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Breaks put on bargains.

"SEVEN nights in Las Palmas, just pounds 159," screams the ad. "Two weeks fly- drive in Florida, a staggering pounds 309."

If you fail to read between the lines, however, you could be seriously disappointed - or forced to pay out an arm and a leg.

Bargain holidays, it appears, are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. What with falsely advertised late deals and travel agents getting wise to the number of holidaymakers leaving it all until the last minute, you need to be an adventurous - or decidedly rich - tourist to put off shopping for your annual break.

"In the last few years, and particularly last year, travel firms weren't expecting the market to be terribly good because there was talk of a potential recession," says ABTA spokesman Sean Tipton.

"So as a result they cut back on their capacity, and there weren't large numbers of cheap holidays for that reason.

"In fact in 1998 we had the scenario where last minute holidays were more expensive."

The basic reason bargain holidays exist, he explains, is because travel companies - or the trade in general - sometimes overestimate demand in the market.

"It's quite a difficult balancing act, and if they have overestimated the amount of holidays they can sell they end up with a glut," says Sean.

"The last time this happened on any major scale was four years ago, and they had large numbers of holidays that they hadn't managed to sell, so they sold them off very cheaply at the last minute.

"But that's not as common as it used to be. If holidays are going very cheaply, travel companies are probably making a loss, and that's not what they're about."

Tourists brave enough to venture near a combat zone with their swimsuits are generally on to a financial winner.

Earlier this year, travel agents were faced with plunging bookings as a result of the NATO bombing strikes as, rather than heading for the fighting, the majority of tourists stayed well away from the likes of Serbia and the east coast of Italy (where NATO bombers and attack helicopters became a familiar sight over the beaches), heading for safer sunspots like Spain.

"There was no reason for people not to travel, but people were put off because there was a war in the general zone of Kosovo," says Sean.

"But in zones where there is political unrest, you can usually expect to get bargains."

If you do have the time - and the inclination - to search for a bargain break, there is no reason why your efforts won't be rewarded. But there are certain dos and don'ts which could make your quest easier.

"It is a bit of a lottery, and you can't guarantee you will get a bargain, so travellers must be flexible," says Sean.

"Your choice will generally be limited to what the travel agent has on offer, so you might not be able to pick a particular destination.

"Likewise, a lot of last minute deals are `accommodation on arrival' deals, and you might not get the perfect hotel for you." There is no good or bad time of the year to search, although you are more likely to get bargains in the low season rather than the high (June, July and August) when the majority of holidaymakers head for the sun.

"Remember there are a lot of countries where the weather is still very good until October, November."

One particular `lottery', highlighted recently by the Institute of Trading Standards, is the number of last minute deals advertised in shop windows which either no longer exist or have increased in price.

The problem, it seems, stems from travel agents failing to update the holidays they display.

The Institute has encouraged customers to demand to know why an advertised holiday is no longer available - and why, in fact, the advert is still being displayed.

"Travel agents see the bargains on the computer system, write the card out and put it in their window, but it's quite likely there are another 50 agents doing the same thing, and only three holidays available," explains Sean.

"By the time you walk in the shop, the holiday might have already gone. Travel agents are supposed to try and make sure these cards aren't misleading but the holidays can be sold very quickly.

"Still, they should be updated regularly."

Last minute advice

Be prepared to work hard - and shop around in search of a dream deal

Don't travel without insurance

Don't wait until high season to book

Stay open-minded and be

prepared to go to any country

Buy currency at the airport - it's easy!

Do check the company you book with is a member of ABTA

Net a holiday bargain by doing a deal on-line

AS more and more people use the Internet for more and more things, travel operators are getting wise to this and offering all sorts of bookings and deals on- line.

You can book rooms in Las Vegas for any date this year at www.worldwidevacations.com, and you can do the same in most major cities in the USA.

Some websites even have a facility whereby you can state how much you want to spend on a hotel room, and then, once they've found somewhere to your specifications they'll e-mail you with the results.

If you fancy a thrill booking a holiday, try www.quixell.com website and join in the holiday auction. We logged on and were offered flights to Orlando from Glasgow, starting price of pounds 140. You register with them, then make your bid. Bidding stays open for a week usually and you can check back, and make other bids.

For a more conventional way of booking try the Travigator - the travel world's search engine at www.travigator.com. It's not that comprehensive, but it can find you some decent sites.

There are the aptly named sites of www.bargainholidays.com and www.lastminute.com where we found, well, nothing much, to be honest. Unless seven nights self- catering in Turkey for pounds 219, flying from Gatwick, leaving the day after you've logged on sounds like a bargain.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Spavin, Vicky
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 17, 1999
Words:1021
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