02 July 2021
01 July 2021
Over two years ago I wrote about seating on Ryanair's Boeing 737 Max, as it was due to operate various routes later that Summer
After the tragic accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia, the first Ryanair plane finally arrived last month - seen here poking out of a hangar at Dublin Airport
Today the second aircraft operates its first revenue flights - a round trip from London Stansted to Dublin
Surprisingly the plane isn't showing as operating the same flights in the coming week - so Ryanair may just substitute it in at the last moment. With the Max having an extra 8 seats over the standard Ryanair Boeing 737-800 it should be easy enough to swap it in with minimal passenger seating changes.
Whilst Ryanair's boss Michael O'Leary said recently that passengers can avoid the Max and take the next flight (at least for the first 4 to 6 months of operation), that promise isn't the same as before the pandemic. If you turned up at Stansted for this morning's 6.30am flight and decided not to fly on the Max, you will be waiting until 10.15pm this evening for the airline's next flight to Dublin.
If you do find yourself on a Ryanair Max aeroplane, it's worth looking at my full post on the seat plan, as you could get yourself a (slightly) better seat for the same price as a standard seat.
In a previous post about the pricing quirks of travelling from Gatwick to Zone 1 or Zone 2, I mentioned that you could also reduce the price by exiting at East Croydon and reentering straight away.
Since I used it recently, I thought it was worth going through in more detail.
The standard price between Gatwick and Zone 2 in London is £12.90 peak and £8.70 off peak
Trains from Gatwick to East Croydon mostly end in either Victoria or Blackfriars - so you may find that the first train from Gatwick goes to the wrong destination. In which case, take it, do the barrier trick at East Croydon, and return to the same platform at East Croydon for the train that you actually want! I did this recently and it worked a treat.
And if you're really lucky, at East Croydon you can get up the ramp from the platform to the ticket barrier, out and in, and back down the ramp to the same train that you just arrived on - although I've only managed this once on a busy train that was slow to depart.
The prices are the same either to or from Gatwick - although if you're rushing for a flight, you probably don't want to do this!
With Zone 1, the non change pricing is £18.30 peak or £11.10 off peak
And with the change in East Croydon it's £7.30 + £5.50 peak or £5.20 + £3.40 off peak
So the Zone 1 savings are £5.50 peak or £2.50 off peak
Enjoy the saving whilst this trick still works.
15 June 2021
Even for people who are fully vaccinated, some countries still require a negative PCR covid-19 test performed within 72 hours of arrival.
Thankfully the £160 prices that were normal for the past year are finally coming down.
And airlines are now arranging discounts for customers in a bid to increase passenger numbers.
British Airways for example has a list of 11 companies that will provide you with various different tests, and packages.
I'm particularly interested in pre departure PCR tests - so I went through the 10 companies comparing prices for this particular test (ignoring Chronomics who don't offer this test)
First in the BA list is CityDoc who charge £125 for a central London in person test
Then there's Collinson who charge £82.50 for in person tests - available at multiple airport locations and a site at The O2 Arena in London
Eurofins offer a home testing kit for a very attractive £40.42 - and they have a number of drop off points around the country, which would remove Royal Mail from the equation. They promise to give you a result with 24 hours of them receiving your sample.
Update 6th June 2021: Eurofins currently does NOT have any tests in stock
Update 12th June 2021: Eurofins failed to despatch my order on time - I do not recommend using them
Express Test charge £59 for various airport testing sites, and have higher fees for some city centre locations
Halo's home test kit is £74.76
LetsGetChecked also provide a home test kit for a slightly cheaper £69.30
Medicspot have a higher £84.15 fee for a home test kit
It looks like Qured charge the same £84.15 for a home test kit, but the final price is only available if you go through the full registration process (which I didn't)
Randox have recently reduced the price of their home test kit (previously £60) down to a more competitive £43 net of BA discount Updated 12th June
BA have added Wren Healthcare which offers £139 tests at 10 clinic sites and £169 tests in your own home Updated 3rd June 2021
These prices are specifically for British Airways customers - but I'm not sure how much validation they all do.
I like the sound of Eurofins £40.42 fee, and being able to deliver my sample directly into their own drop box.
