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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

This will be an adventure

I've just started doing some work for a specialist tour operator ScanAdventures which offers holidays in Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the rest of that region including the Northern Lights. With a Domain Authority of 12 this is going to be a challenge. That's probably the lowest DA I've seen for an existing company. However, there is a lot of really interesting niche product on the site, and the people behind the company clearly know their stuff. So it should be interesting, at least.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

PR and social

I've being doing some social media management for Ol Jogi, a private ranch in Kenya. This has been made a lot easier by having a London PR agency on board to create mentions in high profile publications like Tatler and the FT. It was also interesting to create a Facebook page without promoting it anywhere and watching as people found and liked the page. Other social platforms need much more of a push, but Facebook is like a tray of cress seeds. Just stick it in the window and it will grow.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Despite the heatwave...

It's 30 degrees in London right now, and there is a warning that it's going to get hotter. So you'd think that people might start searching for cool holidays. And I might have had the sense to put something on the site to satisfy those searches. But it seems people still want heat. In fact searches containing the word "heat" are up 16% on last month. Yeah, go figure. One of the most popular searches is for where is hot in October. So perhaps it's people just sensibly thinking ahead. They know this heatwave can't last. Then it will be a case of normal service resumed.

Friday, July 05, 2013

TNT

TNT Magazine was on Twitter asking people to set up travel blogs on the site so I thought I'd give it a whirl with this piece. It's easy to set up and they allow one link back to your own site or blog. I was quite impressed to see 390 views in the first two days, so they clearly have quite an active community. Although 48 hours later it still hasn't been indexed by Google, which is odd. Let's see if this post will help.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Editors at work

Link building is hard. But it's a lot easier when you have a team of experts willing to give their time to create fabulous content on third party sites. Our editors have been producing some great stuff lately. Will Gray has been writing for Wanderlust about late Easter deals, safaris for kids and giving tips on travel writing.

Annabelle Thorpe wrote a great rant for MSN about snoring businessmen on flights, and a ski post for Inghams. Meanwhile, Jane Anderson has created a great piece for Cosmopolitan's new online travel section and Mike Gerrard has been knocking out great blog posts for Huffington Post including this one and this.

Me? I've been doing the occasional interview and trawling the web looking for people who've nicked my old copy and published it under their own names. Naughty, eh. This piece is a case in point - an article I wrote for the Sunday Times now under another writer's name. At least she agreed to add a link at the bottom to 101 Holidays.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Building a new site

Next month we will launch our fifth 101 site, 101 USA Holidays. We thought long and hard about which site to launch next and it's a bit of a departure for us to create a single destination site. However, we're confident this will be another success for us. Our editors Mike Gerrard and Donna Dailey have come up with some amazing USA holiday ideas and it's clear now why so many Americans take their vacations at home - there are simply so many amazing trips within the USA.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

More interviews

I've been doing some more interviews as a way to spread the word about 101 Holidays and get a few quality links. I like the (set) questions at Backpacks and Bunkbeds as they allow you to reveal a little more about yourself than some Q&As. As a result of doing the interview, I met the writer Neil Barnes at a drinks event at WTM.

I also really enjoyed answering these questions at MyDestination.com, penned by Emma Sparks who I had met at a Travel Massive event in London.

Here's another interview I did in the summer at A Dangerous Business although I've not yet met the writer, Amanda. And one at Getaway Earth.

Recently I've also written a couple of pieces for Travel Dudes. These tend to generate a lot of Twitter activity, though the editors seem to take a while to publish them on the site.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guest blog posts or interviews

Guest blog posts are all the rage these days, and with good reason. They can be an effective and authentic way of earning links. However, the quality is not always great, as Matt Cutts points out in this video.

Personally I prefer using interviews instead. I think they provide more value to the host site, and help to raise the profile of our team. It's also easier to complete a set of interview questions than to write a piece from scratch.

I've done some guest posts that have created a lot of comments and reTweets, such as this one on Runaway Jane (it helps to be controversial) but I've also done some nice interviews like this one at Travellers Point and this one at Cheap Flights, and another at Travelwriting2.

Our other editors have got in on the act with Jane Anderson, Will Gray and Annabelle Thorpe all doing nice interviews. Jane also recently did a Q&A at Red.

And here's a handy tip: you can complete your own Q&A at this site - handy if you're not an expert!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Safari so expensive

Although I'm not an expert on Google Adwords, I'm always fascinated by the cost of bidding on a particular travel term. Some are surprisingly cheap - although not so many these days - and others are extraordinarily expensive. When a company is paying £3 or so for a single visit to its website, it better have a well-designed site optimised for customer conversions (and let's face it, there aren't so many of those).

For example, take the term Botswana holidays, which a client of mine is keen to target. It's currently costing about £3.17 per click to advertise that on Google. Let's say that for every 100 visitors to the site that click through from an ad, three of those send an enquiry to the company. (And 3% is a pretty good conversion rate.)

And let's say one of those three goes on to make a booking. Yippee! Well, that's £317 the company has spent on that client before they've even invested the time of their staff, and all their other costs. So they better be slapping a big margin on that final price. Makes sense if you can rank for that term organically, doesn't it?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Finding those elusive cats

Snow leopards are notoriously hard to find. This endangered species lives in the Indian Himalaya, and there are thought to be less than 7,000 of them left in the wild. World Big Cat Safaris runs some rather exciting-looking snow leopard tracking safaris. Rather a hard core trip with accommodation in tented camps - and it's very cold. But spotting one of these animals must be a huge thrill.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Press coverage

More press coverage means more links, which is great for the site. Some of these were planned but it's actually even more welcome when they aren't planned and you find that journalists have discovered the site through their own research. This has happened in the Guardian and more recently in La Repubblica in Italy. Not forgetting this one in the Independent and this one in The Times which sneaked out from behind the paywall.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

In with the old

It's always nice to stumble on a forgotten piece of coverage of your website (by which I mean, link). Like this one in the Mirror. Hurrah! The weird thing is that Google hadn't indexed it. Which is strange. I can understand why it might not index every arcane page on a spammy directory but surely it likes the look of the Mirror site?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interviews

Is it big-headed to put yourself for interviews? While I feel a bit embarrassed by the idea, it's a great way of getting links and spreading the word about your website. Here's one I did back in 2007, while I think this one was one of the best - it certainly attracted a lot of comments. This one is the most recent, and pretty good.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

New


I've started working with a client in Africa called Ol Jogi. Looks like a stunning place, set in a vast tract of land on the plains of Kenya. They are doing lots of conservation work, and working with local communities. I've set up an Ol Jogi Twitter account, Facebook and YouTube channel, which will soon be populated with content. There is a lot of great photography which needs to be pinned to the Ol Jogi Pinterest board. There are some interesting articles and videos about the place. And now a TripAdvisor page.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Sri Lanka




I went to Sri Lanka after the tsunami and saw a lot of bad stuff, but enough beauty and charming people to make me want to go back someday under more pleasant circumstances. I like the look of Selective Asia's trips to Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stylish

It was great to named by Sarah Walter, found of Style Passport, as one of her favourite websites.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2012 predictions

It's almost obligatory at this time of year to look into the old crystal ball and make some predictions for the next 12 months. So here are David Wickers' travel predictions for 2012.

