28 November 2019

Luton Airport train prices

On 22nd October 2019 Luton Airport Parkway joined TfL's "Contactless" scheme

No longer do you *have* to buy a paper ticket ... although sometimes it may be cheaper.  Remember that this is contactless only - your Oyster card will not work at Luton Airport Parkway.

Standard fares using Contactless are 15.50 gbp peak (both morning and evening) and 12.00 gbp off peak.  This pricing also applies from any Zone 1 or Zone 2 station - so you no longer will get charged separately for getting to St Pancras.
Adding in the separate bus fare, the prices become 17.90 gbp and 14.40 gbp

If you use Contactless for a journey from Zone 2 Overground without entering Zone 1 (for example from Kensington Olympia via West Hampstead Thameslink) the fares are 12.00 gbp peak and 7.80 gbp off peak
Adding in the separate bus fare, the prices become 14.40 gbp and 10.20 gbp

If you use Contactless for a journey from Zone 2 Underground without entering Zone 1 (for example from White City via Shepherds Bush and West Hampstead Thameslink the fares are 13.70 gbp peak and 9.30 gbp off peak
Adding in the separate bus fare, the prices become 16.10 gbp and 11.70 gbp

The normal paper ticket fare from St Pancras to the airport (including the bus) is 17.40 gbp (a saving of 10 pence compared with buying separate tickets) - with no obvious change in price between peak and off peak.
However this fare can be reduced by using a Railcard - so for example if you are travelling after 10am, the price drops to 13.00 gbp and if you are travelling at a weekend the price is 8.65 gbp

The normal paper ticket fares from Kensington Olympia to the airport (including the bus) is 18.60 gbp - and this drops to 13.00 gbp after 10am on weekdays and to 12.30 gbp at weekends if you have a Network Railcard.

In summary: use Contactless apart from - if you are staying near St Pancras it is usually cheaper to buy a paper ticket (apart from if you are travelling off peak without a Railcard) and if you are travelling at a weekend from a Zone 1 or 2 tube station via St Pancras

It's also worth highlighting that if you have a Railcard and are in Zone 2 near an Overground station - it's actually slightly cheaper to take the tube to St Pancras, and get a paper ticket from St Pancras than travel via West Hampstead Thameslink

If you don't have a Railcard:
From Zone 1 tube station - use Contactless - 17.90 gbp / 14.40 gbp
From St Pancras during peak - use paper ticket - 17.40 gbp
From St Pancras off peak - use Contactless - 14.40 gbp
From Zone 2 Overground - use Contactless - 14.40 gbp / 10.20 gbp
From Zone 2 tube station - use Contactless - 16.10 gbp / 11.70 gbp

If you do have a Railcard:
From Zone 1 or 2 tube station weekday - use Contactless - 17.90 gbp / 14.40 gbp
From Zone 1 or 2 tube station weekend - use paper ticket - 11.05 gbp  (8.65 + 2.40)
From St Pancras station weekday - use paper ticket - 17.40 gbp / 13.00 gbp after 10am
From St Pancras station weekend - use paper ticket - 8.65 gbp
From Zone 2 Overground weekday or weekend - use Contactless - 14.40 gbp / 10.20 gbp
From Zone 2 tube station weekday or weekend - use Contactless - 16.10 gbp / 11.70 gbp

24 November 2019

2018 and 2019 Transport for London fares

I've written before about how TfL have a nasty habit of deleting the old fare tables from their website, so you can't see what the price rises over the years have been.

In preparation for the next deletion, here is the 2018 fare table:

and the 2019 fare table:

For comparison - the price of a Zone 1 & 2 weekly travelcard over the last four years:

2016  32.40 gbp
2017  33.00 gbp
2018  34.10 gbp
2019  35.10 gbp

23 September 2019

Qatar Airways frequent flyer devaluation

Back in late May 2018 Qatar Airways devalued their frequent flyer points by around 40% - so overnight points that you could have redeemed to distant destinations could only get you to mid haul destinations.

When the Qatar Airways annual accounts were published in August 2018 - for the year ending 31st March 2018 - there was no mention of any post balance sheet event or upcoming windfall gain.

The only significant change was the hiding of revenue generated from the redemption of frequent flyer points.  In the 2017 financial statements there had been a separate "Frequent Flyer programme" line under "Other Operating Income"  - but in the 2018 financial statements this had been removed, and the previous year figures restated.

However the "Unredeemed Frequent Flyer Liabilities" line did survive - so we were able to see that it increased 18% from the 514.5m QAR in 2017 to 608.9m QAR in 2018.  This increase was significantly higher than the headline Scheduled Passenger Services revenue that went up by less than 2%.

