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Thursday September 25, 2014

This Week's Travel News


Refund Passport Expenses, Say MPs

Passport applicants who paid extra for a 'fast track' service to avoid their documents being held up in the backlog over the summer should be refunded, say MPs.

The Home Affairs Committee said some of those who used the Passport Office's premium service to avoid being unable to travel had been exploited.

The Passport Office took on extra staff, extended opening hours, increased overtime and redeployed workers from elsewhere. Applicants with imminent overseas trips were advised to use the Fast Track service, which costs more than £30 extra.

Although the Passport Office announced in July that it would waive the charge for those who had applied more than three weeks earlier and had confirmed departures within seven days, many others had already paid to upgrade. The Home Affairs Committee said the government should have offered free upgrades to those who suffered delays earlier in the summer and had had to pay extra themselves.

It suggested setting an earlier cut-off point, with those upgrading to the fast-track service as early as May 1 being refunded their extra costs.



Fly from Belfast to See Northern Lights

Local travellers have the chance to fly direct from Belfast to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis with specialist operator Omega Holidays.

Many people take the cruise option along the coast of northern Norway in a bid to see the spectacular illuminations, but there will be several flights from UK airports this winter including one from Belfast International on Tuesday, February 10.

Guest astronomers will guide travellers on their own voyages of exploration and discovery through the crystal clear winter sky, hoping to see nature's own spectacular light show. Main guest astronomer will be Pete Lawrence, a Northern Lights favourite, who appeared regularly in the first series of the BBC's long running Sky at Night programme. Normally there will be two guest astronomers on each Northern Lights flight.

The price of £199.95 includes a pre-flight illustrated presentation by expert astronomers, a flight in search of the Northern Lights of three to three and three quarter hours depending on location of departure airport, the services of the expert astronomers on board, light refreshments, all airport and security charges plus Government APD tax, and the services of an Omega Holidays' tour manager.


Biggest Ski Brochure and More Growth Forecast

Topflight has launched what it says is its biggest ever Ski Brochure on the Irish market - and predicts market growth of 10 per cent. The new look brochure, packed with 154 pages of destinations and great advice, will entice all skiers and would-be skiers to head off on a ski holiday this winter!

Topflight management says it is confident that this year will continue an upwards spiral, with more skiers heading back to the slopes, as the economy strengthens. Said Tony Collins, Chairman Topflight Travel Group: "We believe that the efforts our team have achieved to give Irish skiers good value, combined with a superb range of accommodations in key resorts in Europe and around the world - will see more and more people heading back to ski."

Popular favourites such as Andorra, Austria, France, Livigno and Norway are all in the new brochure, with the French chalet ski experience offering 50 chalets in the new brochure such as Val D'Isere, Meribel La Rosiere, Les Arcs, La Tania and La Plagne.

Topflight is also offering tailor-made holidays to The USA and Canada - from 749 Euro per person sharing. With direct flights from Dublin to Boston, and a two hour drive, you can experience the resorts of New Hampshire - Loon, Cannon, Waterville, Cranmore and Bretton Woods, as well as Killington in Vermont. Further afield how about a ski holiday next year in one of the great resorts of the Colorado Rockies. The introduction of Canada into the Topflight Ski Brochure this year is a tempting one - with a choice of Lake Louise, Banff, and the wonderful resort of Whistler/Blackcomb - consistently voted the World's best ski resort!

Topflight says its 2014/15 Winter Ski Brochure offers great savings for customers. Look out for the EarlyBird Symbol throughout the brochure and watch for beginner deals, family deals, and great group discounts!


Red Sea Holidays Offer Belfast Departures

Egypt specialists, Red Sea Holidays is continuing the company's expansion with increased regional airport departures now to include Belfast and Newcastle, plus two new hotels in Sharm el Sheikh - the 5-star Movenpick Sharm el Sheikh Resort and the 5-star Iberotel Il Mercato Hotel & Spa.

Red Sea Holidays will offer flights from Belfast to Sharm el Sheikh for the first time in May with Tuesday departures.

Red Sea Holidays says it is offering great discounts - such as £100 off summer 2015 bookings and £75 off winter sun when booked before September 30; fixed child prices of £439 for any date and duration (including school holidays) and no single room supplements at selected resorts.



Bratislava Best Value Destination for Stags

Europe has become a popular destination for stag dos, but which is the best value European city to enjoy some male bonding before the big day? According to travel a leading money specialist company Bratislava is the place to head to if you want to celebrate your last days of singledom and not incur the wrath of the future wife.

Money company No.1 Currency compared the cost of a basket of 'stag do essentials' across some of the top European stag party cities. The basket included: a return flight, one night's stay in a youth hostel, a pint of beer, a fry up, a Big Mac, entry to a nightclub, a ticket to a football match and a taxi ride.