It's also customary for travel writers and editors to predict that we will all start travelling to some obscure and previously unheard of destination. Rarely does this come true. At 101 Holidays we are focussing instead on the tried and trusted destiantions that we know tourists will want to return to year after year. So here are the places to go in Italy in 2012. Meanwhile, we are focussing on some of the established destinations.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Just give

I've set up a page at Just Giving as I'm going to be supporting the Family Holiday Association. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holidays for teenagers

In that tricky stage of life between childhood and adulthood, holidays can present a real problem. Many teenagers lose interest in travelling with their parents but aren't yet old enough to go away with their friends. The answer is to change your holiday plans. No more long walks, early mornings or visits to medieval churches. Most teenagers are happy with a pool, flexible meal times and an adapter for their iPhone charger. Over at 101 Family Holidays our editors have come up with some great holidays with teenagers, including many ideas that will shake them out of their lethargy and inspire them to join you on the next family trip.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Where to get married

101 Honeymoons has been pretty much focussed on ... well, you guessed it ... honeymoons. But of course a lot of people these days like to get married and honeymoon in the same place. This is especially true of second (or third) marriages where the guest list is a bit shorter, money may be tighter (Dad isn't so keen to pay this time) and the couple has done that all that church and cake stuff.

So the site is focussing a bit more on where to get married and we've just created a great page about the best wedding venues abroad including Europe and much further afield. It's a great selection and could come in useful if you ever find the need to get married abroad, either for the first time or again.

Before you go on holiday...

Don't even think about booking a holiday before checking out our complete holiday guide. It's got pretty much every bit of travel information you are going to need about everything from insurance, currency and airport car parking to how and when to update your passport. It's essential reading.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Great coverage for 101 Family Holidays

We've been really excited at the coverage that 101 Family Holidays has been getting. First it was website of the week in Mail Online and got great coverage in The Sun. Then it was featured in a number of popular blogs including Families Online as well as Parents News and Kids in Tow. The word is slowly spreading!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Month-by-month honeymoon guide

If you've fixed your wedding date, the next question is where to go on honeymoon. We've made the job of finding your perfect trip easier by creating a month-by-month honeymoon guide. Just click on the month when you want to be away and our editor, Jane Anderson, will recommend the best destinations. Also see our selection of honeymoon packages.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What's new

I have a couple of interesting new clients. Five Star Greece offers exclusive villa rentals in Greece - so exclusive, in fact, that they aren't actually featured on the public-facing website. You need to get an invite. A bit of a challenge for SEO, then!

The other is Selective Asia, which specialises in Vietnam trips and luxury tours of Cambodia. It's got a great looking website, but it needs to be a bit more competitive against some well-funded players. Looking forward to that one.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cruise offer

eWaterways has some great river cruise deals, but it also sells coastal cruises, expedition cruises and themed cruises. Even naturist cruises. In fact, if you can do it on a small boat, then eWaterways can probably find it for you. This cruise on a Turkish gulet is a particularly good deal.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Have I been had?


I hate April Fools Day. Half the stories in the media are barely believable any day of the year. Now we have to wade through a load of utter bollocks posing as humour. But here's a curious one. Darren Cronian of Travel Rants announced on Twitter: "For the record the Daily Mail has acquired Travel Rants".

What?! This would of course be ridiculous except that Darren had previously said his highly-respected blog was up for sale. And he didn't reply to numerous Tweets asking if it was a joke. Could he have been using April Fools Day to bury some good / bad news?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vanity search

We all do it sometimes, don't we - Google our own names, that is. I've been dominating the search results for my name for a few years now, despite some ringer nabbing markhodson.com in the mid 90s. However, there's an unfortunate result that keeps popping up - a page from TimesOnline about a pie boss in Doncaster who got done for child abuse. I feel a bit mucky just sharing a name with that nonce. So my latest experiment is to try to boost another page on TimesOnline about (the real) Mark Hodson, to see if it can overtake the pervert.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My unusual museum tip

There are hundreds of amazing musuems worldwide so - when asked by Iglu Cruise to name a favourite - it might have looked a bit perverse of me to select The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. However, it really is amazing. Go and check out my recommendation.

My colleague Jane Anderson at 101 Honeymoons also picked a favourite tip here. David Wickers also did a tip about the Caribbean.

Monday, February 28, 2011

How to get links

Some examples of getting links from high-quality travel sites:

* Write an honest review of a great product
* Offer free useful advice via Twitter
* Write interesting high quality articles like this
* Interview people and write it up nicely
* Keep putting stuff on your blog. Sooner or later someone will find it sufficiently interesting and relevant to link to it.
* Feature experts' recommendations on your blog then watch them link back to your post.

And there are so many more...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Telegraph

As an old Sunday Times hand, this hurts a bit to say but I saw the Telegraph's Saturday travel section a couple of times recently and I have to say it's pretty good. Nice and visual, lots of good quality writing and some neat incorporation of reader comments and recommendations. Which reminds me, must get a nice link in the Telegraph for 101.

Joining up

One of the best travel inspiration websites - leaving aside 101 Holidays for second - is World Reviewer. The concept is excellent and it has managed to get together a good team of experts to provide some solid content. So I've decided to become an expert on the site and see how it goes. I'll have a think about what to review and start uploading some stuff.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Google Profile

One of the things that does my head in is the number of pages about me that I am supposed to maintain. I was reminded that I have a Google Profile page which hadn't been updated for years and looked incredibly naff - like I was trying to big myself up. So I updated it a bit, hopefully now it's a bit less w*nky. Oh, and also I pulled my finger out and wrote a page about where is hot in November for a holiday. Next one December. Ho hum.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

June honeymoon?

If you're planning to get married in the summer, you can get some great information from Jane Anderson about the best honeymoon destinations in June. Also today 101 Holidays has joined the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Know Before You Go campaign.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Airline adventure site

This is a nice initiative by an airline. I love adventure is a social sharing site set up by Air Greenland. Nice format, could do with a bit more content, but great idea that matches with the destination it's promoting.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest posts

I've been busy writing guest blog posts. This tipping guide appeared on 501 Places, one of the best UK travel blogs. And this is a rather more personal account of my time as a travel writer on Runaway Jane.

Which reminds me, David did a great post on Angels & Urchins about taking city breaks with young children.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Where's hot

Ooh, this weather. Well, it's a bit warmer now but even so ... it would be nice to get away somewhere warm. So how about this new page about where is hot in January? Now to choose...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Numbers down

I've just updated our page on the top 10 holiday destinations with government statistics for 2009, and the drop in numbers are quite dramatic: the numbers of UK residents visiting abroad went down by around 10million. Ouch!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This week's update

So, another week, a few more links. Inspa was featured on getatraveldeal.com, there's a nice review of 101 Honeymoons here and another review here.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Our Friends of the Earth



It was great to see Friends of the Earth mention snowcarbon in their Tip of the Day feature, even if I missed it when it came out. For some reason, Google failed to find the link so hopefully this will help: Google, look here!

The site is also featured on the 3 Valleys website as a partner company, and at more eco.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Fitness holidays



Earlier this year I spent a week on a health and fitness retreat in Morocco with a company called in:spa retreats. It was amazing.