With the recent release of the 2019 accounts, we finally got to see how much of a windfall Qatar Airways made from the devaluation.

This year the headline Scheduled Passenger Services revenue increased by over 14%, with a shift to longer flights following the blockade by other Middle Eastern countries - total passenger numbers increased by just 1.1%

With an increase in revenue, if the devaluation hadn't occurred, I would have expected the "Unredeemed Frequent Flyer Liabilities" to increase by something like 20% - to a total close to 731m QAR.  In fact the liability dropped to 462.2m QAR - which is almost 40% below would have been expected.  And chimes with the overnight reduction back in May 2018.

So whilst it was Qatar Airway's overall loss that made all the headlines in the news over the past few days - the loss would have been worse by about 58m gbp if they hadn't raided their frequent flyer points programme !


17 September 2019

UK one way car hire

One way car hire in the UK can be nastily expensive.  I recently priced up a one way car hire from London City Airport to Heathrow Airport - and for less than one day's hire Avis wanted around 100 gbp for a small car !

Sometimes you can find cheaper options using online travel agents, and I managed to get a good deal using the American Express travel website a good few years ago.

Another option is when car hire companies pay you to move their cars back to where they want them to be.

Europcar have been doing this for years with their "one way for just £1" promotion - but it's pot luck as to what they want moved, and the website User Interface is grim ... have a look for yourself  https://www.europcar.co.uk/deals/one-way-uk.step

Avis have a variation on the £1 theme, where they reduce the one-way fee down to £1 and you pay for the rest of the booking as normal.  Again it's pot luck as to what's available - at the moment there's absolutely nothing!  And from their website it looks like they only offer North (England and Scotland) to South deals (when they are available)  https://www.avis.co.uk/car-hire-offers/uk-offers/one-way-offer

I only recently hear about the Hertz offer - which looks much more useful.  A bit like Avis, they're interested in moving cars into the South East - but unlike Avis it's not just Scotland/North of England, they will also let you collect a car in Plymouth, Exeter Airport, Bristol Airport and Cardiff Airport.  For completeness, their other pickup points are their airport branches at Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Once you select the Hertz collection point it then offers you a variety of drop off points - so for example if you collected a car at Exeter airport you could drop it off at Heathrow, Luton, Stansted, Birmingham or Manchester airports.  When you've selected your drop off point, you then select your pick up date and time - you get to choose!  On my Exeter to Stansted dummy booking, I was given 350 miles included as part of the £1 fee (212 miles if driven directly), and told that the car type would be decided on the day (so not suitable if you have a large family).  I was also given 24 hours, without an option to change.

When I did a dummy booking from Edinburgh to Heathrow, it gave me 550 miles (412 miles if driven directly) and two days hire, included in the £1.99 price
I tried reading the Terms & Conditions, but it's unclear what happens if you go over the mileage - they never quote a price per mile.

If you can accept the limitations, this could work out to be a great option for one way journeys, where you effectively just pay for the petrol !


29 August 2019

Dublin Port - Irish Ferries bus transfer

I've written before that when I'm arriving into Dublin port from Holyhead, even though the Irish Ferries ship departs 10 minutes after the Stena ship ... I prefer to take the Irish Ferries, as it offers the best chance of being able to walk straight off the ship - instead of having to wait until all the cars have gone, and a bus comes on board, and they finally offload the foot passengers ... as Stena often do !

Usually I'm lucky enough that somebody collects me from the ferry terminal - so I rush off the ship (hand luggage only), and we're often exiting the port as the first cars roll off the ship ...

Today I used the Mortons Coaches transfer bus for the first time in ages - Irish Ferries underwrite the service so their foot passengers are guaranteed an easy link from the Port into the city centre and train stations.

I was one of the first foot passengers off the ship so was through security, and with no bags to collect was outside the terminal building just after 5.30pm

The next Dublin Bus route 53 departure was at 6pm, so it was obvious that I should pay the 3.50 euro Adult Single fare and take the express transfer into the city.

What I hadn't reckoned on was just how slow my fellow foot passengers would be ... and obviously the shuttle bus needs to wait until the last of them have emerged from the terminal building.  By 5.50pm the Dublin Bus had arrived - but I was still hopeful that we would get away first ...

I don't know whether it was the hold luggage that was slow coming off, or whether it was just people taking their time ... but we didn't finally depart until 6.05pm - a full five minutes after the public bus had left !

