It's been too long since we were last in the UK and it's time to start thinking about another trip there. We used to go a lot more often, but now that we have four plane tickets to buy, it's got significantly more expensive. Still, by planning ahead, there are some ways we can save money.
Direct flights from the east coast of the US are more expensive than a flight with one or more change of planes. For example, we flew IcelandAir via Reykjavik the last time we flew to the UK. You have to weigh the hidden costs of a 'cheaper' flight though. When you're travelling with kids or have a limited amount of vacation time, it's not just a question of money. Is it worth it to spend significantly longer en route? Spending several hours in the middle of the night in an airport that was basically shut down for the night was not particularly entertaining. Nor was it fun to have a three year old screaming for the first several hundred miles because his sister had promised him his own seat-back TV that never materialized because we were on a 'short-haul' flight with TVs that dropped down from the ceiling of the plane. Next time we're paying the extra and flying direct!
In the past, we've had the good fortune to have a family member working for a car rental company in the UK, so we've been able to hire a car at a staff discount. Not so now, but I discovered that if you book a car at the same time as you book your flight with British Airways it is significantly cheaper than booking it separately. I think a manual Vectra for 15 days, including unlimited mileage and all the optional insurance works out at under $300. If you sign up for the BA frequent flyer program you can add a second driver at no charge, which is another savings. (Not that DH ever drives in the UK, but it would be nice to know that he was insured to do so if he had to for some reason.)
Given that we're visiting family when we go to the UK, we are able to save money by staying with them for at least part of the time. On our last few trips, we've made a point of spending a few nights in hotels to visit parts of the country where we don't happen to have any relatives. The first time we did it was for the sheer delight of spending only $9 a night TOTAL for a family of four! The Travelodge chain was having a "Fiver Frenzy" sale - rooms available for five pounds a night! I admit it was close to ten years ago and we've never hit a sale quite that good again, but their regular rates are excellent if you book ahead. The rooms are basic. There are no toiletries provided. (Towels are though.) Breakfast is not included, but there's instant coffee and tea bags in the room along with a kettle, and your room key gets you a discount at the restaurant next door for breakfast. WiFi is available for a fee. Given that we're not there to do anything other than sleep in the hotel room, it suits our purpose fine. If Travelodge is not your style, try checking out vouchercodes.co.uk's voucher codes for hotels.com.
We like to visit pubs when we're in the UK. There are so many though, and it's really easy to pick a bad one, so we rely on the latest edition of the Good Pub Guide. I have too many American friends who have never heard of it and ended up having a bad pub experience and thinking that all pubs in the UK serve naff food. If you're only there for a few days on vacation you don't want to waste your money on a bad meal! Nowadays, we look not just for pubs that have good beer and good food, but also that are child-friendly.
On our last trip we used the Good Pub Guide to find The Mole and Chicken in Buckinghamshire. There was a similarly highly recommended pub not very far away, but the Guide warned us that it was NOT child-friendly. At The Mole and Chicken we had an outstanding evening, and the children had as good a meal as we did. This time we may not even have to buy the Guide if we plan well as it is now online! In fact, the last time I checked, the 2010 guide is not available in the US yet, so we'll be doing our planning using the website! I may buy DH the book for his birthday though as he does like just browsing through it, and it could come in handy if our carefully made plans fall apart once we're in the UK!
If you're going to visit historic sites, don't forget to work out whether it's worth buying a pass rather than single tickets. There's the London Pass for 55 sites in London, CADW has passes for Welsh sites and the British Heritage Pass covers over 500 sites, some of them National Trust sites. The National Trust has both short-term passes and an annual membership that covers over 300 historic sites. Depending on which sites you want to visit, the National Trust annual membership may actually be a better deal than the British Heritage Pass for a limited number of days! An even better deal for Americans is to plan ahead and join the Royal Oak Foundation which is for American members of the National Trust. A family membership is just US$90, as opposed to the 82 pounds it would cost for National Trust membership - and it's 100% deductible as a charitable donation on your US tax return! Oh - and if you have a membership to a local science museum in the US it is often valid at other museums including a few in the UK.
You can also check sites like VoucherCodes.co.uk to find their latest money saving voucher codes and offers, including Hotels.com Discount Codes and Expedia Voucher Codes. While the site is not necessarily geared towards international tourists visiting the UK, there might be some useful offers there. I've seen printable coupons for meal deals at a Covent Garden restaurant for example. If we were going to such a touristy location where the prices are inevitably going to be high, I'd definitely rather have a coupon in hand! I'll be looking to see if they have coupons for some of the chain restaurants we might stop at with the kids as they seem to have a lot of BOGOF deals, which would certainly make it more affordable. (I do hate the acronym BOGOF - looks too much like 'bog off!')
There are lots of things that seem to be more expensive in the UK than in the US, but I suppose I could 'save' some money by stocking up on a few of the things that aren't, like Indian spices. I remember returning to the US in the past with a large quantity of Patak's curry sauce jars in my suitcase! If I didn't already have more than enough knitting needles, I could stock up on the highly desirable Addi needles as they are generally 1/2 to 2/3 the price in the UK that they are in the USA. Tea bags. Custard creams. What else?
Does anyone else have any suggestions for how to save money on a trip to the UK?
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