03 June 2018

Apsley to Gunnersbury

Apsley is just outside the Oyster card area - which starts at Watford Junction.

A normal through ticket from Apsley to Gunnersbury costs:
£13.60 peak
£11.50 off peak (after 9.30am)

If you were to buy a ticket from Apsley for the two stops to Watford Junction, alight at Watford and tap in using Oyster / contactless - it would save £4.20 for a peak journey and £5.00 for an off peak journey:

Apsley to Watford Junction
£5.30 peak
£4.70 off peak (after 9.30am)

Watford Junction to Gunnersbury
£4.10 peak
£1.80 off peak

Many of the routings require a change at Harrow & Wealdstone - so splitting the ticket there would be a bit easier - and would also save £3.50 for a peak journey and £2.30 for an off peak journey compared with a through ticket:

Apsley to Harrow & Wealdstone
£7.70 peak or off peak

Harrow & Wealdstone to Gunnersbury
£2.40 peak
£1.50 off peak

Another option is to buy a ticket from Apsley to Willesden Junction (where you'd have to change anyway), and then use Oyster / contactless from Willesden (where you would have to change anyway) - but the savings are just a few pence:

Apsley to Willesden Junction
£11.80 peak
£9.60  off peak

Willesden Junction to Gunnersbury
£1.70 peak
£1.50 off peak

What about the maths when buying travelcards.  A standard travelcard from Apsley to Gunnersbury costs:

7 days - £83.60 - or £8.36 per journey for a standard 10 journey week
1 month - £321.10 - or £7.65 per journey assuming a 42 journey month

A travelcard from Apsley to Harrow & Wealdstone

7 days - £57.40 - or £5.70 per journey
1 month - £220.50 - or £5.25 per journey

A travelcard from Harrow & Wealdstone (zone 5) to Gunnersbury (zone 3) doesn't exist - so you'd be using the standard Oyster fares

£2.40 peak
£1.50 off peak

A travelcard from Apsley to Watford Junction

7 days - £32.80 - or £3.28 per journey
1 month - £126.00 - or £3.00 per journey

A travelcard from Watford Junction to Gunnersbury (which needlessly includes Zone 2)

7 days - £60.10 - or £6.01 per journey
1 month - £230.80 - or £5.50 per journey

If you put Apsley to Willesden Junction into the National Rail season ticket calculator - it also offers Apsley to Willesden Junction plus London Travelcard zones 3-6, which would cover the journey from Willesden Junction to Gunnersbury (and give unlimited bus travel in London)

7 days - £88.30 - or £8.83 per journey
1 month - £339.10 - or £8.07 per journey

So whilst this is £4.70 a week more expensive than the basic travelcard - if you were to do more than three bus journeys in a week, it would work out cheaper.

If you put Apsley to Willesden Junction into the National Rail season ticket calculator - it also offers Apsley to Willesden Junction plus London Travelcard zones 2-6, which would cover the journey from Willesden Junction to Gunnersbury (and give both unlimited bus travel in London, and also trips as far as Earls Court, Shepherds Bush or Paddington)

7 days - £92.50 - or £9.25 per journey
1 month - £355.20 - or £8.46 per journey

So whilst this is £8.90 a week more expensive than the basic travelcard - if you knew you were likely to have some Zone 2 underground travel, it could be useful.

The Apsley to Willesden Junction plus London Travelcard zones 1-6 costs £111.80 per week.

15 May 2018

Gatwick Airport to London using contactless

15/5/18 - updated to include split ticket pricing at East Croydon - thanks to Gerry's comment on DiamondGeezer.blogspot.com for the reminder.  Although not sure I personally would bother - even though the savings are actually more than the Zone1/Zone2 hack!

Before contactless payment was extended to Gatwick, it was a battle to find the cheapest fare using the Southern website or Trainline or even occasionally Gatwick Express !

Contactless makes life a bit easier - as the Contactless off peak fare is usually the best you can get.

The added benefit is that there is no evening peak when travelling from Gatwick Airport into London ... at least that's what I thought ... until I started looking at fares to West Brompton ... where it turns that that evening peak does apply.

So here's how the pricing officially works for LGW - West Brompton (although we know that you get a couple of minutes leeway before peak fares kick in):

00:00 - 06:29    £8.30
06:30 - 09:29  £12.00
09:30 - 15:59    £8.30
16:00 - 18:50  £12.00
19:00 - 23:59    £8.30

The thing is that Earls Court doesn't have an evening peak - so at West Brompton, if you swap onto the District Line and go a single stop to Earls Court you can reduce the price from £12.00 down to £10.60

In fact if you could travel to any Zone 1 tube station, the evening peak magically disappears ... but travel to any other London station (that I tested using TfL's single fare finder website) and the evening peak does exist.

