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Fly and drive…. a bit further?
Jan 16th, 2013 by john

It’s natural when looking for holiday flights to concentrate on the nearest airport to your destination. But if you’re going to be finishing your journey by hire car it can be well worth while casting your net a little – or even a lot – further.

I’m writing this from the Costa Blanca, having decided to escape Britain’s winter chill for a month. The best price I could find on Skyscanner.net for flights to the two closest airports, Alicante and Valencia, was £89 return. Not bad, but hardly brilliant as you don’t get much more off-season than early January. But for £43 return we could fly to Reus. Where? Well, Reus is a small airport near Tarragona, up in north east Spain. It’s one of those Ryanair cheap alternative airports, in this case for Barcelona, which is around 70 miles to the north. More to the point, 230 miles from our Costa Blanca destination. Could it really be worth driving an extra 150 miles each way? To ‘save’ £92 on two airfares?

Well, if you avoid tolls and treat the journey as a fun part of the trip, yes. The extra 300 miles used about 30 litres in the petrol Ford Focus we hired, costing around £35. So a saving of around £50. But after an early flight that disgorged us, blinking, into the bright Spanish sunshine at 10am, we stopped for lunch in the very pleasant town of Benicarlos, strolled on the beach in the bright sunshine then took a quick look at nearby Peniscola with its Papa Luna castle. On the way back, we’ll stop overnight in the town of Requena, near Valencia, to take a look at that.

Reus airport is small and straightforward to use (one fellow passenger said, “I hate big airports. I always use this one or Zaragoza.”) and probably needs your support, if our half-full Ryanair flight from Bristol is any guide.

So, try thinking a little outside the box when searching for flights. And, as ever, the indispensable tool for doing this is www.skyscanner.net.

Have you managed to save on flights by travelling to an airport that’s a little further out of town? Let us know in the comments!

Faster flights promised
Dec 6th, 2010 by john

Shorter, quicker and less environmentally damaging flights should be the result of a new agreement between Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland to jointly manage their air space. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has praised the European Commission for this new step towards the long-delayed Single European Sky plan.

Until now, European airspace has been divided into 27 different areas under the control of national governments. This has forced airlines to zig-zag between the different airspaces and military exclusion zones, flying longer routes than necessary, increasing emissions and costs for operators and sometimes even jeopardizing safety.

Diagram courtesy of Lufthansa

The EU ‘Single European Sky’ (SES) initiative was launched in 1999 to create a single European air navigation system by setting up nine Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs). Two have already been agreed – UK/Ireland and Denmark/Sweden – and the new central European FAB is the third and most important, as 55 per cent of all flights in Europe pass through this block.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said he hoped the new agreement will be “an inspiration for the other member states in their efforts to have all the functional airspace blocks in place by the deadline of 4 December 2012.”

The six FABs still to be set up include the ‘Blue Med’ group which will gather together Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta along with associates Tunisia, Egypt and Albania as well as Jordan and Lebanon as observers.

Despite the current financial crisis, air traffic in Europe is expected to double by 2030, increasing from the current level of 10 million flights to 20.4 million flights per year.

Are Florida price cutters ruining the rental market?
Jan 12th, 2010 by john

Owners of Florida properties who offer last minute deals and special offers are pushing prices down, according to an owner who has complained that some weekly rates advertised in Holiday Villas and Cottages magazine and on VillaSeek.com are too low. In emails to us he wrote:

“Having read your magazine in our doctor’s surgery I was shocked to see that it was full of bargain basement Florida villas whose owners are literally giving their beautiful homes away. As we don’t discount or charge cheap prices we do not feel that this sort of magazine which has such cheap villas would be a suitable place to advertise our home.”

And:

“The rates were, to put it bluntly, scandalously low. This is the mindset of villa owners who think that ‘anything is better than nothing’ but that sort of marketing encourages haggling and bargaining, and pushes prices even further down.

It also attracts the sort of people who DON’T respect your home as they have paid so little that they think that the villa owner is made of money in order to be able to subsidise their holiday – and the guest is laughing all the way to the bank as they spend all the money they have squeezed out of the villa owner on extra park tickets or designer gear.”

For a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom villa in Esprit, Davenport, this owner charges from £599 to £750 per week. Is he correct in believing it’s better to leave the villa empty than offer a last minute price of, say, £300 per week? And is his belief that people looking for a bargain are less likely to respect the house well founded?

Rental prices in Florida have been tending to fall because so much property is on offer and visitor numbers have been dropping. Is this a trend that can be successfully resisted?

Another factor is that lower property prices mean owners who have bought cheaply can offer low rental prices. For instance, our current issue has an ad from Dolby Properties which includes this property:

Highlands Reserve – immaculate 5/3.5 villa with sunny pool. Outstanding rental history. $291,000.

