When traveling to London, you can be looking at a budget-busting vacation. It can seem like everything there – from hotels to food – is twice as expensive as in the U.S. With a bit of planning, you can save on a trip and keep your credit cards from smoking.
It’s a city that has something for everyone, whether you like a rockin’ nightlife, gourmet cuisine or history and architecture. And with the Underground, it is also easily navigated by travelers. By changing the way you travel, you can save hundreds.
Travel in the fall or winter - Airfare is generally cheaper to most places in the fall, but in the wintertime prices can drop to almost half of summer ticket prices. September is a good month to travel, because the weather is still pretty nice and students are back in school. This means that wherever you go, you won’t be surrounded by hordes of tourists. Even though the operating hours for museums and other locations may be shorter, you can do more during the day because you won’t be fighting crowds everywhere. If you don’t mind the colder weather, winter rates can be even cheaper and you could take advantage of the after-holidays January sales at all the shops.
Fly in and out of smaller airports - London Heathrow is the biggest and busiest airport in the United Kingdom. While that makes it convenient, there are other airports that also service the area for worldwide flights, including Stanstead and Gatwick. When looking for airfare, make sure to include surrounding airports.
Reserve an airport shuttle - Those black cabs are cute and all, but they can end up costing you big time when traveling to and from the airport. Forgo the excitement of being able to say you rode in one and book an airport shuttle before leaving on your trip. You can save big bucks this way, plus you won’t have to wait in the taxi stand queue. (Take pictures of the black cabs you see on the road around you. It makes for a better picture than one of you in the backseat of one.) For information on the best shuttle service to use, contact your hotel for suggestions.
Do the money exchange - Exchanging your currency can sometimes be a bit tricky. First, you have to deal with the exchange rate and then also factor in commission fees charged by each company. Do yourself a favor and don’t exchange your money at the airport. There you will typically find the lowest exchange rate and the highest exchange fees, so you will pay more to hand over your money there than anywhere else. If you must have cash and can’t use your credit card, change the least possible amount and then head to a large bank branch or post office. Banks generally charge you a low, flat fee and the post office charges one of the lowest rates possible (usually 1%).
Book through budget airlines - If London is just one of the stops on your travel itinerary, you can book flights to and from the city on low-fare carriers. Not only can these tickets be cheaper than traveling by train, but they also take less time when traveling to or from destinations within the U.K. and Europe. Look to travel on a day that is cheaper and less busy (Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday) as early as possible and plan to pack very light to avoid baggage fees.
Grab some quick sleep if needed – If you end up having a late-night or super early morning flight out of London Heathrow, instead of paying the full price for a hotel room for just a few hours, consider the new mini-hotel, by No 1 Traveler, located in Terminal 3. Attached to the airport lounge, you can book a bedroom, which includes a bed, shower, TV, Internet access, room service and more. Rates start at just £20 per hour, but give you some needed privacy and sleep options to help you relax and refresh before traveling to your final destination.
While London will never be an inexpensive destination, you can still plan a trip to fit your budget.
About the Author
Shereen Rayle is author of the blog Shereen Travels Cheap and a book of the same name that will be published in late 2011. For years she has been planning her own vacations using the Internet to extend her limited budget as far as possible and shares the tips and tricks she has learned, along with useful sites like FareCompare.com, to help others get the most out of their travel dollars. And to further inspire budget travelers everywhere, she finds terrific travel bargains and posts them each day on her Facebook page.