02 June 2021
British Airways & American Express recently announced changes to their 2-4-1 vouchers triggered after the 1st September 2021. Full details are on the Head for Points site for both the free Amex card and the paid for Amex card.
One aspect of the changes that I want to look at is the new option of starting a redemption outside the UK (currently all 2-4-1 redemptions must start in the UK). And specifically using a voucher for a single redemption flight from a low fees point of departure (e.g. Brazil or Hong Kong) back to London.
Firstly let's look at a standard return redemption from London to Brazil during August (using peak redemption calculations)
LHR - GRU return
Economy 80,000 avios plus £200 per person
Premium Economy 120,000 avios plus £483 per person
Business 180,000 avios plus £586 per person
So a pair of Business class redemptions saves you 180,000 avios with a spend of £1,171 for taxes and FEES
Now let's assume you book a cash ticket from the UK to Brazil, and let's look at a single redemption flight from GRU to LHR
Economy 40,000 avios plus £8 per person
Premium Economy 60,000 avios plus £8 per person
Business 90,000 avios plus £8 per person
So a pair of Business class redemptions saves you 90,000 avios with a spend of £15 plus the cash fare from the UK to Brazil
To try and compare these options, let's assume you buy a one way cash ticket for £300 per person (and that you're happy to fly Economy on a day flight to Brazil)
So it's a choice between saving 180,000 avios and spending £1,171 on a return redemption or saving 90,000 avios and spending something like £615 on a single redemption
If you value avios at 1p, then a return redemption is generating a saving of £1,800 less £1,171 in fees - so a net saving of £629
A single redemption is generating a saving of £900 less £600 for the cash tickets and just £15 in fees - so a net saving of £285
Whilst the single redemption will have limited use (Brazil and Hong Kong routes only, and those willing to book single cash tickets), it may appeal to flyers who don't have 180,000 avios available for a return Business class redemption. It may also be attractive to those who don't want to spend nearly £1,200 on a pair of return redemptions, when they could spend around half that on Economy outbound seats and Business class inbound seats.
15 April 2021
With foreign travel this summer likely to be subject to restrictions, many of us will end up spending more holiday time than usual nearer to home.
In preparation for things opening up, I thought it would be useful to see what the rules/fees are with hiring a car in Northern Ireland, and driving it across the border in the Republic of Ireland.
Disclaimer: This is correct at time of writing, April 2021, check that the rules / fees haven't changed if you're about to hire a vehicle!
Europcar have the highest fees of the big rental firms. Their website makes it clear that you need their "Europdrive Pack" - which starts at £90 for a 1 day hire, and costs £130 for a week's rental.
With SixT it's also clear - you need to pay a daily fee to take a car you've hired in Northern Ireland across the border. For the smallest cars that I looked at, the fee is £8 a day.
Budget charge a one off fee of £23 to take a car to the Republic of Ireland - irrespective of the duration of your rental period.
I'm not really sure about Enterprise. There's clearly a charge of £125 to take a car hired in "mainland" UK over to the Republic of Ireland, but the wording is unclear whether this also applies to cars hired in Northern Ireland.
With Avis their extra "continental cover" is NOT required when taking a car from Northern Ireland over the border to the south.
Hertz also make it clear that there are no extra fees for taking cars from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland.
One extra complication is if you hire your car through an agency or as part of a package, for example with airline tickets. The agency may impose their own terms and conditions, and whilst the car hire company's terms may take precedence, it's probably best to avoid any doubt, and hire directly from the rental firm.
So if you see a good headline rate with Europcar, SixT or Budget ... stop, think, what are the fees!
30 March 2021
Head for Points recently published the Peak / Off Peak dates for 2022, so I thought it would be interesting to see how things have changed over the last few years.
This analysis is just based on the British Airways Peak / Off Peak calendar - there are different calendars for Iberia and Aer Lingus
Firstly the total number of Peak days in each of the three years
Only a small increase in the number of Peak days each year - but as always, the devil is in the detail.