I'm tempted now to take a week's fitness holiday with the company's sister brand, fitscape. It's giving away free flights on selected dates to trips in Ibiza, Italy and Morocco. That's a great deal.

Find out more from fitscape.

Snow Train cancelled for 2011

Rail Europe's Snow Train will not run in the 2010-2011 winter season, according the company. The direct overnight train service to the Alps was suspended last winter due to difficult economic conditions. It was hoped the train would return this winter, and it may appear in the future.

In the meantime, Eurostar's Ski Train continues to run with direct daytime and overnight services to the French Tarantaise resorts, including Courchevel, Tignes, La Plagne and Meribel.

Find out more about the Snow Train 2011 situation and other rail options to ski resorts in Europe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trains to ski resorts





Look out for a new website to be launched later this year about rail travel to ski resorts. Snowcarbon.co.uk will be a hub of useful information about trains to the Alps and beyond.

If you love the mountains, but hate getting up 4am for a crowded charter flight, this is for you. Trains to ski resorts are surprisingly quick, extremely comfortable and competitive on price.

The new site will be packed full of info about the best resorts to reach by train, which train journeys to choose and how to book them.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Perseids meteor shower

From
June 3, 2007

Where to see a meteor shower


By Mark Hodson

Where will you be between midnight and 4am on August 13? If you plan to be tucked up in bed with the curtains drawn, think again, because you might be missing out on a truly cosmic experience – a rare unspoilt view of a spectacular meteor shower.

There is something magical about catching sight of a shooting star as it streaks across the night sky. So imagine the thrill of looking up to see dozens – maybe hundreds – of shooting stars as they rain down from the darkness.

That’s what will happen on the second weekend of August, when the Perseid meteor shower hits earth. At the height of the action, a shooting star will light up the night sky every few seconds.

This astonishing natural firework display occurs as the earth passes through a trail of debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which last swung into our solar system in 1992. Tiny grains of dust and ice will collide with the earth’s atmosphere at speeds of up to 30 miles per second, each creating an arc of incandescent light.

The phenomenon occurs every year, but 2007 will be special because the arrival of the Perseids will coincide with a new moon. Usually, moonlight makes it difficult for the human eye to pick out most of the individual meteors, but against a velvety-black sky the display will be mind-blowing.

To view the Perseids, you don’t need any special equipment or expertise, but you do need to get as far as possible from the light pollution that blights much of modern Britain. With the meteors visible across large parts of the northern hemisphere, it’s worth plotting your whereabouts: countryside or beach; the Highlands of Scotland or the Greek islands?

Dr Francisco Diego, an astronomer at University College London, suggests heading south for longer nights and increased chances of cloudless skies. “Almost anywhere in the Mediterranean should be ideal, as long as you are away from artificial light,” he says. “Morocco and Tunisia would also be wonderful.”

Diego will be in the Canaries to accompany a group of 20 astro-tourists, who will spend three nights on the island of La Palma, viewing the meteors from the rim of an extinct volcano, the site of one of the world’s most important observatories.

The trip is being organised by the tour operator Explore, which says it is taking bookings from amateur astronomers and regular travellers looking for a holiday with a difference. Diego suggested La Palma for the six-night trip because of the island’s reliable climate and almost complete lack of light pollution.

“We’ll be staying at sea level, but viewing from the observatory at Roque de los Muchachos, which is on the rim of the crater at 2,400 metres. It’s an incredibly dramatic location, literally above the clouds. The altitude is a key factor because most of the dust and smoke that normally obscures our view of the night sky is in the lower atmosphere. We’ll be above that.”

Although La Palma promises peerless views of the Perseids, it should also be possible to see them from locations across the UK and Ireland. Rob Edwards, head of science education at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, says anyone with a “reasonably clear sky” should get a view. “Just go outside with a deckchair, blankets and a flask of coffee. Avoid looking at any artificial lights. It will take your eyes anywhere between 30 seconds and 30 minutes to adapt fully to the dark.

“It’s not essential to go somewhere remote. I expect to see meteors from my back garden in west London.”

The view will improve as the night progresses and the earth turns, pointing us in the direction of the oncoming meteors. “It’s like driving your car into a rain shower,” explains Diego. “You get more raindrops on the front windscreen than on the back window.” Because of this, the best time to see the shower will be between midnight and dawn. Hence the need for caffeine.

Clear, dark skies should also provide sensational views of the galaxy beyond. “If you get well away from city lights, you ought to be able to see the Milky Way clearly – a great cloud of 300 billion stars,” says Edwards. “It’s well worth taking a pair of binoculars and just enjoying the view.” With a telescope you may also be able to study Venus, Jupiter and Saturn.

WHERE TO SEE THE SHOW

Astronomical events are being planned across the country over the four days of galactic activity. The University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Alderley Edge (01477 571339, www.jb.man.ac.uk), will host a Perseid Meteor Shower Party on August 11. Admission by ticket only: adults £6, children £5.

In Herstmonceux, East Sussex, the Observatory Science Centre (01323 832731, www.the-observatory.org ) is planning a Perseid Shooting Star Evening on August 11, from 7pm to 10pm, with a guest speaker, barbecue and a chance to use the centre’s telescopes. Tickets £19.50.

How to catch the falling stars

THE PERSEIDS will be visible on clear nights from about August 10 to August 15, peaking on August 13. For the best views, avoid smog, cloud and light pollution. The second half of the night, between midnight and dawn, should provide the best of the action, with two or three meteors visible every minute. The meteors will appear to radiate from a single point in the sky – the constellation of Perseus – well above the horizon, towards the northeast.

Take a deckchair, hot drinks and warm clothes. Use binoculars for stargazing, but the naked eye to scan for meteors. And don’t fall asleep. Viewing conditions won’t be this good again until 2015.

The Forestry Commission is getting together with the Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society to hold a Nightwatch on August 11 at Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire. As well as meteors, there will be a chance to spot bats and owls. Meet at the Dalby Forest Visitor Centre (01751 460295) at 8pm with a torch and warm clothes.

At Cairngorms National Park, mountain rangers will lead midnight hikes to the top of the plateau, leaving Coire Cas Base Station at 9pm on August 11 and 12. The walk is classified as difficult, and only for adults and children over 12 with experience and suitable equipment. Prices from £20; booking essential (01479 861341, www.cairngormmountain.org ).

In Cornwall, Roseland Observatory (01726 813602, www.roselandobservatory.com ), near St Austell, will hold an alfresco star party on August 13, with a presentation and barbecue. You can camp on site, from £12.50 per night (01726 822727, www.courtfarmholidays.co.uk ).

Hotels that experience only very low levels of light pollution include the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel (01691 870692, www.lakevyrnwy.com ), on a forested hillside in Montgomeryshire, which has double rooms from £100, B&B; and the Bay Hotel (01326 280464, www.thebayhotel.co.uk ) in the village of Coverack, on Cornwall’s Lizard peninsula, where £69 per person buys dinner, bed and breakfast.

The trip to La Palma with Explore (0870 333 4001, www.explore.co.uk ), which also includes two nights in Tenerife and a visit to El Teide National Park, costs from £1,175, including flights from London, accommodation and breakfast.




