Fares begin at £34.99 to Angers and La Rochelle, and at £39.99 to Avignon, Bordeaux and
Similar, extremely attractive fares are also available from Easyjet and Ryanair on other French routes and all come with the usual caveat: they are often in short supply and may relate to unattractive time slots. However, it is often possible to make spectacular savings in comparison to the family sitting next to you on the same flight, and remain in a much more positive frame of mind, by making some shrewd minor adjustments.
First, book early. The sooner you reserve your villa and take out travel insurance, the sooner you can safely make your travel arrangements. Every week that goes by adds significantly to air fares until, close to departure date, they rival those of a businessman flying at the last minute. Pre-booked rental cars, paid for well in advance, are also significantly cheaper than a vehicle that can be cancelled altogether without penalty.
Second, use lateral thinking. Your villa may be available from Saturday to Saturday but why not stretch your holiday a day or two by staying in a nice French hotel nearby beforehand for a night or two, or before your return home ? Dominique will be pleased to advise and book. This will enable you to fly on off-peak days when the base fare is much lower; the saving may well cover the cost of the hotel and even meals.
Third, make it less of a chore. Asking the family to wake up in the middle of the night to catch an early flight often leads to frayed tempers and can spoil the opening day. Staying in a hotel close to the departure airport can ensure that you can get a good night’s sleep and still be among the earliest to check in.
Especially if you stay at a hotel that is virtually part of the airport itself. For example at Stansted, favoured by several low-cost carriers, rail links are slow and road links often subject to severe traffic jams. Such stress can be eliminated by staying overnight in the luxurious Radisson SAS, just two minutes from the terminal by covered walkway.
Such a grand hotel can never be expected to be cheap, but for early bookers, the Radisson has family rooms from £193 that include buffet breakfast for four, free bedside TV movies on a superb flat screen and a chance to have your car parked on your behalf for less than £3 a day. In July and August, when occupancy levels are lower because businessmen are on holiday, keep an eye out for other special deals.
The hotel has a swimming pool, a vast atrium and an extraordinary wine tower in the main hall where the wine waiter rises on pulleys to select your chosen wine. With the terminal so close, you can check in for your flight, dispose of your hold baggage, and stroll back to the Radisson for breakfast; then, in this oasis of calm, have omelettes of your choice cooked on the spot.
Most low-frills airlines now charge, if not for the first, then for subsequent bags placed in the hold, double if not advised at time of booking, and for excess weight on top. Ryanair has reduced its checked baggage allowance from 20kg to 15kg, below the industry standard, and will not permit a family booked and checked in together to “average out its luggage”. There are signs however of a backlash against such parsimony, and there is anecdotal evidence of Ryanair staff allowing bags through that are overweight without levying the hefty charge per excess kilo.
Experienced travellers pack their hand luggage with the heaviest items they are carrying, for example spare shoes, and avoid wherever possible presenting their hand luggage for inspection at check in. Once past check in, the issue of hand luggage weight seems to disappear: so long as the bag and its contents confirm with current security regulations, it will be allowed on the plane.
From our January 2007 newsletter