If you’re able to fly midweek, the number of peak days has reduced (2020, 2021, 2022)
Tuesday 12, 13, 11
Wednesday 15, 15, 5
Thursday 17, 15, 17
If you’re looking to have a long weekend, then Fridays and Mondays are pretty similar too
Friday 22, 24, 23
Monday 21, 23, 19
The big change is on weekends with a jump in the number of Peak days
64% of Saturdays and 60% of Sundays in 2022 counted as Peak
Saturday 25, 23, 34
Sunday 25, 25, 31
The other way the changes can impact you is if you like to use your Avios in particular months. As Easter changes date each year, there’s often a shift between March and April, but this is how the whole year pans out across 2020, 2021, 2022
January 5, 6, 11
February 8, 8, 10
March 5, 6, 6
April 18, 18, 13
May 10, 5, 5
June 0, 3, 13
July 27, 27, 20
August 29, 29, 19
September 6, 6, 12
October 10, 11, 11
November 0, 0, 0
December 19, 19, 20
The months with the big increase in Peak dates are June (from 0 to 13), September (from 6 to 12) and January (from 5 to 11)
The big winners are July (from 27 to 20) and August (from 29 to 19)
So if you can fly midweek in the Summer, you should be happy with the 2022 British Airways Avios calendar
But if you like weekend flights, or getting away in June, then you need to budget for some extra Avios in 2022.
26 August 2020
Back in February I wrote about the new direct Amsterdam to London service that was due to commence operation on 30th April 2020. Unsurprisingly there was a delay, but happily it has a new start date of Monday 26th October, with booking opening on 1st September.
After being a bit disappointed with the April time savings, let's see if Eurostar has improved the October timetable.
For context, the London to Amsterdam service takes 4 hours 7 mins and the London to Rotterdam service 3 hrs 28 mins. There's currently a single weekday departure at 11:04 from St Pancras International station.
The existing Amsterdam - Brussels (Thalys) - London (Eurostar) connecting service is timetabled from 4 hours 42 mins (some take a lot longer), which includes at least 45 mins to change trains and clear UK immigration in Brussels.
The direct Amsterdam to London service starts with an 07:47 departure on Monday 26th October that is due to take 4 hours 10 mins (and 3 hrs 29 mins from Rotterdam).
This is equivalent to duration in the other direction, although the 32 minute saving feels a bit light - but maybe that's down to the impressive 45 minute connection time for the existing service! Obviously not having to change trains will make the journey much more comfortable.
Whilst the service officially starts on Monday 26th October, it looks like there is also a 18:47 departure from Amsterdam (19:28 from Rotterdam) on Sunday 25th October. Although this may disappear when tickets go on sale on 1st September.
Rotterdam is currently showing a second weekday direct service departing at 17:28 - which again takes 3 hours 29 mins to get to London. It seems odd that this train wouldn't start in Amsterdam - so it may not really exist.
In November from Monday 9th to Thursday 12th and again from Monday 16th to Wednesday 18th, the normal weekday 07:47 departure from Amsterdam is switched to a 15:47 service (16:28 from Rotterdam). And this later departure takes 5 hours 10 mins from Amsterdam and 4 hrs 29 mins from Rotterdam.
There's no direct weekend service until Saturday 21st November - 16:47 from Amsterdam and 17:28 from Rotterdam. On Sunday 22nd November it's a later 18:47 departure from Amsterdam and 19:28 from Rotterdam. After that the weekend departures disappear again - but hopefully they will be timetabled before booking opens on 1st September.
01 August 2020
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, Kolmanskop ghost town
Zimbabwe - including Victoria Falls
Brazil - Rio including Fasano hotel infinity pool, Niteroi art gallery, grilled steak at Rubaiyat restaurant; Amazon
Canada - including polar bears
Costa Rica - done!
Cuba - including Havana and Vinales - done!
Equador - Galapagos
Mexico - Mayan stuff around Cancun
Panama - including canal
Peru - Inca Trail / Machu Pichu
USA - including Washington DC (done!), Grand Canyon (done!), Boston - including Opera House, Chicago - including Frank Lloyd Wright buildings (such as Fallingwater), Denali NP, Total Solar Eclipse Aug-17
The Peninsula - done!
South Georgia - done!