Sunday, May 27, 2007

Caribbean hurricane warning

From
May 27, 2007

Caribbean hurricane alert

Visitors to the Caribbean and Florida were last week warned to brace themselves for a stormy hurricane season. Experts at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict up to five “major” hurricanes this summer – more than double the average.

Meteorologists fear that this year could see a repeat of 2005, when hurricanes Wilma and Katrina wreaked havoc in Mexico and New Orleans. Thousands of British tourists were evacuated and many more had their holiday plans disrupted.

The official hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, and the worst-affected months are usually August and September – but forecasters say weather patterns are becoming harder to predict. The 2005 season actually extended into January 2006.

The map of “safe” islands has also had to be redrawn. It was assumed that Tobago and Grenada lay outside the hurricane belt. However, Grenada was flattened by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, then hit again by Emily in 2005.

Is your holiday at risk? Abta says that any holidaymakers caught in the path of a storm while already away may be moved or evacuated if the operators judge the situation is serious enough. Those booked to travel to an island when a hurricane hits will be offered a refund or an alternative destination.

Things look less rosy for those who book flights and accommodation separately, even if they go through a large operator. Thomson says: “Only if you’ve bought a package will you be covered. If not, there is no guarantee of help.”

In 2005, when Wilma hit the Gulf of Mexico, operators flew holidaymakers home early and gave them pro-rata refunds for all the days affected by the hurricane. Abta says that this was generous: you are entitled to a refund only for days when you are not at your destination, not those ruined by bad weather when you are there.

Don’t expect an insurance payout, either. Most travel insurers cover against injury or damage to personal possessions, but not disruption. The Association of British Insurers says that a few policies may compensate you if your trip is curtailed, but the sums will be nominal.

Some hoteliers, including Sandals and SuperClubs, offer hurricane guarantees: if your trip is washed out, they will offer you a return stay. There are caveats, however. The offers only apply if US authorities classify the storm as a hurricane, and your flights won’t be refunded. And some guarantees cover only the time when the hurricane is passing over – which may be just a single day.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Best family hotels in the Mediterranean

From
May 20, 2007

Best family Med hotels


Type “family friendly hotel” into Google and you’ll be offered something in the region of 176,000 results. Can there really be that many?

In my experience, there are plenty of hotels that claim to welcome children. What they mean is that they are not overly alarmed at the theoretical idea of your offspring, providing they’re all on their best behaviour and look like Boden catalogue models. It’s the burping, farting, shouting, tantrum-throwing, snot-nosed reality they’re not so keen on.

I know this because I’m a parent. I’ve watched an Armani-clad waiter serve my daughter a Diet Coke in a long-stemmed wineglass, only to get in a flap when – surprise, surprise – she accidentally knocked it flying. Then there was the five-star hotel in the Caribbean where my son waited three-quarters of an hour for his “special” children’s meal – a lump of well-done steak as big as his foot. If we hadn’t told him he could spit it into his napkin, he’d probably still be chewing it today.

But there are worthy exceptions – hotels that will indulge your kids, tolerate their mood swings, give them things they really want and perhaps even take them off your hands for a few hours.

Here are some of the best child-friendly hotels in the Mediterranean – whether you’ve got tots, tweens or teenagers.

Unless stated, all prices include flights from a London airport and transfers. For regional departures, contact the tour operator

Tots (0-6 years)

THE ALMYRA, Cyprus

The Almyra looks like the kind of designer hotel you’d find in the South Beach district of Miami, not the low-key resort of Paphos. The look is minimalist, with immaculate white sofas, oversized chandeliers and black-slate swimming pools. Arriving with our daughter, who was 11 months old at the time, made me nervous.

I needn’t have been. The Almyra may be hip, with sexy modern furniture and a sushi chef from Nobu, but its owners and staff clearly enjoy the company of young children. Within seconds of our arrival, a grinning receptionist had scooped up our daughter for a cuddle while a waiter handed us fresh juice.

A lot of thought has gone into the way the hotel functions. As well as a children’s pool, a lawned play area and an air-conditioned kids’ club, it offers child-sized versions of mum and dad’s towelling robes and slippers. At bedtime, children can phone reception to order (free) milk and cookies.

But the cleverest wheeze is to allow parents to preorder essential baby holiday paraphernalia, such as nappies, wipes and organic food – at local Mothercare prices – and to provide changing mats, sterilisers, baby gyms and bouncy chairs, all at no extra cost.

We found the staff delightful and the food excellent. Only the beach was disappointing – it was unkempt, with murky water. Most guests, however, were happy sunbathing on the grass or beside the pool, which is ringed by plump day beds and white cotton awnings. And we didn’t get a single dirty look for having dared to procreate. The price: a week, B&B, starts at £719pp in August, or £699pp in September, with Airline Network (0870 234 9916, www.airlinenetwork.co.uk). One child under 12, sharing the parents’ room, adds £212/£192; for children under two, the price is £45 each.

HOTEL L’ONDINE, Corsica

Corsica has some of the finest beaches and most photogenic coastlines in the Mediterranean, but not an abundance of family-friendly hotels.

That’s why Direct Corsica’s Iain and Janet Rankin, who have been organising holidays on the island for more than 30 years, got so excited when they came across the family-run Hôtel l’Ondine, in the quiet resort of Algajola, near Calvi.

The hotel has just 53 rooms – including some designed for families – and a large swimming pool set in luscious grounds. And you’re only a few strides from a long, clean, sandy beach where toddlers can catch tiddlers in rock pools.

You won’t find any Turkey Twizzlers or dinosaur-shaped nuggets at the hotel restaurant, although the chef will happily tweak his gourmet menu for younger palates. And if your youngest has gone to bed before dinner time, you can always use your half-board option at lunch. The price: a week, half-board, starts at £420pp in August, or £303pp in September, excluding flights, with Direct Corsica (07771 953225, www.directcorsica.com). Children under two go free. Fly to Bastia with British Airways (0870 850 9850, www.ba.com), from Gatwick, or Thomsonfly (www.thomsonfly.com), from Bristol, Edinburgh, Birmingham or Gatwick.

LYKIA WORLD VILLAGE, Turkey

When you first have children, you cease to care whether a hotel has 16 brands of mineral water and cotton sheets with a thread count of 350. You’re more interested in the length of the transfer, and whether there’s somewhere you can heat up milk in the middle of the night.

The four-star Lykia World Village, near Oludeniz, might not be the sort of place where fashionistas would go on honeymoon, but it ticks all the vital boxes for stressed parents. As well as the gorgeous sandy seafront, it has a baby pool, a baby play area, a dedicated baby beach (safe, clean and shaded) and a 24-hour kitchen for feeding, sterilising bottles and heating milk. What’s more – and this is the really good bit – the hotel has a supervised club where you can leave children aged between six months and three years for up to nine hours a day, six days a week, free of charge.

There is stacks for older brothers and sisters to do, including a water park with 15 slides and six pools, an arts-and-crafts zone and a children’s theatre, along with judo training, a trampoline, a climbing net and beach football.

Staff? Charming. Grounds? Beautiful. Rooms? Clean and tidy (though nothing special). The price: a week, full-board, costs £832pp in August (£400 for the first child aged 2-16; children under 2 £35 each), or £556pp in September (first child free), with Cosmos (0871 622 4317, www.cosmosholidays.co.uk).

