07 September 2017

Redeeming Avios in Club

As long as you fly once a year with your British Airways Executive Club number tagged to a flight, you gain the benefit of much lower taxes/fees on shorthaul redemption flights - BA call in Reward Flight Saver (RFS).  This means that instead of being Lufthansa redemption levels of taxes/fees - where the points price can be the same as the cash price - the flight will cost 17.50 gbp per sector in Economy, and 25.00 gbp per sector in Business class.

There's a well know trick to reduce the taxes/fees on the ex-EU sector by booking two singles.  For example an Economy seat from DUB to LHR currently costs 12.59 gbp (instead of 17.50) and a Business seat also costs 12.59 gbp (instead of 25 gbp).  So if you're booking a return ex-UK it always worth checking if it's cheaper to book as two singles, especially if travelling Business class (although there may be other reasons you don't want to).

I was recently looking up ex-DUB flights to Rome (connecting in LHR) on the Avios website, and it was charging the expected 41,000 avios, but requesting 100 gbp in taxes in fees.
I tried booking DUB-LHR-FCO as a one way ticket and FCO-LHR-DUB as another - but it still kept trying to charge me 50 gbp for each ticket.

This seemed strange, so I scooted over to the BA website, and for exactly the same flights they wanted 41,000 avios and 79.10 gbp
Booking it as two separate tickets (DUB-LHR-FCO and FCO-LHR-DUB) they wanted 31.26 gbp and 47.84 gbp - so no additional saving to be had !

Booking through the BA website, you also get a lot more choice on which connecting flights to take - with the Avios website, they just give a single connecting option for each initial flight.  This may not be an issue, but worth remembering if you don't like what's offered.

What I don't know is whether you would be charged the lower amount if you weren't eligible for RFS - that would be perverse ... but possible !


06 September 2017

Preikestolen

as part of my trip to Svalbard ... i flew into StaVanGer ... and hiked up Pulpit Rock

last time i did it, we had a hire car - which ended up proving rather expensive, as the tolls for the road tunnels are rather high (and the car hire company added a service charge) !

this time we didn't want to hire a car, so we looked at public transport.

the ferry goes from the centre of Stavanger to a place called Tau - it's a very frequent service with ferries every 45 mins during weekdays

from Tau there is a public bus (number 100) to Jørpeland ... but there's no obvious public bus from Jørpeland to the base of the Pulpit Rock hike - although there is a special service four times a day during the summer

that left us with two different private companies:

Tide - will sell you a combined ticket for the ferry and their bus.  in advance it is 320 NOK per person, or 350 NOK if you buy it at the ferry terminal, on board the ferry or on the bus

Pulpit Rock company / Boreal - sell tickets for their bus for 190 NOK in advance or 200 NOK in person (more during high season), and then you buy your ferry ticket directly for 56 NOK each way - so a total of 312 NOK

whilst the ferries go every 45 mins - the two companies seem to alternate which one they connect with.  since the difference in price is so small, we just went with the company which matched our preferred departure time - which was Tide.

the tourist information office in Stavanger helpfully sold us the tickets - so we got the "advance" price.

in the evening the gap between departures from the Mountain Hut parking lot start to spread out - and we missed Tide's penultimate departure by about 5 mins (we saw the bus pull out).  whilst the tickets aren't officially interchangeable, we thought it was worth trying our luck on the Pulpit Rock company bus that departed next.  possibly because we had purchased our tickets in the tourist office, they didn't have any company branding (or maybe our driver wasn't too bothered), but we managed to get away with it - which was much better than hanging around 40 minutes for the final Tide bus !

if i do it again, i will definitely buy tickets in the tourist office, in the hope that it gives the chance of some flexibility.

for completeness - the Puplit Rock company also run a weekend morning departure which picks up from hotels and drives around the bay (avoiding the ferry) - but it doesn't give any flexibility, and i can't tell you the price, as it seems to have stopped running for the year !
unless you're staying out of town (and the "tour" bus collects from your hotel), i would suggest taking the ferry for the extra flexibility - especially as hiking times vary enormously from person to person, and you may want to time your departure based on the weather forecast.