The figures reveal that the Slovakian capital of Bratislava offers exceptional value at just £96 for stag do essentials, compared to the same basket of essentials costing a whopping £302 if you have your stag do on the infamous Spanish party island of Ibiza. However, just a short boat ride away in Magaluf, the same basket of goods will cost you more than £100 less. Magaluf is still the second most expensive destination on the list, with entry to the most popular club in the town, BCM, costing around £24 (£23.59).

Dublin is still a popular city for stags but it is also home to the most expensive pint, at £3.45 a pop. This is more than four times the price of a pint in Prague (£0.87), and three times more than Bratislava (£1.04) and Budapest (£1.01). Dublin is also the most expensive city for late night snacking, with a McDonald's Big Mac meal setting stags back £6 - or £2.39 more than in Prague. Berlin is the most expensive city for stag parties wanting to watch a football match, with tickets to see Hertha BSC costing £70.83, more than 11 times the cost of a major match in Prague (£6.05) and £45 more than the second most expensive, Blackpool.


Great Offer for Cash-Strapped Students

Leading ferry company Stena Line is celebrating the start of the new university term by helping cash strapped students to save even more money with their great value foot passenger offers to major cities in Scotland and England. The offers are open to everyone but will prove particularly useful for students as term time kicks off.

Students can avail of these fares to travel to cities such as Glasgow, Manchester and Edinburgh from just £29 by sail and rail or travel by foot to Liverpool for just £20 one way resulting in significant savings which can be put towards university life.

In a recent price comparison carried out by Stena, someone travelling from Belfast to Glasgow on Friday, September 26 using a major airline from Belfast International to Glasgow airport will pay £67.99 including a baggage charge of £13 to travel with a 20kg hold bag. This is compared to travelling with Stena Line on the same dates which will cost only £29 using the Sail and Rail offer which has no baggage or excess charges.

Marc Casey, Stena Line's Route Marketing Manager for Irish Sea North explains why travelling with Stena Line this term is a good option economically. "Ferry travel is the most stress free way to start university and students can be reassured that they are not spending a fortune just to start their new term. The money saved can be spent on books, rent and socialising and once on board, students can kick back, relax and look forward to their new term," said Marc.



Winter Specials to Down Under and Asia

With an autumnal chill in the air these evenings, there's no better time to escape to the best winter sun destinations with Malaysia Airlines' November Specials, offering great savings available to destinations across Malaysia, South East Asia and Australasia from London Heathrow.

Travellers can book from today until October 22 to take advantage of these attractive fares, which is valid for economy class travel on select dates this November 2014.

Return economy sale fares from London Heathrow start at £489 to Kuala Lumpur; £529 to Langkawi, Penang, Senai, Alor Setar and Kuantan; £539 to Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Miri, Sandakan, Tawau, Bangkok, Phuket, Jakarta, Krabi, Hanoi, Yangon, Ho Chi Minh, Manila and Denpasar; £559 to Singapore, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap; £689 to Darwin, Perth and Adelaide; £699 to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and £719 to Auckland, New Zealand.

Malaysia Airlines flies a twice-daily A380 service between London Heathrow and Kuala Lumpur International with connections across Malaysia, South East Asia and Australasia. Passengers from across the UK can connect via Malaysia Airlines oneworld partners.



Big Increase in Capacity by Balkan Holidays

Balkan Holidays are increasing their capacity from Belfast for Summer 2015 by four flights.

The extra departures are on May 25, June 1, June 8 and September 21. The full Balkan programme now runs from May 25 to September 28, 2015.

Pictured right is the Balkan Holidays aircraft which will be seen at Belfast International Airport next summer.



Double Guest Miles for Etihad Travellers

Etihad Guest, the award-winning loyalty programme for Etihad Airways, has recently launched its most generous offer ever, with double Etihad Guest Miles being offered across all cabins for tickets booked on Etihad Airways before October 6, for travel before December 15, 2014.

This special promotion also offers double tier miles for bookings made in First and Business Class - with all Etihad Guest members who fly during the promotional period being entered into a special draw where 10 winners will be awarded 100,000 Etihad Guest Miles each.

Barry Green, Managing Director, Etihad Guest LLC, said: "The Etihad Guest loyalty program is renowned for providing features and benefits that enhance value and appeal to its members. While this promotion is primarily designed to reward Etihad Guest members for their loyalty, even non-members can enrol into the program to take part in this special promotion.

"The double tier miles offer also provides a fantastic opportunity for our members to rise within the Etihad Guest program. For instance, one flight in Business Class from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles can earn enough tier miles to instantly become an Etihad Guest Gold member," he added.


 

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John Trew

john_trew-200

Following seven eventful years as front-line Editor of the Belfast News Letter, John Trew wisely opted for the quieter pleasures of travel journalism.  Now, after 23 years and 270,000 miles, he is living proof that travel not only broadens the mind but the buttocks.

View John's articles

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