Google Maps reckons I would have got to the train station at about 6.26pm using Dublin Bus ... whereas I ended up arriving at 6.21pm using Mortons ... so the express ended up being five minutes faster than the public bus.  Dublin Bus would have cost me 2.50 euro - so I ended up paying a euro to save me 5 minutes.  ymmv.

14 August 2019

Imber cycle

Imber was a village in the Salisbury plain that was evacuated during World War II so that the surrounding area could be used for military training, without having to worry about the presence of civilians.

It opens up a few times each year - Christmas, Easter and 10 days in August.

In August a dedicated group take a load of London buses down for the day, so you can travel around without expending too much effort !

Another option is to get a train to Warminster - which appears to be the only convenient station - and then cycle around the area.

Going on a Sunday would be a good idea, as the church should be open

Looking at the map on the end of the Defence Estate brochure - I reckon the following route would be a good way of exploring the whole are in an afternoon (using google maps to estimate cycling times)

Warminster - Gore Cross                           55 mins

Gore Cross - Point I                                   36 mins

Point I - Imber - Knock Castle - Point E     57 mins

Chilterne - Tilshead - Gore Cross               34 mins
or via "German village"                               49 mins

Gore Cross - Warminster                            53 mins

Total - about 250mins - so just over 4 hours of cycling

Train tickets from London to Warminster are quite expensive (and there isn't much saving to be had from ticket splitting) - so just need to book early once the advance tickets become available.

IanVisits reckons that you can get the train ticket down to 26 gbp by splitting it at Salisbury

12 July 2019

New route to Beirut

A couple of days ago Ryanair announced that they are opening their first ever route to Beirut, Lebanon.  It's a city that I've been wanting to visit for years, so I thought I'd check out whether it was useful for journeys from the UK.

The route is from Paphos in Cyprus, and opens at the end of October when the winter timetable starts.  They will fly three times a week - a morning departure on Monday, and evening departures on Wednesday and Friday.

This means that if you can get to Paphos on a Friday in time for a 21:20 departure (or 20:30 on a Wednesday), it has potential for a long weekend break.  The Friday fight is scheduled to arrive into Beirut at a fairly civilised 22:25

On the Monday the Ryanair flight departs from Beirut at 12:00 - which is a lot more friendly than most of the flights to western europe, which usually depart around 3am.

For an example as to how it would work, using the weekend of Friday 15th November

dep  London Stansted 09:35
arr  Paphos  16:00

dep  Paphos  21:20
arr  Beirut  22:25

and returning on Monday 18th November

dep  Beirut  12:00
arr  Paphos   13:05

dep Paphos  18:30
arr  London Luton  21:30

The total outbound journey time is just under 11 hours, and inbound 11.5 hours - this compares to direct flights which are scheduled for around 5 to 5.5 hours.  Of course with Ryanair being a "point to point" airline, you have to leave plenty of time for connections.

The price for these flights via Paphos is currently 170 gbp
This compares with prices starting at 255 gbp for direct flights on the same dates

Whilst the saving may not be enough to tempt you, the additional competition into Beirut may encourage other airlines to offer lower fares.


01 June 2019

West Hampstead connections (for Luton Airport)

I recently decided that an alternative route to Luton Airport Parkway station - instead of my usual tube journey to St Pancras station - was to take the London Overground to West Hampstead, and then a Thameslink train to LAP.

If you use the standard journey planning websites or applications - they won't give you connections which assume normal walking pace between the West Hampstead Overgound and Thameslink stations!  The sites/apps don't make it clear how long they estimate it will take you to walk the 200m - but whatever the number, it's way too long !

I timed the journey from the doors opening at the Overground station (I was at the front of the train - so I had to walk back down the platform a couple of carriage lengths to the exit) ... up the stairs ... exit through the ticket barrier ... turn left ... across a side road (I did get lucky with the traffic - although it's not a big junction, so it should never be too bad) ... across the mainline rails (which gives you a nice view of the Thameslink station below street level) ... left at the Mainline sign ... left through the ticket barriers ... across one platform ... and down the stairs to the platform I wanted.

Admittedly I had looked at the map beforehand, so I knew the route ... but the walk from the Overground platform to the Thameslink platform took me all of THREE minutes, and I was carrying a medium sized backpack.  I reckon the travel planning sites/apps are using a minimum connection time of something like 15 minutes - even if you're unlucky with the traffic, you really don't need that long !

Update: I travelled the route again recently, this time during rush hour, and despite being slowed down by the volume of people, it still only took 3 minutes 10 seconds!  This was helped by the extra exit that's open during peak hours at West Hampstead Overground station.  My transfer would have been even faster if I had been at the optimum door on the Overground train - which I reckon is the rear door on the fourth carriage if you're travelling eastbound.