04 September 2017

LYR trip - finally

i've written a few times (actually four) about planning a trip to Svalbard ... so i thought i should explain how i actually finally executed it !

after using the "book activities" section on the Visit Svalbard website to check out potential excursions ... i reckoned that we could see the main sights in just a few days ... and the way the flights worked, that's what we ended up doing.

incidentally, the tourist office in LongYeaRbyen has a couple of computers for tourists to book their trips - and then you can use the booking number generated on the website and make a payment in the tourist office (including by Amex), rather than making payment through the website.  the lady was very helpful, explaining the trips, and calling up a couple of companies to check details.

but back to the journey ...

i used Avios to book a British Airways flight to Norway ... and had a few days in the south doing non Svalbard stuff ... including an incredibly good value ferry journey with Fjordline from Stavanger to Bergen - where the 20 minute bus from Stavanger city centre cost half the price of the 5 hour ferry journey.  just make sure you book it in the correct direction - the website isn't the best designed !

from OSLo to LYR i managed to get a 66 gbp flights on Norwegian (plus 15 gbp for 20kg bag and seat choice).  check in at OSL with Norwegian is completely automated - included printing your luggage label, putting it on the belt, and scanning the label - once a bloke came along to click ok on the screen - which only have norwegian language text !  and the machine accepted my 20.9kg bag without complaint/charge.

transfer from the airport to accommodation is available with a "Flybussen" service - which was 120 NOK for a return.

we stayed in Gjestehuset 102 - which was fine.  i suspect Coal Miners Cabin would have been better - but it was full by the time i booked (less than a week before arrival).

the flight prices for the return journey were getting expensive, but i managed to use 15,000 united airlines points, and book seats on LYR-OSL-LHR and LYR-OSL-LHR-DUB (15k for each seat).  initially the United website wouldn't complete the DUB ticket (i actually ended up with two incomplete DUB bookings).  the first time I called United they claimed that they could no longer book AerLingus flights - and their website was incorrect (despite it showing loads of different EI flights).  the next time i called United, they were able to ticket the incomplete booking, without too much trouble !

United have a "late booking fee" which was applied to the LYR-OSL-LHR booking that went through without human intervention.  apparently they apply it to bookings made within 21 days of departure.  which i didn't know.

there was only availability on the 2.30am departure from LYR, which i wasn't keen on - but it turned out that with window seats, we both managed to get some sleep.  the seats on SAS short haul do not have the useful headrest "wings" that keep you head in place.  those blow up head pillows would have been particularly useful - if i'd known.

despite a few hour gap between flights at OSL, one of our bags went missing.  if i'd thought about it, i would have asked the very nice and speedy check-in lady at LYR to short check the bags to OSL and we would have collected them.  lesson for next time !

we were very lucky with the weather in LYR - we had one amazing full day of sunshine and hardly any wind, and the following day wasn't bad either (just not very sunny).  i think a few days is enough to get a feel for Svalbard - without completely bankrupting yourself.  we spent about 200 NOK/GBP per person per day on each of our two days of trips (you can't leave town without a gun), and we used the first day to make our bookings, and have a look around the settlement.

it's worth noting that despite the photos of polar bears in all the Svalbard tourism / arctic trip adverts - you really can't get anywhere near them.  we got to see from a boat, and it was small even through binoculars.  if you're used to african safari walks, it will be a bit of a shock just how far away they are.

despite that, i would still like to go back in March to see it covered in snow (and maybe Northern Lights) !

21 June 2017

Avios redemptions on EI / BE

I wrote previously about the extortionate taxes/fees charged by Avios redemptions on Aer Lingus flights ... which included 41 gbp from Dublin to London Heathrow.

Since then, some prices have come down:

LHR - DUB  39 gbp  on EI
DUB - LHR  16 gbp  on EI


some have stayed more or less the same:

LGW - DUB  53 gbp  on EI
DUB - LGW  44 gbp  on EI


and some have gone up:

LGW - NOC  63 gbp  on EI
NOC - LGW  40 gbp  on EI  (plus airport 10 eur "development" fee)



Avios redemptions on Flybe mostly seem more reasonable - and the same price is available on both the BA website and Avios.com

SOU - DUB  25 gbp  on BE
DUB - SOU 12 gbp  on BE

EXE - DUB  35 gbp  on BE
DUB - EXE  12 gbp  on BE

CWL - DUB  34 gbp  on BE
DUB - CWL  12 gbp  on BE

DSA - DUB  27 gbp  on BE
DUB - DSA  12 gbp  on BE



BHX - NOC  26 gbp  on BE
NOC - BHX  15 gbp  on BE  (plus airport 10 eur "development" fee)

MAN - NOC  31 gbp  on BE
NOC - MAN  15 gbp  on BE  (plus airport 10 eur "development" fee)

EDI - NOC  30 gbp  on BE
NOC - EDI  15 gbp  on BE  (plus airport 10 eur "development" fee)


20 June 2017

Don't use Oyster from St Pancras to Stratford

I needed to attend a talk at one of the hotels adjoining Westfield Stratford, and having recently used a Javelin train from St Pancras to Kent (through Stratford), I thought it would be fun to do the one stop - since I'd seen the yellow Oyster/Contactless scanners.

