It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s expensive. Well not quite…
Having come back from a few days in Estepona last month (more on that another time), I realised that spending next to peanuts and having a cosy holiday to show for it involves walking an awkward line between fine art and science. We’re young and don’t yet have kids, thank God, what better time to zip up and down your country as well as others too? Some of us might be broke but that just adds a little extra to the fun.
I’m going to more tackle travelling cheaply outside the U.K. on this one and then approach travelling closer to home in another post because this can be quite a hefty topic.
The Infrequent Frequent Flyer:
You may have just graduated or you may still be a student. Either way if there was a frequent traveller scheme for the bus, both of us would be quids in. Nevertheless, frequent flyer programmes are a goldmine if you’re thinking of travelling further afield and you don’t need to be an exec flying at least 25 times a year in First Class. That is all bollocks. With frequent flyer programmes you can earn points on general purchases; travel in and around the U.K. and for simply using your credit card or filling your car up on fuel.
Insofar as frequent flyer programmes go, I’d recommend signing up for:
- BA Exec Club (they use BA Avios as their club currency);
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club;
- Iberia Plus;
- Aer Club by Aer Lingus
It also helps to look at the kind of places you usually go/intend to go to as well as the airlines that go and look up the alliance that each airline operates under (i.e: Oneworld; SkyTeam; Star Alliance…) and consider their FF programmes too. You may be able to transfer points between schemes as well as earn and redeem points with partner airlines within each alliance. The ones I mentioned above all allow you to move points around at a similar value per point.
FYI: You can use these on the Eurostar and coaches too. It’s not everyday fly!
(a) Earn points by shopping: It’s relatively easy to collect points throughout a calendar year. If you’re still living with your parents; living with friends or flatmates who can’t be bothered to collect points or your partner then your collecting power increases tenfold. If you haven’t already then you NEED to get a loyalty card for the supermarket. Tesco Clubcard and Nectar (Sainsburys) both allow cardholders to exchange points and clubcard vouchers earned for Avios/BA Avios/Virgin Miles. If you have a load of cards then make sure you download one of the many apps that allow you to store discount and loyalty cards onto your phone. My fave is the Stocard app on iPhone. There is an Android version too on the Google Play Store.
When doing online shopping you can earn points with the loyalty cards AND the airlines directly through their shopping portals. This usually involves signing into your account and clicking the referral link on their portals. They usually give points for shopping with big sites and retailers such as Argos; eBay; John Lewis or Amazon as well as plenty of others. But it’s important that you ~make sure~ you access the store of your choice through the site or you won’t be able to earn any points. They get a commission from the retailer for you doing so. Also this is where a bit of savvy (and maths) comes in. It helps beforehand to find out how much you can get for each £1 with each portal. If Nectar is giving 5 Nectar points per £1 spent on eBay but BA is offering 10 Avios per £1 you are better off this time buying off eBay through the BA Exec Club link. This is where some of the grunt work comes in but the number crunching isn’t as hard as it seems.
A tip: If there is something you like from a retailer and they aren’t on the portal: see if they have a store on eBay or Amazon or if another reputable seller is selling it online. If they are: buy that using the portal link! You’ll earn points for the exact same thing you wanted! Chances are that you’ll save money on the original purchase anyway.
(b) Credit Cards:
If you have a generally decent credit rating (graduates this is more for you) then it may be useful to consider getting a credit card with one of the airlines or tha Avios one provided by Lloyds Bank. There is a much better and in depth guide on MoneySavingExpert by Martin Lewis here. But the gist of it is spend responsbily; budget well and spend what you’d usually spend from your own money on the card and pay the balance in full with the same.
You earn miles/points per £1 on most purchases (usually except gambling and adult services) and you get a sign up bonus too!
- 20,000 Avios – American Express Gold;
- 5,000 Avios – BA American Express;
- 3,000 Miles – Virgin White;
- 18,500 Miles- Virgin Black
(c) Spending Points:
Collecting a million points won’t give you a free flight but it will give you a discount proportionate to how much you have. Regardless you will always have to pay taxes and carrier/airport fees. If you’re traveling on BA’s Business Class to Orlando and paying only £500 in fees for the privilege that is an awful lot better than paying well up to £5,000 for the same privilege. You can also spend points on non flight related expenditure including hotels; car hire and experiences or duty free. But points on duty free stuff is usually a crap deal! The general rule in frequent flyer forums is to compare the cost (in cash and in miles) for both buying a ticket outright or making upgrades. It’s generally a better deal to pay the base fare for an Economy or Premium Economy ticket and then use points to bump up where necessary. Points for economy flights are usually appalling value.
(d) Sharing Miles:
Add your mum; dad; aunt; uncle; girlfriend/boyfriend; side-bae…. everyone. You can pool individual points and miles into a Household Account with certain schemes.
Remember miles are still cash. You bought something at some point and got them.
If you work somewhere you generally get a good set of corporate discounts. i:e: Civil Service Social Club (CSSC) or Civil Service Motoring Association (CSMA) amongst others provide holiday and other leisure discounts for members. Trade unions and health insurance providers usually offer discounts too. If you’re a Vitality Health customer you can get up to two return flights per year with British Airways at a 40% discount.
Check with your employer/union/insurer for details.
Flexibility is key. Where you can find the time to toy about with your dates it helps, especially if you can travel to a given place out of season. You’ll have just an interesting time but at a lot cheaper price and less chance of a kid screaming on your flight every ten minutes.
