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Touring Britain: paying now means saving later

Britain on a budget needn't be a threadbare affair. Being on a budget simply means controlling costs so that the result of your visit is pleasure, rather than preoccupation with prices.

One method of travel cost control is the prepayment of basic expenses. The Britrail pass, which must be purchased beforem arriving in Britain, is a classic example of the substantial savings and convenience that can be realized by prepaying parts of a trip.

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Now, the ultimate prepayment package -- a Totality Tour, the brochure bills it -- is available. Arthur Frommer, author of the Europe on $15 a Day guidebook , has introduced "London Without Cash" for British Airways transatlantic passengers. For $459, in addition to air fare, everythingm for a week in London is claimed to be included -- frills as well as all the essentials. "London Without Cash" very nearly lives up to its name.

The program offers seven nights at the Tavistock Hotel, near Russell Square, in a room with private bath and TV. All meals are included: continental breakfasts, vouchers for lunches at many of the meal-serving pubs throughout London, "carvery" all-you-can-eat meals, a four-course Elizabethan banquet, and an additional six meals, two each at pub, first-class, and luxury restaurants. These six meals offer unrestricted choice of any three a la carte courses on the menu; choices from the luxury and first-class list can mean memorable meals worth $30 or more each. Coffee, tea, tip, and tax are included at all restaurants.

Transportation is via a seven-day Go-As-You-Please pass -- worth nearly $40 itself -- on London's red bus and underground network. A two-hour orientation tour of London by bus is included, as is an Open to View pass for free admission to those few museums in London that charge for entry.

Evening entertainment features four theater tickets, preselected, but you can exchange them at the friendly Frommer offices on Pall Mall, and two movie tickets, which can be turned in for the theater, if you prefer.

When you add to the above your vouchers for the baggage porter, newspapers under your door each morning, a guidebook to London, a nightly beverage at the hotel lounge, and prestamped post cards to send home, "London Without Cash" does sound quite complete.

Programs begin whatever day of the week British Airways passengers arrive in London. The complete set of vouchers, additional information, and a suggested itinerary are delivered to you at London's Heathrow Airport, from which the Piccadilly underground line runs directly to Russell Square, near the hotel.

By and large, "London Without Cash" is fuss-free. All vouchers are readily accepted. Aside from having to arrange to be near one of the participating restaurants or pubs for lunch -- not particularly difficult since there is a wide selection -- one's schedule is completely independent. There are no overtones of traveling with a tour, although if one wants to meet "London Without Cash" comrades you can do so at theaters, in the hotel lounge, and at the Elizabethan banquet.

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Participants seem pleased with the program and agree that it is a bargain. I calculated the cost of the individual components to be worth nearly $200 more than the $459 paid. To see if "London Without Cash" really came close to being so, I made note of anything for which I did hand over currency. Other than beverages with meals, however, the items seemed pretty petty: theater programs at 70 cents, for instance.

The only lack of enthusiasm seemed over accommodations. The Tavistock is described as "completely adequate although extremely plain." If this is of concern, another $40 will upgrade you to the nearby Royal National Hotel.

First-time visitors to London aren't the only ones to find the program an appropriate travel choice. I've stayed in London many times and found "London Without Cash" well suited to my needs on this visit. It appeals to participants of all ages and interests.

"London Without Cash" is a good choice for someone coming to London alone. (The supplement for the traveler wishing a single room is $100.) Having the prepaid vouchers encourages one to dine out. As a woman dining alone, I was made to feel very comfortable at all the participating restaurants.

Theater is a wonderful evening out, whether one is alone or otherwise. In addition to the whos and whats on stage, the theater buildings have character, beauty, and civility, enhanced by sipping tea in the lounge before the performance and during the intermission.

If you like the cashless concept, but don't want the London package, there's now a brand new "Britain Without Cash." For $499, it includes seven nights at any of the more than 200 Trust Houses Forte throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, full English breakfast and all other meals, an Open to View card to visit historic sites and houses, and an Avis rental car with unlimited mileage and unlimited gasoline.m If you prefer, you can choose a Britrail pass instead of a car.

Either way, and with either package, you'll enjoy Britain on a budjet.

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