Walking up to the barriers there was nothing to suggest that using Oyster/Contactless was anything other than a normal journey.

Imagine my surprise when I happened to check my statement, only to find that I had been charged 5.50 gbp for the journey, despite having reached my daily cap - wtf ?!

After extensive searching, I discovered that journeys on the Javelin trains are completely outside the travelcard or daily/weekly price caps.

So my one stop journey cost me 5.50 gbp in addition to my daily 6.60 gbp cap for Zone 1-2 travel.  For the saving of approximately 3 minutes, I paid almost 2 pounds a minute.

TfL really should make this clear on their journey planner website, and around the entrance to the platforms at St Pancras.  I can't believe I'm the first person to suffer this pain / outrage.  


19 June 2017

London things to do - Updated

It may not be quite travel ... but there's lots of things in the city that I want to do ...


museums or places that i've never been to:

The Charterhouse - London's newest museum, apparently

Bank of England Museum - weekdays - free

Sir John Soane's - first Tuesday of the month - evening by candlelight

Down House - the home of Charles Darwin

Freemasonry - book a tour to see the main hall

Wellcome Collection - closed Mondays - free
https://wellcomecollection.org/visit-us/opening-hours

Croydon Airport - open on first sunday every month

a part of Richmond Park - the Isabella plantation

2 Willow Road, Hampstead - free with ArtFund card

Carlyle House, Cheyne Walk - free with ArtFund card

Household Cavalry Museum - free with ArtFund card

Guards Museum - free with ArtFund card

Keats House - free with ArtFund card

Royal College of Physicians Museum - weekdays only - free

Handel and Hendrix Museum - free with ArtFund card

Museum of the Order of St John - free

Garden Museum - free with ArtFund card

Brunel Museum - free with ArtFund card

Kelmscott House, Hammersmith - open Thu & Sat afternoons - free

Fulham Palace - open Mon-Thu and Sun - free

Syon House
2 for 1 entry using national rail offer.  20% discount quoting BUS17 advert
http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/syon-house.html

Strawberry Hill House

Royal Academy Music Museum - part closed Thu and Fri (and fully closed Sun) - free

Marble Hill House, Richmond - from 31st March 2017 - free with ArtFund card

Red House, Bexleyheath - from 1st March 2017 - free with ArtFund card

London Glassblowing



and a couple of museums that i haven't been for a while:

Imperial War Museum Lambeth

Osterley House - free with ArtFund card



Updated - now done !

a cafe that i've been meaning to visit

Sky Garden - opening 5th January

Crossrail Roof Garden at Canary Wharf

Cabinet war rooms

Royal College of Surgeons museum

Eltham Palace

Leighton House - free with ArtFund card to monthly late opening


National Army Museum - reopens 30th March 2017

Wallace Collection - free





18 June 2017

Updated: Countries and Cities to visit ...

Africa
Cape Verde islands - stay a bit longer this time
Ethiopia - including the mountains
Libya - Roman ruins, and desert
Madagascar - lemurs permitting
Namibia - including Okavango Delta
Zimbabwe - including Victoria Falls


Americas
Brazil - Rio including Fasano hotel infinity pool, Niteroi art gallery, grilled steak at Rubaiyat restaurant; Amazon
Canada - including polar bears
Colombia
Costa Rica
Cuba - including Havana and Vinales
Equador - Galapagos
Mexico - Mayan stuff around Cancun
Panama - including canal
Peru - Inca Trail / Machu Pichu
USA - including Washington DC (done!), Grand Canyon, Boston - including Opera House, Chicago - including Frank Lloyd Wright buildings (such as Fallingwater), Denali NP, Total Solar Eclipse Aug-17
Venezuela - maybe a tepui


Antarctica
The Peninsula - done!
South Georgia - done!