So the moral of the story is that if you're on the border of Zone 1 and Zone 2 and travelling from Gatwick (Monday to Friday) - you should travel from the following:

00:00 - 06:29    £8.30  from Zone 2
06:30 - 09:29  £12.00  from Zone 2
09:30 - 15:59    £8.30  from Zone 2
16:00 - 18:59  £10.60  from Zone 1
19:00 - 23:59    £8.30  from Zone 2

But if you have the time to touch out and back in again at East Croydon station (for a split ticket saving) - whilst the evening peak does apply from Gatwick to East Croydon, it does not apply from East Croydon to Zone 1.  The saving is one of your sterling pounds.

00:00 - 06:29    £5.80  from Zone 2
06:30 - 09:29    £9.00  from Zone 2
09:30 - 15:59    £5.80  from Zone 2
16:00 - 18:59    £8.00  from Zone 1
19:00 - 23:59    £5.80  from Zone 2

Zone 1
off peak  £3.10 + £4.90 = £8.00
morning peak £5.30 + £6.90 = £12.20

Zone 2
off peak £3.10 + £2.70 = £5.80
morning and evening peak £5.30 + £3.70 = £9.00

Travelling from London to Gatwick the evening peak does apply regardless where you start - so it's £5.00 cheaper to start from Zone 2 if you get into the station between 16:00 and 18:59 (or £2.30 cheaper from Zone 2 if you can get into the station during off peak hours).

23 April 2018

Mount Kōya / Koyasan - getting there

The guidebooks tell you that for travellers with a Japan Rail Pass to get to Koyasan you should take a long winded route to Hashimoto (Wakayama) which takes about 2 hours from Osaka station

Everybody then has to pay 850 yen to take the Nankai line train to Koyasan - since the line isn't owned by JR.

However, if you use your Japan Rail pass to get to Shinimamiya (about 17 mins from Osaka station) and then take the Nankai line from there - it costs 1260 - just 410 yen more than you would be paying anyway from Hashimoto.  And from Shinimamiya it takes about 46 minutes to Hashimoto - so about 70 mins from Osaka station (with a reasonable connection time).

So for the extra 410 yen, you save about 50 mins.  And since there is a gap of a couple of hours in the service to Koyasan around lunchtime - that 50 mins may make an ever bigger difference !

Be aware that on the Nankai line - the 1260 fare doesn't allow you to use the "limited express" trains to Hashimoto - which require an additional 780 yen fee ("express" trains are marginally slower and don't require a supplement).  The extra fee may not save you any time - it just may mean you don't need to change trains at Hashimoto.  But it's a small station, so changing trains isn't a problem.

22 April 2018

Japan Rail Pass - calculation

I booked a trip to Japan with just a couple of days notice - so I asked FB for advice ... and one of my friends texted me straight away to tell me to go get a Japan Rail pass before I left for Japan.

Having already looked at train travel, I'd realised that it would be expensive, so had assumed I would end up getting internal flights, as they are reasonably priced, and if you redeem points the taxes/fees are tiny.

But the Japan Rail Pass meant that I was able to cancel my internal flight, and spend a week travelling around by train.  The 7 day pass cost me 29,110 yen (188 gbp) - also available in 14 day, 21 day, child and first class variations - and for this I did the following travel (priced as individual journeys):

Tokyo - Kyoto via Nagano
9830 plus 8230 for seat reservation

Kyoto - Nara

Nara - Osaka

Osaka - Shinimamiya 

Osaka - Tokyo
8750 plus 5390 for seat reservation

Tokyo - Kagoshima Chuo
16410 plus 13450 for seat reservation

Tokyo - Yamanote Line loop
200 x 4

I had also planned to take a daytrip to Kawaguchiko (private line from Otsuki, so that part not covered by the JR pass) - but after a late night out in Tokyo, I decided against !

Tokyo - Otsuki (return)
1320 plus 1700 for seat reservation

If I had taken the trip to Otsuki, I would have achieved a total value of 68,890 yen from my 29,110 yen Rail Pass.

If I hadn't bothered with any seat reservations (the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano was only reserved seating, but I might have been able to take another train with unreserved carriages) I would still have gained 40,120 yen worth of value.

As it was (without the Otsuki daytrip) I achieved 64,500 yen worth of value from my 29,110 Rail Pass - so I'm quite happy with that !

As I was booking the Rail Pass at such short notice, I needed a company where I could go in and pick up the voucher (which you exchange for an actual pass in Japan) on the same day - but many of the companies want at least a day's notice.

I ended up using Japan Experience - as long as you make the payment online by 4pm, you can go into their London office and pick it up before the office closes at 6pm (Monday to Saturday).  I gave them a quick call before making the payment, just to double check that they were open, and that I would be able to pick up my Rail Pass voucher.  It was ready and waiting for me when I arrived at their office an hour later.