PINE CLIFFS, Portugal

Some resorts fall in and out of fashion, but the Algarve remains a perennial family favourite. Why? Because the journey is relatively easy – three-hour flight, lots of regional departures and speedy transfers – the locals are friendly, English is widely spoken and the quality of the hotels is (mostly) high.

Pine Cliffs is among the best: a Sheraton-run five-star with six restaurants, four swimming pools, all-weather tennis courts, a golf academy and one of the best-equipped children’s clubs anywhere in Europe. It’s set in immaculate grounds atop brick-red cliffs, and there is even a lift to take guests down to the beach.

The kids’ club, Porto Pirata (www.luxurycollection.com/ portopirata), is like a hotel within a hotel, with its own pool, 18-hole mini-golf course, volleyball court, sandpit, climbing frames and cycle track. The staff are hugely enthusiastic, there’s a children’s buffet laid on from 5pm and – nice touch, this – the hotel runs a free laundry service for kids’ clothes. The price: a week, B&B, costs a total of £2,120 in August, or £2,040 in September, for two adults and one child, with ITC Classics (01244 355527, www. itcclassics.co.uk). Porto Pirata costs £70 a day for ages six months to three years, £47 for 3-4s and £41 for 5-8s, with discounts for three or more days.

Tweens (7-12 years) Teens (13-18 years)

IL PALMENTO, Puglia

There is a theory that if you take your children to a beautiful hotel, they’ll behave beautifully. It’s an appealing idea, and it might occasionally work, but in order not to tempt fate, here’s a better one: take your children to a beautiful hotel in Italy, where even the most unruly bambini will be welcomed with open arms.

Set amid the wild, arid countryside of Puglia, Il Palmento (www.ilpalmento.com) is a small, privately owned four-star hotel with 12 plush suites set in restored trulli (stone farm buildings with distinctive conical roofs).

It has a restaurant that serves Puglian specialities at sensible prices, tennis courts, a children’s playground and two swimming pools – one for kids – that overlook olive groves. You can hire bikes, arrange baby-sitters, call room service 24 hours a day or ask the hotel to set up riding lessons nearby. If you feel adventurous, rent a car and explore the nearby towns of Locorotondo and Alberobello, the caves at Castellana and the stylish clifftop resort of Polignano a Mare. The price: a week, B&B, based on a family of four sharing a suite, costs £651pp in August or the October half-term week (under12s £347/£391), excluding flights, with Discovery Travel (01889 882170). Ryanair (0871 246 0000, www.ryanair.com) serves Brindisi and Bari, both of which are about 50 miles away; British Airways (0870 850 9850, www.ba.com) flies to Bari.

FORTE VILLAGE, Sardinia

Forte Village is the Marmite of Mediterranean beach hotels. A lot of British families love it so much, the first thing they do when they get home is book their next visit. Others can’t see what the fuss is all about, and moan about the high prices and noisy children.

Before you commit, you need to weigh up a few things. This is not the “real” Sardinia. Most guests at Forte Village never leave the confines of the resort. And, while the beach is lovely – white sand, turquoise water – it’s not the most spectacular on the island. You may also find that during high season, the whole place feels a little crowded. That’s how the Italians like it.

Not that you’ll hear your children complaining. They’ll be too busy splashing in the pools, taking part in football tournaments or checking out the go-karting. If they get tired of all that, they can hang out at the seven-lane bowling alley or the outdoor skating rink.

What makes Forte Village ideal for the “tween” age group is the independence it gives them. Safe from the outside world, they can skip between beach and pool, tear around on bikes, play tennis with their new friends and, in the evenings, watch fashion shows and live bands at the “village square”. All of which leaves mum and dad to have a jolly nice time by themselves. The price: a week, half-board, costs a total of £4,290 in August, or £3,296 in September, for two adults and two children under 12 sharing a family cottage at the four-star Il Villaggio, with Citalia (0870 909 7554, www.citalia.com). The resort closes before October half-term week.

HOTEL PRESIDENTE, Ibiza

If your idea of a good time in Ibiza is to writhe around in foam until 5am while listening to thudding techno, don’t go to Portinatx. Far from the fleshpots of seedy San Antonio, it’s a quiet family resort with three sandy beaches wedged between pine groves and sparkling blue seas.

One of the beaches, Es Portitxol, has sheltered waters, perfect for snorkelling and swimming. Rent a car and you can explore the winding coast road, visiting tiny coves framed by green hills, and the hippie market at Es Canar.

The north of Ibiza is dotted with secret beaches, among the finest of which is Cala Mastella. Climb over the rocks at one end of the cove and you’ll find a rustic waterfront restaurant where you can lunch on guisat de peix, a fish stew cooked over a wood-fired stove.

You’ll want to stay at the Hotel Presidente, which gets glowing reviews from families. Overlooking a pretty beach, it offers a packed menu of activities and a Kidzone club, free for children aged 3-12, run by the tour operator Thomson. The price: a week, half-board, starts at £584pp in August, or £465pp in October half-term. One child under 16 sharing goes for £384/£279; a second adds £484/£379. Book at www.takethefamily.com or direct with Thomson (0870 162 5661, www.thomson.co.uk).

VILA VITA PARC, Algarve

Here’s proof that a hotel can bend over backward to look after its youngest guests while still clinging to its treasured five stars. Vila Vita Parc is a classy place with imposing Moorish architecture, subtropical gardens and direct access to two small beaches.

There are plenty of facilities to keep families amused, including a tennis centre, a nine-hole pitch-and-putt course, three swimming pools and a spa and diagnostic medical centre. Although the hotel has 182 rooms, it never feels crowded.

The ideal age for children here is 4-12: that’s when they can sign up to Annabella’s, a free supervised club with its own playground, football pitch and trampoline. Activities include T-shirt painting, magic shows, pyjama parties, fashion modelling, nature walks and an excursion to Zoomarine, a sea-life park with dolphin and seal shows. It’s a cut above the usual. The price: the biggest family suites at Vila Vita Parc sleep up to six people and cost £5,000 a week. But there’s a less pricey option: take a standard room with Cresta Holidays (0870 161 0950, www.crestaholidays.co.uk) and you pay £1,471pp for a week, B&B, in August and £1,075pp in October half-term. At least one child under 12 can share at no extra cost and, depending on the children’s ages and the size of the room, the hotel will try to accommodate a second free of charge.

LA CASELLA, Umbria

If you fancy a break from buckets and spades, why not take the kids riding in the hills of Umbria? La Casella is a farming estate set in 1,000 acres of unspoilt countryside near Orvieto. Four farmhouses have been converted to accommodate 32 guest rooms, and there is a riding school with 40 horses.

Children aged 4-10 can sign up for lessons at the pony club. They even get the opportunity to try their hand at dressage if they’re up for it.

La Casella also has a playground and playhouse, an adventure field with a rope bridge, canoeing, archery and mountain bikes for hire, as well as swimming pools and a tennis court. Families eat together, Italian-style. The price: a week, full-board, including wine with meals, costs £567pp in August or £518pp in October half-term with Real Holidays (020 7359 3938, www.realholidays.co.uk). Children under 13 sharing their parents’ room add £343/£308 each. Airlines flying to Rome, about 100 miles away, include British Airways (0870 850 9850, www.ba.com ), Ryanair (0871 246 0000, www.ryanair.com), EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Alitalia (0870 544 8259, www.alitalia.com).