Asia
Armenia
Bhutan
Georgia - including the soviet architecture in Tbilisi
Indonesia - including Borneo
Iran - including Isfahan and Persepolis, Tehran - including Contemporary Art Gallery
Japan
Laos
Lebanon - including skiing
Malaysia
Philippines
Kuwait - to fill in the gaps
South Korea
Sri Lanka - including blue whales
Syria - if there's anything left
Thailand
Turkey - Istanbul
Vietnam


Australasia
Australia - Tasmania, Western, Central and Northern, GBR
New Zealand - all


Europe
Aland Islands - done !
Austria - Vienna - including Opera
BelgiumAntwerp - including 5 Continents house
Croatia - including Zagreb
Cyprus - including border area and countryside
Denmark - Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen
Finland - the lakes, the north
France - Corsica; the bridge in the sky; Matisse chapel at Vence; LilleChateau de Chambord - for the double helix staircase; Versailles - including the Royal Opera; Nice - including Opera; Paris - L'Acajou restaurant, Jazz Club; Roubaix - including La Piscine museum; Ronchamp - Le Corbusier's chapel of Notre Dame du Haut; Chamonix - nice looking hotel; Noirmoutier including Plages des Dames - and nearby islands
GermanyProra and Dessau and Hamburg (for the funny tunnel, and miniature airport)
Gibraltar - airport and back walk up rock (done!)
Greece - Athens, Mount Athos, island hopping
Ireland - Cork - including butter museum, harbour tour, Titanic Experience, Crawford gallery
Italy - Sicilian volcanos, Sardinia, Tuscany including Montepulciano, Naples, Verona, La Scala in Milano, Como - La baia di Moltrasio bar and restaurant (try fish with Riso in Cagnone) - terrace in summer, Florence - Vasari Corridor will soon be open, Room of Paradise at the recently reopened Museo dell'Opera del Duomo; Calcata town; Castel Gandolfo (train from within Vatican) - must be booked in advance; French Church in Rome; Palio di Siena 
Netherlands - Amsterdam Modern Art Gallery and other galleries, a concert at Concertgebouw, Panorama Mesdag in The Hague, Delft, Leiden, Het Loo palace
Poland - medieval cities (Krakow done!)
Portugal - including Oporto
Romania - rural parts (sort of done). Crazy road.
Serbia - Belgrade
Spain - including the Moorish bits, Grand Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona
Slovenia - try skiing
Svalbard - although a recent report suggested it was dull
Sweden - Stockholm always worth another visit
Ukraine - Kiev
UK - Falkirk Wheel, Cramond island, Ironbridge, Ludlow in Shropshire, Norwich for Europe's largest medieval street plan, Chatsworth House ...


15 May 2017

TfL zone extensions

I've written a few times before about the downside of PAYG Oyster/Contactless - but one of the upsides (when it works), is that if you travel outside your normal zones, you only pay the daily cap for the zones you travel in.

So if I'm usually paying £6.60 per day to travel within Zone1-2 but on one day in the week I make journeys in Zone3, my daily cap kicks in a £7.70 - so just £1.10 extra for all my journeys in Zone3.  It gets more complicated if your journeys are on your 6th or 7th day, when the Monday to Sunday cap has already kicked in (I need to follow up with TfL on my refund request).

The downside of the Oyster Travelcard is that for extra journeys outside your Travelcard zones, you pay as if you are making a single journey from the edge of your zone.  So with my Zone1-2 Travelcard, if I want to visit a friend in Zone3, TfL will charge me £3.40 for a return during peak, or £3.00 for a return off peak.  And if you're travelling to a Zone3 National Rail station, it become £4.20 during peak and £3.80 off peak.  This seem rather a lot for what can be just a single extra station.

One way you may be able to reduce that fare a little if you're travelling off peak is by using your Network Railcard (assuming you have one) when purchasing a ticket in advance.  On Saturday I bought a ticket from the edge of Zone2 to West Norwood in Zone3 (from the ticket counter at Victoria station) and saved a whole pound sterling !

The ticket agent checked that my Oyster really did have a valid Zone1-2 Travelcard, and didn't seem overly keen, but she did eventually come up with it.


17 April 2017

Holyhead and Dublin ferry offloading

When flight prices between London and Dublin and nearby airports (and not so nearby airports) become unreasonably expensive, I quite often revert to the old fashioned Sail Rail connection - since the standardised fares mean that (as long as they don't sell out) your fare is capped at a regulated price, even over holiday weekends.

