Combining Services Yields Additional Savings
London is a city that has a great advantage for Americans: no language barrier. Although English is the common language, understanding the British born English, one often feels the need for translation. Nonetheless, this commonality allows you to board a plane and navigate through your vacation without any time spent studying Rosetta Stone – which interestingly enough calls London’s British Museum home.
The British Pound is currently trading at 1.41. This is equal to the lowest range levels of 1987, 1992 and 2001, which were the low benchmarks for the past 22 years. That is one reason why a 6 night package for round trip travel from Chicago’s O’Hare to Heathrow can be had for under $700 as of this writing ( about $50 less out of New York). Act now for a no regret vacation – you don’t have to wonder about hedging for better exchange rates – they’re here.
One way to insure a competitive exchange rate for vacation purchases is to use a major credit card for as much as possible while overseas. Visa and American Express are the most widely accepted. Chase, for instance, will charge you their highly competitive simple exchange rate on the day the charge appears for payment. American Express offices, also, will change your travelers checks into pounds at the best day’s rate. For math purposes, I have always found the one and a half times rule makes for easy conversion in my head, although with cell phone calculators and conversion apps, you can be precise about this if you feel the need.
The summer season begins in June with pricing rising substantially for the last week in May and then again settling down June 1. If you are flexible, scheduling travel ending before May 25 will yield the lowest prices. Combining hotel and plane fare also yields substantial savings over lowest price alone in either category. Two carriers offering the lowest flight plus hotel are Virgin and British Airways. They also have the most centrally located partner hotels with some also including a continental breakfast. While Expedia and Orbitz do also offer combined hotel and plane tickets from the low $700 range, be sure to check the location of the hotel. Many are actually 45 minutes from Central London, and depending on the location of your interests, this can be terribly inconvenient.
After booking your flight, immediately go online and join your carriers frequent flyer club. This will yield many benefits, preferential seating being one. But also when additional seating is needed, frequent flyers are chosen for the bump up in service. One return flight was bumped to Business class, much to my delight.
If you are serious about accumulating miles, apply for the airline’s credit card to receive an instant lump sum of bonus miles. With your already hefty trans-oceanic flight, this can make substantial inroads towards reward flights and can usually be transferred to domestic partner airlines.
Once you’ve landed at Heathrow, you will still need to commute to urban London. Heathrow, itself, is quite a distance outside London, but public transportation is accessible and user friendly. The two most attractive options for inexpensive transport from Heathrow into central London are the Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect. The Heathrow Express runs every 15 minutes from Heathrow to Paddington station and costs £16.50 one way or £32 for a round trip. This express service will have you central London in about 15 minutes. The Heathrow Connect runs very half hour and costs £6.90 each way for a 25 minute trip to Paddington but you do have the options of intermittent stops. Both offer online purchase with the Express even allowing for forwarding the ticket directly to your cell phone for on-train validation. Schedules are also available online.
Once in London, the best method for transportation is the Tube. The Tube offers prepaid options like the Oyster card. The Oyster Card is the transportation version of a Starbuck’s Card. It is easily topped off and you are guaranteed the lowest possible charges for services used. There is an initial one time £2 charge and online purchase is available. Oyster cards can be used for the Tube, the bus, or for the train: the Docklands Light Rail (DLR). Any transportation station also offers services for topping off the Oyster Card. The website as well as the stations themselves provide user maps color code and name each pathway for ease of consumer use.
Discount Theater Tickets are available trough two websites: London Theater Direct and London Discount Theater which also both offer dinner and theater packages and yield additional savings. Shopping in London has been well chronicled by Lucky magazine.
Museums abound in London. There’s the Victoria & Albert, the recently opened Tate Modern, The National Gallery, and the British Museum, home to the “Elgin Marbles” the highly publicized pieces moved to London by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin from their original placement among the buildings of the Acropolis. The National Trust operates hundreds of historical estates throughout Great Britain, including Vita Sackville-West’s famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle. A membership pass is a money saving idea if you intend to visit multiple properties.
Rental cars are available at rates similar to those in the US, however parking will cost you as much per day as the rental and is not included in most hotel rates. Public transportation is by far the best choice when in London.
Spend some time on the internet yourself. With so many sites offering peer reviews, you will find others with similar interest who have insightful suggestions as well as criticisms.
Finally, enjoy your time in London knowing your dollar is stretching far, and London is offering much to remember.