BEST SHORT-HAUL AIRLINE
The top two in the line-up this year is identical to 2017, seemingly having mastered the elusive art of consistently pleasing passengers.
Swiss, which flies from several UK cities, has, perhaps, a built-in advantage. Its destination airports – Geneva and Zurich – are among the most efficient of any European hubs. There may be quite a long walk from the arrivals gate but I have often found my luggage on the belt when I get to the baggage hall – and that always makes me feel good about a flight.
That said, Swiss is a past master at in-flight service. It’s the small details which make a difference – like the complimentary sandwich and drink, so rare on short-haul flights now, and especially the basket of mini-bars of delicious Swiss chocolate handed round towards the end of every flight.
In second place, Icelandair has seen a sharp growth in UK passengers in recent years, as this spectacular island
has become more and more popular as a tourist destination. It’s always heartening to see a fast-growing company maintaining standards.
Hard on its heels in third place in jet2.com, up from fourth last year. The low-cost operator has its main base at Leeds-Bradford and is now one of the largest scheduled airlines in the UK. Further down the list, British Airways, winners from 2012-16, came 10th, easyJet 13th and Ryanair last out of the 25 airlines rated.
BEST LONG-HAUL AIRLINE
trained cabin crew.
It also has the great advantage of a highly strategic home base. Singapore is a gateway to many south-east Asian destinations, and an attractive stopover on the journey to Australasia.
Another consistent performer, Emirates, retains second place, and Air New Zealand leapfrogs Qatar Airways into third. Virgin Atlantic puts in a creditable performance in seventh place and looks comfortably the best bet for transatlantic flights.
British Airways will, I’m sure, be disappointed with the rating you gave it this year. It came 31st out of 50 airlines, on the same score as Kenya Airways. It will certainly want to impress you more next year when it celebrates its centenary.
BEST RIVER CRUISE LINE
such as private concerts in historic buildings and rides on vintage trains are complemented by a choice of included excursions in many destinations. APT’s win proves that plenty of people are happy to pay a premium for quality, though the company – which operates in Europe and Asia – has a lessinclusive brand at a less-weighty price.
Uniworld piles on the luxury in terms of accommodation and food on its elegant ships. Although its brave attempt to lure younger travellers into river cruising has had a mixed response, the core customer base love the gracious service and old-school charm enough to vote it into the first runner-up spot.
Specialist Asia line Pandaw maintains last year’s second runner-up place, a fine achievement considering the high-profile brands in the market. Its handsome, traditional-style ships sail lesser-known rivers as well as the key waterways, with new Indian itineraries for 2019.
BEST LARGE CRUISE LINE
its glorious coastal scenery but its people and customs. The 11 multifunction ships that hug the shore are a lifeline for remote hamlets, delivering everything from mail to food to children visiting granny. Hurtigruten, last year’s second runner-up, also runs two expedition vessels, with two more go-anywhere ships being built.
Ultra-luxe cruising is finding a growing audience, and despite a fleet of just four ships – a fifth is scheduled for early 2020 – Regent Seven Seas has gained a sufficiently appreciative audience to take the first runner-up spot. Everything is thrown into in the admittedly premium price, from champagne at breakfast to inspiring shore excursions.
The second runner-up, Viking, has struck plenty of chords with its adults-only smaller ships with smart Scandinavian interiors, inclusive pricing and well thought-out itineraries. Viking’s range of destinations is expanding as fast as its fleet; ship number six is due early in 2019, with more to follow.
BEST SMALL CRUISE LINE
three ships – plus a new flagship about to enter service – have sails. Stirring music is the signal for the crew to raise them so guests can enjoy the sensation of wind power. The relaxed, fun atmosphere on board has proved very popular, as have the detailed itineraries in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and south-east Asia.
The first runner-up, sophisticated Seabourn, sets the bar high with plush accommodation and fine dining on intimate ships. Its win in this category last year was no doubt partly due to the launch of the super-stylish Ovation and a partnership with Unesco, which adds depth to many shore excursions.
Azamara Club Cruises has captured attention with its country-intensive voyages. Its ships visit a variety of ports in a more compact region, with several overnight stays. Most cruises feature a special evening out included in the price.
BEST HOTEL GROUP
EVERY ONE’S A WINNERSee the Northern Lights on a cruise with Hurtigruten, top; suite dreams with Singapore Airlines, left; the Dordogne, above, where villa operator Simpson Travel has properties