The Rail Pass is also available for purchase in Japan (on a trial basis, which may continue to be extended) - but for the higher price of 33,000 yen for 7 days.  Still decent value if you are making a few trips.

16 March 2018

London to St Anton - Easter 2018

flights to Munich have gone up a bit over the last week that i've been looking - unsurprisingly :(

on Friday 30th March the cheapest is 180 gbp - that would allow a train connection
on Thursday 29th March the cheapest is 178 gbp - they had previously been 100 gbp
on Wednesday 28th March - the 100 gbp flight is still available

dep LHR 08:00
arr MUC 14:25 (via DUS)

another option would be to fly to Nuremberg on 29th March for 106 gbp - and get the train to Munich for 20 eur

dep LHR 12:10
arr NUE 17:15 (via DUS)

flights to Austria on any of these dates aren't great.

flights to Zurich on any of these dates aren't great either - the best on Friday 30th would be 155 gbp

the best value flight seems to be to Basel on Thursday 29th - there are Easjet and Ryanair flights for 77 gbp and 83 gbp

the train journey from Basel to St Anton would cost approx 62 gbp

there's a couple of Easyjet flights that are reasonable

dep MUC  21:40
arr LTN  22:45
102 gbp - excluding baggage

dep MUC  21:55
arr LGW  22:55
121 gbp - excluding baggage

or if you wanted to spend the night in Munich - flights the next day cost 54 gbp to Luton and 70 gbp to Gatwick

the cheapest late flight out of Zurich would be 194 gbp for a 21:30 departure to Gatwick.

the same flight the next evening costs 81 gbp

if staying longer - Ryanair have 10 gbp flights out of Nuremberg airport - and incredibly, train tickets are available for 30 euro on Wednesday 4th April.  journey time is just under 5 hours.

there is a flight from Salzburg to Luton on Wed 4th April for 40 gbp (dep 20:30 arr 21:35) - and the train from St Anton to Salzburg main station is available from 20 euro (some departures are more expensive)

there is a flight from Innsbruck to Gatwick in the afternoon of Wed 4th April for 62 gbp - and the train from St Anton to Innsbruck main station is available from 17 euro

there is a flight from Munich to Gatwick in the evening of Wed 4th April for 50 gbp - and the train from St Anton to Munich airport is available from 19 euro (some departures are more expensive)

Dublin to St Anton

going to St Anton for some Easter skiing ... a couple of different options:

on Friday 30th March 2018 - Ryanair to Munich

dep DUB 06:10
arr MUC 09:40
67 eur - excluding baggage fees

the 13:00 train cost 60 euro
the 15:00 train cost 45 euro
the 17:00 and 19:00 trains cost 30 euro

alternatively could flight to Zurich

with Eurowings
dep DUB 12:10
arr ZRH 18:20 (via DUS)
100 eur - excluding baggage fees

with Aer Lingus
dep DUB 07:10
arr ZRH 10:40
132 eur - excluding baggage fees

the 12:18 train (under 3 hours) costs 52 eur
the 20:18 train (3.5 hours) costs 61 eur

on Monday 2nd April 2018 - the same routes are available

dep ZRH 21:40
arr DUB  23:00
195 eur - excluding baggage fees

the 16:57 train (arriving 19:42) costs 53 euro

alternatively from Munich there's a Ryanair flight

dep MUC 21:10
arr DUB 22:40
134 eur - excluding baggage fees

or an Aer Lingus flight

dep MUC 20:25
arr DUB 21:55
165 eur - excluding baggage fees

the train timings aren't as helpful for this route, it's a longer journey and there's only a train every two hours - so it would be the 15:03 departure (arriving 18:55) for 69 eur

29 October 2017

Redeeming Avios on Flybe domestic

I've written before about redeeming Avios on FlyBE flights to Ireland

I thought I would look to see what they're like from London to Scotland.  Of course the comparison is the British Airways standing "Reward Flight Saver" charge of 17.50 gbp

An economy flight to Edinburgh - 4,000 or 4,500 avios plus

LHR - EDI  32.70 gbp
LCY - EDI  56.11 gbp

Or flying from Birmingham

BHX - EDI  26.59 gbp
BHX - GLA  26.59 gbp

Or flying from Southampton

SOU - EDI  25.02 gbp
SOU - GLA  25.02 gbp

Or flying from Manchester

MAN - GLA  26.34 gbp

assuming you value 1 Avios at around 1p - it means that cash flights would need to cost over 70 quid to be worth using Avios

and on the LHR to EDI route that rises to more like 80 quid
and on the LCY to EDI route that rises to around 100 quid

unless you have a stack of Avios sitting around gathering dust - it will usually be better to pay cash.

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


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) !