IONIAN BEACH CLUB, Greece

For active, outdoorsy families there is no better place than a Mediterranean beach club: think Mark Warner, Club Med, Neilson or Sunsail. The problem is that prices rocket during the school holidays. At Mark Warner, a week in August for a family of four can cost more than £5,000.

There are more affordable alternatives. The Ionian Beach Club, in the northwest Peloponnese, has 80 air-conditioned bungalows set in 10 acres of gardens alongside a gorgeous sandy beach. It’s not as all-inclusive as its better-known rivals, but it does have an impressive sailing club, equipped with dinghies, catamarans and windsurfers. Twice-weekly sailing tuition is included, and there’s also tennis, table tennis, mini-golf, a swimming pool and a bar. The price: a week, half-board, costs £599pp for both adults and teenagers in August, or £499pp in October half-term, with Seafarer Cruises (0871 423 5548, www.seafarercruises.com).

LE MERIDIEN LIMASSOL, Cyprus

Not even the surliest, most ungrateful teenager could affect indifference to Le Meridien Limassol’s myriad charms. Even if they aren’t impressed by the 300yd stretch of beach or the beautiful grounds, they can’t deny the handiness of a games room, internet cafe and bowling alley open until 11pm.

That’s not all. The hotel has a dedicated teen centre, kitted out with a football pitch, basketball court, tennis courts, volleyball and table tennis. Oh, and there’s a disco three nights a week.

Parents like the place because it’s closed to nonresidents, which keeps out the riffraff. And while their children shoot hoops or text their mates, mum and dad can relax in the thalassotherapy centre or kick back beside the adults-only pool. The price: a week, B&B, based on a family of four sharing interconnecting rooms, costs £1,162pp (under18s £1,034) in August, or £1,178/£1,060pp in October half-term, with Prestige Holidays (01425 480400, www.prestigeholidays.co.uk).

LA MANGA, Spain

Nothing to do with Japanese comics, La Manga is the ne plus ultra of family sporting holiday destinations. It’s a place where you can bond with your teenagers over golf or tennis; or, if they’re really keen to hone their ball skills, they can sign up for an academy course.

La Manga runs five-day tutorials in football (for under16s), tennis, rugby and golf, with English-speaking coaches. The tennis is particularly tough, with five hours of intensive training a day for junior tournament players. The football academy is regularly used by top European clubs for winter training.

Other activities include mountain-biking, snorkelling, water-skiing and scuba-diving. There is plenty to do in the evenings: as well as discos and karaoke, there’s a Games Zone for over12s, with multiplayer Xbox, pinball, table tennis and table football, open until 1am. The price: a week, B&B, starts at £930pp in August, or £760pp in October half-term, with Elegant Resorts (01244 897515, www.elegantresorts.co.uk).

There are more affordable alternatives. The Ionian Beach Club, in the northwest Peloponnese, has 80 air-conditioned bungalows set in 10 acres of gardens alongside a gorgeous sandy beach. It’s not as all-inclusive as its better-known rivals, but it does have an impressive sailing club, equipped with dinghies, catamarans and windsurfers. Twice-weekly sailing tuition is included, and there’s also tennis, table tennis, mini-golf, a swimming pool and a bar. The price: a week, half-board, costs £599pp for both adults and teenagers in August, or £499pp in October half-term, with Seafarer Cruises (0871 423 5548, www.seafarercruises.com).

LE MERIDIEN LIMASSOL, Cyprus

Not even the surliest, most ungrateful teenager could affect indifference to Le Meridien Limassol’s myriad charms. Even if they aren’t impressed by the 300yd stretch of beach or the beautiful grounds, they can’t deny the handiness of a games room, internet cafe and bowling alley open until 11pm.

That’s not all. The hotel has a dedicated teen centre, kitted out with a football pitch, basketball court, tennis courts, volleyball and table tennis. Oh, and there’s a disco three nights a week.

Parents like the place because it’s closed to nonresidents, which keeps out the riffraff. And while their children shoot hoops or text their mates, mum and dad can relax in the thalassotherapy centre or kick back beside the adults-only pool. The price: a week, B&B, based on a family of four sharing interconnecting rooms, costs £1,162pp (under18s £1,034) in August, or £1,178/£1,060pp in October half-term, with Prestige Holidays (01425 480400, www.prestigeholidays.co.uk).

LA MANGA, Spain

Nothing to do with Japanese comics, La Manga is the ne plus ultra of family sporting holiday destinations. It’s a place where you can bond with your teenagers over golf or tennis; or, if they’re really keen to hone their ball skills, they can sign up for an academy course.

La Manga runs five-day tutorials in football (for under16s), tennis, rugby and golf, with English-speaking coaches. The tennis is particularly tough, with five hours of intensive training a day for junior tournament players. The football academy is regularly used by top European clubs for winter training.

Other activities include mountain-biking, snorkelling, water-skiing and scuba-diving. There is plenty to do in the evenings: as well as discos and karaoke, there’s a Games Zone for over12s, with multiplayer Xbox, pinball, table tennis and table football, open until 1am. The price: a week, B&B, starts at £930pp in August, or £760pp in October half-term, with Elegant Resorts (01244 897515, www.elegantresorts.co.uk).


Herathera, Addu, Maldives

From
May 20, 2007

Going native in the Maldives

By Mark Hodson

Forty miles south of the equator, on the southern tip of the Maldives, Hulhudhoo is a sleepy, sun-baked village where few tourists have ever ventured. The streets are made of crushed coral and lined with palm trees, and there is a small harbour where flatbed fishing boats are brought in for repairs.

Overlooking the water are a mosque and an open-air cafe with wooden chairs and white tablecloths. When the sun sinks low in the sky, you can – as I did – repair to the cafe for hedhikaa, the savoury snacks traditionally served with afternoon tea.

Beneath the shade of a breadfruit tree, I tucked into curry puffs, boakiba (spicy deep-fried fish cakes) and masroshi (tiny pancakes filled with fresh tuna, chilli and grated coconut). It was delicate, explosive food and, tea included, cost a total of 40p – about the price of the foam on a glass of beer at a five-star resort hotel.

Mingling with the locals and eating at street cafes has never been part of the tourist experience in the Maldives. Most visitors are content to be whisked off to remote islands where they can lie on beaches and paddle in the shallows. The arrangement has also suited the Maldivian government, which, though happy to reap the financial benefits of tourism, has regarded western influences as pernicious – alcohol, for instance, is permitted only on tourist islands.

This state of affairs will change later this year with the opening of a 300-room hotel on the island of Herathera, a short walk from the village of Hulhudhoo. You might expect, at this point in the story, the sensitive travel writer to decry the advancement of package tourism and the likely damage such a hotel will cause to the fragile local environment. Far from it.

The hotel on Herathera is the first of 15 resorts to be built and run by a new public-private partnership, the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC). Part of its aim is to share the wealth created by tourism throughout the country, and to bring jobs to impoverished islands.

