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The Plane, in Spain, That's Cheaper Than the Train

Madrid, November 25, 2003 -- Local routes in Spain aren't served by the obvious European budget airlines. That may be because the three major airlines there -- Iberia (www.iberia.com), Spanair (www.spanair.com) and Air Europa (www.aireuropa.com) do such a bang-up job of keeping local fares low -- lower, in many cases, than taking the train on popular routes.

What this means is that if you're planning a trip to Spain, you should seriously look at flying to shorten travel times across the country. The train is still more scenic, and in many cases can be less of a hassle -- there's no airport to trek to and from. But especially on long-distance routes, these discount fares can help you make much more of your Spanish holiday.

Both Iberia and Spanair offer fares around €35, including tax, for flights on most routes in mainland Spain. Air Europa isn't far behind; we found plenty of €50-60 fares when searching routes on that airline.

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Which airline should you fly? We flew both Iberia and Spanair between Barcelona and Madrid this week, and Spanair offered cheerier service and cleaner planes. Spanair also gives you United frequent flier miles for the full length of your trip, where Iberia drops only 30% of miles flown on discount fares into your American Airlines account. But Iberia has the nation's most comprehensive network, and unlike Spanair they'll sell e-tickets to Americans, so there's no piece of paper to lose.

The danger with flying is that while train fares are simple -- a €30 fare is always a €30 fare -- plane fares vary. Trying to book a trip from Barcelona to Bilbao, for instance, we found fares from €33 all the way up to €101. So book as far in advance as possible, and check several flights on your desired day, as they may be very different prices.

Some popular routes where flying can be a big bonus:

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  • Barcelona-Madrid. One of Spain's most expensive train journeys, the five-hour high-speed run costs €59. Iberia and Spanair flights leave every hour or more often throughout the day, and can cost as little as €33.45.
    • Barcelona-Bilbao. Connecting the Basque and Catalonian capitals by train takes nine hours and costs at least €34. You can sleep on the train or kill a whole day traveling. Five Iberia and four Spanair flights make the 65-minute trip daily for as little as €33.45.
    • Madrid-Bilbao. A seven-hour trip by train, at least it's affordable at €29.50. For only a little more, though, you can have a 55-minute flight- yes, you got it -- €33.45. Iberia offers six flights a day, and Spanair offers eight.
    • Barcelona-Seville. If you want to join Catalonia and Andalusia, you could spend 8 1/2 hours on a train and spend €76.50. Or you could spend a mere 85 minutes on one of Iberia's six daily flights, which cost as little as -- yup -- €33.45.

    All of these flights are available directly through www.iberia.com and www.spanair.com; buy well in advance for the best fares. Olé!

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