Georgia - including the soviet architecture in Tbilisi
Iran - including Isfahan and Persepolis, Tehran - including Contemporary Art Gallery
Kuwait - to fill in the gaps
Sri Lanka - including blue whales
Syria - if there's anything left
Turkey - Istanbul
Australia - Tasmania, Western, Central and Northern, GBR
New Zealand - all
Aland Islands - done !
Austria - Vienna - including Opera
Belgium - Antwerp - 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; Lille; Chateau de Chambord - for the double helix staircase; Versailles - including the Royal Opera (done!); 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; Oradour-sur-Glane (near Limoges)
Germany - Prora and Dessau, Dresden (including the Royal Castle), 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, Hook Head lighthouse
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 - done!
Sweden - Stockholm always worth another visit
Ukraine - Kiev, Chernobyl
UK - Falkirk Wheel, Cramond island, Ironbridge, Ludlow in Shropshire, Norwich for Europe's largest medieval street plan, Chatsworth House ...
09 March 2020
Starting with the UK - as of 8th March 2020 they advise against all travel to Hubei Province in China and the Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan areas in South Korea.
The UK government also advises against "all but essential travel" to the rest of mainland China and the 10 Italian towns that are currently on lockdown. Since these towns are on lockdown, it's unclear how anybody could actually gain entry - so "all but essential" seems a weird category to put them in!
As far as returning travellers are concerned - the UK has put Iran, Hubei Province, the 10 Italian towns and Daegu & Cheongdo into their "Category 1" list which means you should self isolate for 14 days, even if you do not have symptoms.
The longer "Category 2" list comes with the instruction to self isolate only if you do have symptoms. This list is mostly SE Asian countries - rest of China, Hong Kong, Macau, rest of South Korea, Cambodia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam - as well as the whole of Italy (previously it was just northern Italy).
In the USA, the Centre for Disease Control recommend travellers avoid "all non essential travel" to all of China, Iran, South Korea and Italy. It also advises "older adults" or those with chronic conditions to postpone travel to Japan. It puts Hong Kong in their "Level 1 - Watch" section which just means that travellers should use "usual precautions".
The USA just has one list for returning travellers, the equivalent of the UK "Category 1" list - where you have to self isolate even if you do not have symptoms. And for the USA it's all of mainland China, all of South Korea as well as Iran and Italy - so covers a lot more than the UK list. In addition, the US does not allow any foreign national to enter the country if they visited China or Iran in the previous 14 days.
Canada puts China, Iran and Northern Italy in their "Level 3 - avoid non essential travel" category and also suggests avoiding Daegu and Cheongo. Hokkaido in Japan as well as the rest of South Korea are in their "Level 2 - Practise special precautions" with Canada advising "older people" and those with "weakened immune systems" to consider postponing visits to the area. Hong Kong and Singapore are in the "Level 1 - Practice usual precautions"
Canada only requires returning travellers from Hubei Province, Iran and Northern Italy to self isolate even if they do not have symptoms. All other travellers only need to self isolate if they develop symptoms.
Australia says "do not travel to" mainland China, Iran and Daegu in South Korea. It also suggests that you "reconsider your travel" to the rest of South Korea. And the Australian government says to "exercise a high degree of caution" in both Japan and Mongolia (which nobody else bothers about).
Australia requires any returning traveller from mainland China, South Korea or Iran to self isolate, even if they do not have symptoms. In addition, if you are a foreign national you will not be allowed enter Australia if you have been in China, South Korea or Iran in the previous 14 days. Although if you're returning from Italy you just have to be checked out, but do not have to automatically self isolate (and there's no ban on foreign nationals). Similar to the UK with their "Category 2" list, Australia requires you to self isolate if you have symptoms after returning from Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore or Thailand.
Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs does not provide information on a single page - so you need to go and look up each country separately. The DFA advises against all travel to Hubei Province. They advise against all non-essential travel to the rest of mainland China, Iran, Daegu and Cheongo in South Korea, and the Northern Italian regions of Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Piedmont, and Le Marche.
Returning traveller information is also located separately on each country page. Those returning from China, South Korea, Japan and the Northern Italian regions listed above should self isolate only if they develop symptoms.
Information as at 01:00 Monday 9th March 2020 - check links for latest information (and to check for errors) !