So London to Dublin Port (you need to get a bus into Dublin city centre) fares start from 41 gbp with most tickets selling for 46 gbp.  When last minute flight prices can easily reach 300 gbp for a single during busy periods - if you have the time, taking the ferry and the train becomes an appealing option.

The Seat61.com website has a huge amount of detail on travelling this route.  One issue (which Seat61 briefly mentions) taking the ferry as a foot passenger is how quickly you can get off the ferry once you arrive into port.


Holyhead - Dublin offloading

Stena - Adventurer
I've used this ship a few times, and have always had to wait at least 20 minutes for most of the cars / trucks to off load, before Stena bring the buses on board the ship, to get you into the ferry terminal.  One time we had to queue up (in the rain) to have our passports/IDs checked as we left the buses and before they let us into the terminal building.  Seriously unimpressed !

Irish Ferries - Jonathan Swift (fast ferry)
Sometimes they give you the main berth with passenger gangway, but if the Ulysses is in berth, then the Swift gets relegated to a crappy berth around the corner, where you have to wait for the cars to disembark.  However, since the Swift isn't very big, it should only take about 15 minutes before you get to walk off.

Irish Ferries - Ulysses
The Ulysses gives you the best chance of speedy offloading - you almost always get to use a dedicated foot passenger gangway, so no waiting for the cars.  One time there was a vehicle parked on the quay wall which blocked the passenger gangway, so we had to wait for the cars to off load, and then get a bus to the terminal building - but that was highly unusual.
This is my preferred option for Holyhead - Dublin route.


Dublin - Holyhead offloading

Irish Ferries - Jonathan Swift (fast ferry)
You have to wait for the cars to off load, before you walk off the ferry, and board a bus to the terminal building.  Since the Swift isn't very big, it only takes about 15 minutes for the cars to drive off.  Just make sure you get on the first bus, as the second/last bus will wait for the old and infirm to slowly exit the boat - no point wasting good Coop/Lidl shopping time waiting for the OAPs !

Irish Ferries - Ulysses
I haven't done this routing in ages (for morning trips the Ulysses departs Dublin at 08:05 and may not connect with the 11:27 train from Holyhead, so the Swift is much more attractive) ... but considering the arrangements for loading Ulysses at Holyhead, I assume you have to board a bus on the Ulysses to transport you to the ferry terminal ... so you presumably have to wait for most of the cars and trucks to offload before Stena drive the buses onto the ship.  I suspect this may take a while.

Stena - Adventurer
I haven't done this routing in ages (for morning trips the Adventurer departs Dublin at 08:20 and is unlikely to connect with the 11:27 train from Holyhead, so the Swift is much more attractive) ... but considering the arrangements for loading Adventurer at Holyhead, I assume you have to wait for most of the cars and trucks to offload before you get to walk off the ship (possibly to the funny little staging building where you catch a bus to the ferry terminal), or Stena brings buses onto the ship.


The different disembarkation options need to be considered when working out which train you are likely to catch (or timings for friends/family pickups) and which ferry to choose.  My choice for afternoon departures from Holyhead is the Ulysses.  For morning departures from Dublin my choice is the Swift (despite the slightly higher Sail Rail fare) as it also gives you some extra sleep time!


One other thing to bear in mind is that booking tickets in Ireland doesn't allow you to reserve a seat on your trains in the UK, so if you're booking a return from Dublin to London, you might want to book two singles, so you get to reserve seats on the trains from London.


25 March 2017

St Pancras International timings

St Pancras International station is a separate building to Kings Cross - so I never know how long to leave between my tube arriving into KX and my train departing St Pancras.  Today I had some spare time, so I decided to use my stopwatch !

Starting point - Piccadilly line eastbound - Carriage two, door three - by the exit
Speed - normal pace, not rushing it - although it was early morning, so not many backmarkers to navigate around
Escalators - sauntered up them
Luggage - smallish backpack
Routing - exited to outside up the steps as soon as passed through the tube barriers.  Probably slightly quicker than using the tunnel underneath Pancras Road (but that routing has the advantage of escalators to take you upstairs into St Pancras station)

Timings:
Exiting Piccadilly line to Platform B northbound - 5 mins 15 seconds
It would be slightly less to Platform A southbound

Exiting Piccadilly line to Platforms 1, 2 & 3 upstairs - 6 mins 35 seconds
It would be an extra 30 seconds or so if your train was the far end of the platform (as often happens)

Exiting Piccadilly line to Eurostar security - 5 mins 45 seconds

Next time I won't bother giving myself a full 15 minutes to spare !