The only people who probably have the luxury of juxtaposed ports are those living in London but this involves flying (or sailing or railing) out of a different port of entry to that you’re returning to. e:g: Flying from London Gatwick to Malaga (because I don’t want to take the 7am from Luton) but coming back to London Luton (because it’s cheaper and I don’t mind travelling from Luton at 3pm).
This may or may not involve flying out with two different airlines (two different bookings even… say British Airways (out) and Easyjet (in). It’ll involve a bit of digging.
Smaller Ports of Entry:
On the topic of ports it’s worth looking into the different options you have. For example flying into Paris. You have the spectacular choice of flying into not one, not two but three very different and steeply priced airports:
- Charles de Gaulle;
Each airport will cost significantly more or less than the other to fly to and that’s mainly determined by location and distance from the city centres. Same as my above example with the London airports right? London Heathrow is always at a premium because it’s Heathrow innit. Gatwick and London City will be the next ones up on the scale and at the bottom sit the likes of Luton, Stanstead, Southend etc…
Going back to my Paris example: Charles de Gaulle is 32 minutes from Paris by train; Orly is 45 minutes and Beauvais is 2 hours 42 minutes. Ryanair offers cheap tickets to Beauvais from London Stanstead… nuff said.
Flying in and out at times nobody else likes>>>>
This may mean taking the first flight or train out at 7am. Although you have to get up at 5 and probs miss breakfast for whatever hard back bacon roll they’re serving onboard that morning: you ~do~ get to your destination earlier and have a bit more time to settle in so that is a pro more than a con!
The con: Having to fly into Gatwick at 03:00 and kill time until your train at 9am…
Cheap Digs: Booking.Com – Loyalty Pays!
From experience I’ve booked everything with Booking.Com and only recently have I decided to actually set up an account. Conferences; open days; link-ups; trips… everything. I’ve not yet found a rate cheaper anywhere else and in any instance, they’ll refund you the difference if you do.
Once you’ve hit five bookings in a row they add you to their Genius programme. As a Booking.Com “genius” you get:
- 50% off Hotels;
- 10% off Selected properties;
- Free welcome drinks/cocktails
If you ~are~ looking for a hotel you can get £15 off with my referral link here.
Really Cheap Digs: Hostels
I’ve had hit and miss experiences with hostels. When booking a hostel it is important to make sure you do your research. DO look at ALL the pictures on the website but also take a look at the reviews and study a handful of them carefully. It becomes easier to understand a fair review from something biased (or worse… fake!) quite quickly. Tripadvisor; Booking.com but also HostelBookers come with a decent amount of reviews for various properties.
Hostels aren’t all dormitories of 14 with the odd guy shifting funny in the shadows opposite. I’ve stayed at a number of hostels and the facilities were more than adequate. I shared in a mixed dorm of 14 (men and women) and got a good night’s sleep. Most simply used the room to sleep each night and that was it. Room was clean and people were respectful. As well as this, there was a communal kitchen and all cutlery was provided.
Leaving your stuff lying around in the sink was simply not tolerated. All you needed was to bring your own food! Label it though so you know what’s your’s but nobody will nick it! As well as dorms, I’ve stayed in private rooms. So although the facilities (like shower and kitchen/eating space) will be communal, you can have a room to yourself and keep your stuff secure. Places with dorms usually have a safe behind reception. Dump your laptop in there, take your ticket and go!
Four wheels good. Two wings bad.
If you’re traveling to Europe from the U.K. it’d be useful to consider taking the coach or a ferry (ferries accept foot passengers). Coaches are not that uncomfortable and generally come with a plug and a decent reclining seat. Often of similar or better pitch than you’d find on an economy flight. Eurolines; Megabus and Ouibus all offer excellent deals.
Ouibus offer the cheapest fares while using the most modern coaches out there. A coach from London Victoria to Paris Bercy costs as little as 14€ (£12 to you and I) For your money’s worth you get an ergonomic reclinable seat; wifi; aircon; reading lamp and table; footrest and a plug socket. The night ride is usually calm and you’d leave at around 23:00 for an arrival by 07:00 the next day. Ouibus also travel to Amsterdam; Lyon; Paris CDG; Brussels and Moutiers to name a few. The quickest London to Paris journey with Ouibus is 6- 7 hours.
A ferry costs around £15-30 a pop for foot passengers. P&O usually do a good deal here.
Flash sales generally pop up from time to time on the likes of Groupon: sign up here. Even better are the flash sales on Voyage Privé… pretty much everyday is a flash sale. A range of destinations are available on the site (…and the app if you got that too!) from the mad and the “rah” to the humble staycation spot down the road in Cornwall or Birmingham. Yes there’s actually nice places hidden round Brum, I laughed too when I heard it! Having preed the deals for some time I’ve seen trips as heavily discounted as 80% 2 nights in a 4* in Amsterdam for £140 without flights… nuff said!
If you fancy oggling some travel porn with me on Voyage Privé you can have a looksie here
Tourists get robbed. Natives get shit done:
I said what I said! 👏 👏 👏- If you want to travel; have the authentic experience and not pay and arm and a leg for the privilege… you need to move like a native. A quick browse online would give you a few tips on what to do; where to go; what to avoid. If you’re self-catering then avoid the mini marts in the tourist areas. There’s no point paying 2€ for 3 bruised tomatoes down the road when you can get a punnet of 10 from the Carrefour for 3€. See Trip Advisor forums or better yet look up British Expat forums and Reddit. That said it goes without saying to do some research before spending money at this big age!