Last year, almost 2m shares in the MTDC – 55% of the company – were sold to the public. Individuals could invest as little as £40 and no more than £400, with the result that 10% of all Maldivians are now shareholders. When the company goes public, possibly later this year, share values are likely to soar in value.

However, the project will bring more than monetary reward. For many people in the Maldives, the most pressing issue of the day is not global warming or cultural imperialism, but the fragmentation of families. Most of the workers on tourist islands – the waiters who serve your drinks and the boatmen who take you on excursions – get to visit their wives and children only once a year.

This has caused the collapse of close-knit island communities, as young people leave in search of work and families up sticks to move to the already overcrowded capital, Malé. By building hotels near densely populated outer islands, rather than around Malé, the MTDC hopes to reverse this.

Hulhudhoo certainly had a ghostly air. Many of the coral-built cottages appeared abandoned or unoccupied, and the streets were empty save for a few children riding bikes and a group of old men sprawled on armchairs beside the harbour wall.

According to Mohamed Salih, MD of the MTDC, however, some of the villagers who had left Hulhudhoo are beginning to return. Many more are expected back when the hotel starts recruiting for a planned opening in November.

Salih gave me a tour of the hotel site, where teams of workers were building luxury wooden villas between tall coconut palms. All of the work was being carried out by Maldivians, he said. “Most contractors use workers from Bangladesh, but we decided to use local people. We pay, and treat, them well. Many of them are shareholders.”

The island of Herathera forms part of the rim of Addu Atoll, the most southerly of the 26 atolls that make up the Maldives. Herathera is three miles long, and so narrow in places that hotel guests will be able to walk a few steps from the turquoise lagoon inside the atoll to the inky-blue Indian Ocean on its perimeter. If they can drag themselves away from this idyllic setting, they will be able to rent bicycles, pedal along to Hulhudhoo and stuff themselves full of curry puffs.

Most of Addu can be explored by bike. Unlike the majority of atolls in the Maldives, which are made up of tiny spits of sand dotted in the ocean, the islands that make up Addu are relatively large, and connected by causeways. You can spend many happy hours pottering along perfectly flat roads, exploring villages, boatyards and bird sanctuaries.

The place to start is Gan, a half-hour boat ride from Herathera and one of the most extraordinary islands in the Maldives. Used as an RAF base until 1976, it has a large airfield, an abandoned golf course, an art-deco cinema, a second world war memorial and low-rise military buildings dating to the 1950s.

The former officers’ mess buildings have been converted into a cosy little hotel, the Equator Village, which attracts an intriguing crowd of independent travellers and experienced divers.

The coral around Addu is among the best in the Indian Ocean, with little sign of the bleaching that has devastated reefs elsewhere in the Maldives. Sightings of sharks and 6ft-wide manta rays are numerous.

The British are remembered fondly. On the frangipani-lined road that leads to the airport, I met three old men employed to keep the island spick and span. Keen to practise their rusty English, they greeted me with, “Good afternoon, how are you today?” and “See you soon, sir”. One had worked as a groundsman at the golf course, and grabbed a broom to show off his swing.

Gan may be a curio, but neighbouring Feydhoo is a place of real charm. In the island’s only village, I found neat rows of houses with names such as Valentine and Villadelight, and gardens crammed with potted plants and banana trees. Teenage girls played badminton in the street and young children waved, giggled and yelled “Hello!” as I cycled past. Curry smells wafted over the low coral walls.

Several children implored me to take their photograph, and one young man invited me into his home, where we chatted – bizarrely – about Champions League football as his mother hastily prepared tea and fresh mango. It was a life-affirming experience.

For dinner, I went to Center Park, a roadside restaurant where I sat in the garden under the stars and ate the most sensational Maldivian food – a subtle and intense fish curry, rice, chapatis with a large glass of fresh lime juice, all for £3.

Next day, I visited Mohamed Abdullah, who worked as a batman for British officers and now, at the age of 70, runs a cafe near the Equator Village. If he likes the cut of your jib, he may invite you back to his home in Feydhoo, where he keeps an exhaustive collection of RAF memorabilia, including photographs, press cuttings and handwritten references (“Mohamed is an honest man who knows how to make a decent cup of tea,” says one).

With his wife now on tea duty, I asked Mohamed how he felt about the prospect of the British returning to Addu as tourists. I imagined his disappointment at seeing baseball caps and sunburnt thighs where once had been crisp blue uniforms and waxed moustaches. But he smiled widely. “That would be really quite marvellous,” he sighed.

Mark Hodson travelled to the Maldives as a guest of Hayes & Jarvis



Thursday, May 03, 2007

BA Miles

From
April 29, 2007

Using your BA Miles can actually cost you money, says Mark Hodson


At the time it sounded such a good idea. Join the British Airways Executive Club and, as well as pocketing a smart blue membership card, I’d earn BA Miles every time I booked a flight. But five years on, I’m ready to throw in the towel. Despite crisscrossing the Atlantic and buzzing around Europe on BA, I’ve still only managed to accrue 7,175 miles – not even enough to claim a return flight from London to Manchester.

Why such a paltry total? Partly because, contrary to popular belief, the airline doesn’t give me a BA Mile for every geographical mile I fly. It would if I paid full fare, but, like most passengers, I book the cheapest available flights. These earn only about a quarter of the real miles flown. A recent return trip to Geneva (total distance 920 miles) was worth just 250 BA Miles.

Last year, BA responded to criticism by reducing the number of miles needed to claim free flights. The minimum amount required for the shortest hops was cut from 12,000 to 9,000 miles. If, like me, you’re still short, BA lets you buy extra miles, or pay part-miles, part-cash. What it doesn’t tell you is that both these options can work out more expensive than simply booking the flight at www.ba.com.

I tried booking a flight to Paris in November through the Executive Club and was quoted 3,000 miles plus £15 and £34.80 in taxes. Total: £49.80. I then logged out and tried again, masquerading as a humble non-executive. Total price for the exact same flight, with taxes: £43.80.

Next up, a return flight to Venice. For this, I was told I would need an additional 7,825 miles. I could buy these from BA at a cost of £16 per thousand (plus a cheeky £15 “processing fee”). Buying the extra miles would cost £143 plus £47.40 in taxes. Grand total: £190.40 (plus my hard-earned miles). But if I’d booked the flights at www.ba.com, I would have paid just £78.40.

Even frequent business travellers who have accumulated piles of BA Miles report problems in redeeming them. David Murr, of Yateley, in Hampshire, saved enough miles to fly his wife Club class to Australia for their 40th wedding anniversary. When he had trouble finding available dates, he was advised to book as soon as the seats came on sale – 350 days in advance.

He called the Executive Club exactly 350 days ahead, only to be told that all the seats allocated to BA Miles holders had been sold for that month. “They suggested I fly to Hong Kong with BA Miles, then pay another carrier to take us on. It is an absolute disgrace that BA markets the benefits of BA Miles when it’s almost impossible to get a seat,” said Murr.

BA admits that caps are placed on the numbers of seats it exchanges for miles, but won’t reveal exact figures. “Popular destinations and times are limited,” it said, adding that 500,000 customers a year do manage to redeem their miles.

BA has also upset some of its exec members by introducing an expiry date on miles. If an account is not used for three years, all the miles are lost.