That’s around £180,000 – say £200,000 with taxes, charges and set-up costs. So if you were to rent that out at £395 a week (the sort of ‘scandalously low’ figure our emailer has in mind) you would need to sell 31 weeks a year to bring in £12,000. In reality, you would charge more for the summer holidays and Christmas.

Would £12k be enough to pay mortgage, management costs, cleaning, local taxes, maintenance, insurance and all the rest of it? And would you be better off selling, say, 20 weeks at £595 to bring in the same sort of money?

And why is it that the spread between minimum and peak weekly prices is much less in Florida (where the peak price is usually no more than 50 per cent higher than the minimum) than, say, Spain where the top rate is often three times or more?

Let us know your views in the comments section below – whether you are a holidaymaker thinking of renting a Florida property, an owner trying to make a success of renting, or maybe a professional involved in the business.

Spanish roads get safer
Jan 3rd, 2010 by john

Image by Flickr user EkoSystem

Image by Flickr user EkoSystem

The good news for anyone driving in Spain is that the country’s roads have been getting safer at a remarkable rate. New figures show that road deaths in 2009 fell for the sixth year running, with the total of 1,897 down by 13 per cent on the 2008 figure. The last time road deaths were below 2,000 in Spain was 1964, when there were just two million cars on the road, compared with 31 million today. In the last six years the number of road deaths has more than halved, from 3,993 in 2003 to last year’s 1,897. Improved driving standards were the main reason, according to the Spanish interior ministry: “ The Spanish drove better, they were more cautious and safety-minded.”

A lot of the credit must also go to Spain’s huge investment in better roads, as well as the improved safety of modern cars.

Want to practise your Spanish? Read the full story as it appeared in El Mundo.

Tough times for no-frills tiddlers
Nov 10th, 2009 by john

BMI Baby flight from Manchester to Malaga. Photo by Terry Wha

BMI Baby flight from Manchester to Malaga. Photo by Terry Wha

The drastic downsizing of low cost airline bmibaby shows the fierce competition smaller operators are facing from the big two of the no-frills airline world, Ryanair and Easyjet.

The bmibaby fleet will be cut from 17 to 12 planes, leading to the likely loss of around 160 pilots and cabin crew based at Birmingham, Cardiff and Manchester. Management and support staff jobs are also at risk.

Bmibaby has blamed the recession for its problems, but it looks as if new owner Lufthansa has decided bmibaby cannot compete head on with the big two, who have been muscling in on previously profitable holiday routes like Alicante and Málaga. Instead, it will focus on less competitive routes with growth potential.

The move is the latest step in a long process of consolidation amongst budget airlines. Players that have fallen by the wayside include early front runners Go (set up by BA and later sold to Easyjet) and KLM subsidiary Buzz (sold to Ryanair). MyTravelLite stopped independent operations in 2005 and Thomsonfly has effectively given up scheduled flights. The two remaining significant UK-based operators are Flybe and Jet2. Both have tried to develop as regional airlines avoiding direct competition, but that strategy is likely to come under increasing pressure as the big two add ever more routes. Monarch also offers scheduled services on some holiday routes.

Charter airlines are also suffering, as flight-only passengers increasingly prefer the lower costs and greater flexibility of budget airlines. In October, the number of charter airline passengers passing through BAA’s seven UK airports fell by 12.4 per cent compared with a year earlier (scheduled traffic rose by 1.1 per cent), while Manchester airport saw a 12.7 per cent fall in charter passengers.

To fly or not to fly?
Feb 19th, 2008 by john

Whether it’s from fear of flying, love of the planet or just the sheer tedium of airport people-processing, flight-free holidays are a hot topic.

So I thought it was time I researched the alternatives to flying. You can read the results in the current issue of Holiday Villas; a cut-down version has been added on this site today. Please click to view.

But what surprised me is that despite all the hype about the new, faster Eurostar trains from St Pancras, London, they really haven’t got their act together as far as family holidays are concerned.

First, on the Eurostar website you can only find out prices and book three months ahead. Which isn’t much good if you want to book your summer hols now. And prices are way more expensive than taking your own car on the ferry, especially if you need to hire a car at the other end (which you probably will, if you’re staying in a villa).

There doesn’t seem to be any quick way of researching through-routes (Birmingham-Alicante was the example I was trying, for a Costa Blanca holiday), though the Spanish rail website (www.renfe.com) works brilliantly if your Spanish is good enough.

If Eurostar really want to persuade holidaymakers away from planes and cars and onto their trains, there’s a lot more work to be done. Like making tickets bookable 6 months ahead, providing cheap family tickets (how about children travel any distance at off-peak times for €10, if with one or more parents paying full fare?) and getting a Europe-wide pricing structure together.

Until it’s as quick, cheap and easy to book a train to Milan or Malaga as it is to book a plane, Eurostar will remain the preserve of business travellers and couples off for a city break.

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