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Passport to travel: News from the Industry.

The only bargain basement overseas holidays this summer will go to travellers who don't care where they go - and book within 48 hours of departure.

Only on the last minute deals do operators see a need this year for big discounts. They are set to clean up, which may be why operators have seen their share prices rising in recent days.

'Operators had to hold their nerve last weekend ahead of the peak summer season from July 22,' says Steve Endacott, of Manchester-based Holidays By Phone. 'If there is too much stock unsold at the start of the school holidays, prices collapse.

'This year they haven't. First Choice and Airtours, in particular, stood firm - helped, perhaps, by indifferent summer weather in Britain.'

Endacott plots travel market bookings, hour by hour, by internet and intranet, and promises swifter access to discounts than the high street travel agencies.

But price cuts this time are few and far between, he has found. Endacott says: 'There was slight wavering from JMC and Thomson to produce the lowest prices, but the annual game of bluff between industry and customers is won without doubt this year by the operators.

'Most of the remaining stock will be got away at, or pretty close to, full brochure prices - and the only significant discounts will be last minute.

'Prices won't go through the floor. The best hope for a cheap holiday now could be October with plenty of stock still to be shifted.'

Customers able to 'pay up and go' within 48 hours of booking could this week have grabbed seven night self-catering packages in Turkey and Greece from pounds 139 or in Spain and the Balearics Islands from pounds 169. Holidays in any of the major destinations booked a fortnight in advance start significantly higher, from around pounds 270 a week.

Seven day fly-drive packages to Florida start at around pounds 400, booked a week ahead. Two days before departure, packages might still be found from pounds 259.

Endacott says: 'Long haul prices can still look reasonable. Jamaica has 14-days self-catering from pounds 639 because holidays were priced last year at the old dollar-pound exchange rate of around 1.60 dollars to the pound. The tourist rate has plunged to around 1.30, so travellers feel the pinch when they get there.'

Is it feasible for families, often with parents obliged by work commitments to be away on pre-arranged dates, to book just 48 hours before departure?

Endacott says: 'We always get people in somewhere. JMC has stolen a march this year by promising a specific property, such as a villa or hotel, for late bookings. People like to know exactly where they are going instead of being allocated accommodation on arrival.'

There could be one other money-saving wheeze for couples with no children to watch out for this year - for the last week of the school holidays, it can be cheaper to book two weeks instead of one because families with kids pay a premium to come back after a week to avoid a showdown with an irate headteacher.

Airtours offers seven nights in Jamaica from August 26, for example, for pounds 639. Fourteen nights in the same spot is only pounds 569, pounds 80 less.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 21, 2001
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