Despite this, there are plenty of miles sitting around in accounts, doing nothing. One report said that at the end of 2004 the worldwide total of unredeemed frequent-flyer miles was... wait for it... 14 trillion.

MAXIMISE YOUR MILES

There may be pitfalls with BA Miles, but they can be worth having if you know how to work the system. Here’s how:

— If you buy BA flights for family members, open a household account and you can claim their miles too.

— Look for late deals. BA recently had returns to Geneva, Dresden and Zurich for 4,500 miles, reduced from 9,000 miles.

— You can convert Tesco Clubcard points to BA Miles (250 Tesco points equal 600 miles). Avis, Travelex and Hilton also pay BA Miles.

— Consider collecting Airmiles instead. Although Airmiles is owned by BA, its points are worth more. That return to Venice would have cost 600 Airmiles plus taxes, rather than 15,000 BA Miles.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Metal cutlery on flights

Do airlines and airport authorities make up the rules as they go along? On my flight with XL to the Caribbean, passengers were given with metal cutlery. I'm not complaining (the service was excellent and my knife sliced effortlessly through my bread roll) but if XL can do it, why can't other airlines? Are they any hard and fast rules, or are they just toying with us?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Gatwick security put the boot in

It appears that UK airport security staff have quietly abandoned the screening of passengers’ shoes. Yesterday I passed through Gatwick South and for the first time in months I noticed that nobody going through security was told to take off their footwear and put it through the scanning machines.

So shoe bombers no longer pose a threat? If so, why weren’t we, the travelling public, told?

On the other hand, security staff are as keen as ever to confiscate moisturiser and perfume. I saw one woman yesterday hauled out of the queue and publicly humiliated after she admitted she had forgotten to put a couple of bottles of cosmetics in her checked baggage.

A smirking security officer threatrically scopped up the bottles and threw them loudly into a bin. The “guilty” passenger, who only spoke broken English, looked flustered and confused.

And they wonder why we dislike them so?


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It makes cents

Tour operators have been doing it for years, now holidaymakers are getting in on the act by dabbling in currency speculation. It's called dollar hedging - making sure you lock yourself in at the current favourable exchange rates. I've had a nibble myself, taking advantage of a high-street rate of $1.90 to the Pound, compared to $1.70 earlier this year. Order online at Travelex and collect your greenbacks at the airport, and you also avoid paying that annoying commission.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Too stupid to travel?

Hotel news coming at you direct from the Maldives.

Most daft question from a guest (pre arrival): "Can we rent a car and drive between the islands?"

Most cretinous complaint to hotel management: "The shower is no good. My feet are getting wet" (the guest was apparently unhappy that the water was not draining away sufficiently quickly from the base of the shower).

Tourists, eh. Dontcha love 'em.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Now Madonna is off to the Maldives

So welcome back to celebrity travel news. Yeah, I know, I should be more highbrow, but I was intrigued to read that Madonna is apparently planning to take baby David to the Maldives - just like Tom and Katie did! Poor kid, hasn't he racked up enough air miles lately.

Anyway, according to the reports, Madonna wanted to rent an entire island for a week over Christmas, but baulked at the asking price of $450,000 (£230,000).



Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mystery Cruise


Travel writers and editors will be busy on Google today trying to find the island resort in the Maldives where Tom Cruise is honeymooning with his new bride Katie Holmes. With more than 70 islands to choose from, the task might look daunting. In fact, there are only a few that would suit the secretive couple who would doubtless not want to be queueing at the breakfast buffet with a bunch of accountants from Wisconsin. My money would be on either the Rania Experience, where you get your own luxury yacht and private island (surely big enough for TomKat's entourage), or Dhoni Mighili (pictured above), which also has a boat-and-private island combination and has in the past been rented out wholesale to big spenders, including one Russian family who checked into the place for New Year's. I've stayed there and it's awesome, although the cottages might be a bit rustic for Tom. One resort, Cocoa Island has already issued a press release denying it is hosting the happy couple - which is either a case of wishful thinking or astute marketing. Wherever TomKat are, you can be sure that hoteliers all over the Maldives will be rubbing their hands together right now waiting for the bookings to roll in.

UPDATE: according to a report from Reuters published in Australia today Tom and Katie are on the Packer family's yacht, Arctic P, and plan to "visit a host of islands". Storms are forecast, apparently. So soon?


Monday, November 20, 2006

Airport announcement

At Aberdeen airport today: "Would a passenger who has lost a pair of nail clippers please report to a member of staff." To be shot, perhaps?

Airline speak

We all find airport security and airline staff irritating, right? Well, if you're a pedant like me you have the added annoyance of having to listen to "airline speak". Why, for instance, are passengers always told "this is the last and final call..."? Don't they know that's tautologous? And why do cabin crew insist on appending every question with "at all"? As in, "Any coffee for you at all?" No wonder air rage is on the rise.

Any more annoying examples of "airline speak"?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Travel industry saving the planet

Sometimes the efforts of the travel industry to "do their bit" for the planet are excruciating. Today I got an email from a French ski resort asking if I'd like to fly over for the day for a boozy pre-Christmas party on the slopes. At the bottom of the email was this message:

Please consider the environment before printing this email

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What is a travel writer worth?

How much would you pay to meet a travel writer? Not very much, I'd venture. Unless, of course, you're a hotelier or tour operator and looking for a free plug in the press. Then, apparently, you might be prepared to fork out £200 or more.

That's what one PR company charges its clients to set up an individual press appointment. I am told that other firms charge a lot more.

Now this may come as a shock to many overworked and underpaid travel writers who are expected by PRs to turn up at their lunches and drinks receptions - for the price of a glass of cheap white wine.

It makes you wonder why we don't cut out the middle woman and auction ourselves off to the highest bidder. Anybody give me £100 for a quick mid-morning coffee?

Travel writing: best job in the world?

I'm regularly told I've got the "best job in the world". Certainly, there never seems to be a shortage of bright young things who want a career in travel writing. It's not hard to see why. Travel the world for free....get paid for doing not very much...etc.

In fact, it's a tough business and getting tougher. Most travel writers I know seem permanently anxious, tired and underpaid. They complain that they don't have enough work, and that they've got too much to do, sometimes in the same sentence.

The harsh reality is that travel writers dangle at the bottom of a very long food chain that is fast disappearing. Newspapers are getting squeezed as advertising revenue drifts online. Sales are down. Editors are continually being forced to make cuts.

Now, travel writers are having to compete with all those pesky amateurs posting hotel and resort reviews online, providing free content for web rivals. Recently, I was sent a round-robin email by a magazine publisher looking for travel articles. She said she didn't have a budget to pay writers, but this would nevertheless be a good opportunity for somebody looking to build their cuttings book. Shameless.

Now, travel writers are being squeezed on another front - the green lobby. Not only are we stressed and underpaid, now we're evil too, because we encourage people to take more flights.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Travel search made easy

Do you want to track down travel articles from newspaper or magazine websites? Maybe you vaguely remember reading a piece sometime but you can't remember where. Perhaps you want to see who's written about your favourite hotel or beach. Well, now you can. I've customised a search engine using Google technology that will help you find articles in more than two dozen newspapers and magazines in both the UK and US. Give it a whirl.