The upshot of this is that to plan your journey, you really need to first figure out which train you want to get from West Hampstead Thameslink - and then work back to decide which Overground train is best for you.  In my example the Overground train I took wasn't even showing as a connecting option !

I suspect the same issue arises if you are connecting from the West Hampstead underground station - which is about a further minute away from the Thameslink station.

The reason why I chose this alternative routing was because I realised that with the 13 gbp minimum fare on weekday train tickets using Network Railcard discount (a full one third discount only applies to higher priced tickets) - it cost the same price to travel from my nearest London Overground station as it did from St Pancras.  That meant I saved the tube fare from home to St Pancras.  Obviously not a massive saving - but better in my pocket than TfL's !

Update: Arriving at Luton Airport Parkway from London, the optimum exit for the stairs (as opposed to the lift) if you're on a 12 car train is the back of carriage 10.  Not all Thameslink trains are 12 car trains - ymmv!

30 April 2019

Updated: Countries and Cities to visit ...

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

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
Venezuela - maybe a tepui

The Peninsula - done!
South Georgia - done!

Georgia - including the soviet architecture in Tbilisi
Indonesia - including Borneo
Iran - including Isfahan and Persepolis, Tehran - including Contemporary Art Gallery
Japan - done!
Lebanon - including skiing
Kuwait - to fill in the gaps
South Korea
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
Azores - maybe this walking trip or this self guided one
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 (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
GermanyProra 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
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
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 ...

14 April 2019

Liverpool airport by train and bus

Ryanair has a base at Liverpool airport, and the fares are often significantly cheaper than from London or other southeast airports - the saving can sometimes be in the hundreds of pounds for peak flights !

Getting to LPL is a lot easier than it used to be with the Airport Parkway station a few miles from the airport having a good range of rail connections.  Gone are the days when you had to get a taxi to Runcorn station !

The best fares to Liverpool South Parkway from London are using London Northwestern Railway (the renamed London Midland franchise) - I regularly get 15 gbp tickets, which admitted involve a train change / wait at Stafford station (which has a handy Tesco Extra nearby).  The easiest way to get these fares is to use LNWR's own website, and to tick the "show our trains only" box in the Advanced Search screen.  The LNWR website isn't very user friendly - but it's worth it for those 15 tickets.

To get those really cheap tickets, you need to buy them just to the Parkway station - and then buy a ticket at the station for the bus to the airport.  You can buy combined train and bus tickets to the airport - but they won't show up with the "show our trains only" box ticked.

Travelling towards Liverpool in a four carriage train, the platform stairs are at the back of the second carriage - if you're in a rush.

The station is new, spacious and well designed for train and bus connections.  There is a Costa cafe, a separate coffee vending machine, and a information desk which also sells chocolate, soft drinks and sandwiches!  There used to be a separate shop, but it was never busy (when I was there) and closed down a while ago.

The bus to the airport currently costs 2 gbp - you can pay cash to the driver, but if you want to use a credit card just go to the information desk, and the staff will take payment and issue you a ticket.  The ticket machines at the station just sell rail tickets, so don't waste your time trying to buy a bus ticket from them.

There are a few different bus routes to the airport - they all take roughly the same amount of time (around 10 minutes), so unless you are really tight for time, you can just take whichever is the first bus to arrive.  The door at the bus bay doesn't open until the bus has stopped - so don't be alarmed if it takes a while to open !

Another option is to walk from the Parkway station to the airport.  Google maps reckons that it takes about 55 minutes - but I did it (carrying a small rucksack) in about 45 minutes, including a stop to buy coffee.  Whilst the route may look like it's beside a nasty dual carriageway - there's actually a big gap between the wide footpath and the road, so when I did the walk the exhaust fumes weren't bad.  You can even route via the "Estuary Commerce Park" and their pleasant ponds (not shown below as Google won't let me embed a map with "restricted roads") !

Just before you turn into the Estuary complex, you walk past New Mersey Shopping Park - which includes a Marks and Spencer Foodhall.  Since I had plenty of time, and it's right beside the road, I had a quick look around - and grabbed a coffee for 1 gbp (from a machine).  A rather large saving on the price you pay at the airport - and a reasonable coffee for a machine.

Whilst it's always better to have a rail station inside the airport - the easy connection at Liverpool South Parkway station, as well as the incredibly good value train fares (the standard fare from London to Luton Airport is 17.40 gbp) means that I'm happy to make the trip from London - if the price is right and I have the time.