Cut-price beds, cruise and Cuba

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

ASK JOAN:Myself and my wife would like to do the Hurtigruten 12-day Norwegian cruise to Kirkenes (above the Arctic Circle) this year. Can you advise us on when is the best time to go, bearing in mind the length of day in winter compared to summer? Also, do you know if the Northern Lights are active all year round or just in winter?– LM, Dublin

Hurtigruten is celebrating 120 years plying the coast of Norway and keeping communities connected all year round. Thanks to the Gulf Stream the coast remains ice-free, but the weather in winter can be harsh.

In northern Norway the sun does not rise from mid-November until the end of January, so it is very dark. Spring usually arrives around the end of May, and as you go into summer, daylight gets longer until you reach the midnight sun.

The 12-day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes and back costs from €4,370 for two sharing, full board. The Northern Lights are best seen in October, February and March. Hurtigruten is offering a five-night Arctic package until the middle of March, costing from €1,559pps if you book before the end of January. Hurtigruten will have a stand at the Holiday World Show this weekend, at the RDS. Trips can be booked with Project-travel.ie, tel: 01-210 8391.

How are holiday discount companies able to offer such savings on the prices offered by both the hotels and the large national and international travel companies? I have a fear of booking with these companies lest I find myself in the worst room in the hotel, or not in the hotel I have booked because of overbooking. Are my fears justified?

– AJK, Dublin

There has been an explosion in the number of companies offering hotel accommodation and holidays and it can be confusing. When it comes to hotel accommodation, the most important thing for any hotel manager is to make sure that every room that can be sold will be sold, every night.

Hotels work on a system of inventory management and have a good idea of how many rooms they will sell on any given night and at what price. However, it is the variables that they can then allow to be sold through hotel booking sites, and usually there is a minimum price the room can be sold at.

What the consumer needs to do is make sure that the hotel booking site is a reputable one. There have been difficulties over the past few years with booking sites going out of business and leaving people out of pocket. This has led to a shake up in the business with bigger websites dominating the market. You will find that these bigger websites are part of larger global corporations.

If you have the tiniest doubt, don’t book. When it comes to booking holidays online always make sure that the website you use has a current travel agency licence, whether it is Irish or British. You can check Irish licences on aviationreg.ieand UK licences on abta.com.

My Canadian niece is getting married on April 3rd at the Playa Pesquero resort in Cuba. Family and friends are flying from Toronto. My husband and I would love to go. Please can you tell us the most economical way of doing it from Donegal. We’ve looked online, and most packages seem to involve themes and travelling round the island.We’d love to do that too, but our main purpose in going is obviously the wedding and the reunion with family, including several new arrivals. 

– KMC, Donegal

The fact that the trip is over Easter means that flights to Havana are quite expensive. The lowest price I found was with Air France or KLM, at around €1,030 via Paris or Amsterdam. Iberia also fly from Madrid and Air Canada from Heathrow to Toronto and then to Havana; the prices were similar.

However, I have found a holiday with tour operators thomson.co.uk, for around your dates, flying from London Gatwick to Havana and staying in an all-inclusive resort in Playa Pesquero for £1,072 each, about €1,292pps, for a week. It would mean getting to Gatwick, which can be quite reasonable, if you book it soon.

* Send your queries to jscales@irishtimes.com

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