What I hope readers find useful in this article are examples of general costs for London based on a Saturday to Saturday trip in late-November 2014. Everyone has personal needs and desires when traveling. Restaurant dining, theater, nightclubs and bars, tours and activities result in highly variable trip costs.
This is a post on the general prices of hotels, food, transportation and activities in London and not an itemized list of my expenses. I joked about my ‘Pub Pint Savings Calculator’ in a London post, whereby I equated cost savings on travel expenditures to money saved for buying beer pints in a London pub. At an average price of $7 for a pint of beer in a pub, I looked at many savings opportunities on our trip.
My travel needs are typically pretty basic, aside from hotels. I don’t do hostels and shared accommodations. I like my privacy and the ability to come and go as I please, even if that is 2 or 3am in the morning, although with me the early morning roaming around at 5 am is more likely than a late night return at 2am.
A general rule of thumb is travel often costs more than you expect or budgeted.
Here are typical London prices and ways we reduced our expenses for one week in London.
Airfare $538.70 AA.com flying British Airways international
October 14, 2014 was a discount airfare sale opportunity. I booked a 14 day itinerary flying San Francisco SFO to Los Angeles LAX and then British Airways on an A380-800 economy class flight connecting in London Heathrow Airport LHR for a change to a smaller plane and a one hour hop to destination Dublin, Ireland DUB.
American Airlines booking code ‘’O’ ticket, which earns 100% miles for distance flown and 50% elite qualifying points.
Kelley’s ticket was $834.50 flying on peak Thanksgiving travel days San Francisco-LAX-London Heathrow (LHR). She had an $801.20 AA voucher from the Christmas holidays flight she missed to Miami Beach two years ago when the American Airlines counter person refused to issue her a boarding pass for her flight out of Monterey due to her first name missing the second ‘e’ in Kelley. Her final ticket cost for London was $33.30. Kelley flew American Airlines metal and was much more excited to be flying to London rather than Miami Beach.
Most couples probably do not want to fly separately on an international trip. I could have purchased an $834 ticket to London and flown together or $635 with destination London by leaving a couple days before and after Kelley. Her flights were dictated by a work schedule that coincided with Thanksgiving week peak rates. I moved my work space to London and Dublin for two weeks. Saving $300 on airfare flying to Dublin allowed me to spend six nights in Ireland and seven nights in London with a $113 RyanAir return fare Dublin to London. The bag fees of 40 EUR for one checked bag each way were more than the 39.98 EUR for the round trip ticket.
SFO-LAX-LHR-DUB/DUB-LGW/LGW-DUB/DUB-LHR-SFO = $642 on American, British Airways and RyanAir for 13 nights in London and Ireland.
For several years there was a good deal with IHG 2-for-1 rates at London hotels. That is no longer an option and many London hotels in the major chains are set as top tier reward nights. Club Carlson is an advantageous hotel program due to 18 hotels in the UK Radisson Blu Edwardian chain concentrated in London. Club Carlson Visa card members receive one free night on reward stays of two nights or more.
We stayed six nights in London with two nights at Radisson Blu Mercer Street and two nights at Radisson Blu Bloomsbury Street in Covent Garden area. The other two nights were at The May Fair in Mayfair, a ritzy part of London.
Radisson Blu London Mercer Street 50,000 points
Radisson Blu London Bloomsbury Street 50,000 points
The May Fair 70,000 points
I earned 85,000 Club Carlson points as a Club Carlson Visa card enrollment and spend bonus a couple months ago. I earned 88,000 points for about $180 in 2012 during Club Carlson promotions. Hotel room rate at these hotels averaged over $400 per night at time I booked rooms. London hotels are very pricey.
There are deals to be found at 4-star hotels in chains for around $100 to $150 per night. In general, the real value of hotel points are for the expensive cities of the world like London and Paris.
Total cost of London hotels for us was 170,000 Club Carlson points + $135 for Holiday Inn Gatwick Airport which earned one free night through the Into the Nights promotion.
London Food and Meals $350
Eating out in London is the pricey activity with little budget relief.
We ate dinners in pubs for three nights and a Chinese buffet for lunch one day with sandwiches at a couple of museums and parks. Average price of a meal in a London pub is about £9 to £13 or $14 to $21. A pint of beer is about $7. A restaurant meal is £20 to £35 per meal, double with wine.
We spent about $100 USD on pub meals with fish and turkey meals. One pubkeeper comped our $35 dinner meals due to my having ordered two dishes to later be told they were out of the dish.
The close proximity of our hotels to grocery markets serving hot food meant that we ate hot Indian food and chicken regularly. Hot Indian dishes and other hot meals were typically £3.50 per dish and there were package specials at the market for 20% to 30% discounts when buying three items.
London food and dining for 7 days of meals
$100 Pub meals + price of beer (more than $100)
$150 Sainsbury market including all the beer we could drink. In Sainsbury £5.50 for three 500ml bottles of Stella Artois.
Food and drink $350+. Averaged $50 per day for two with no fancy dining.
Oyster Visitor Card
Everyone planning on traveling around London by bus or Underground should get an Oyster Card, a prepaid debit card offering reduced rates on London transport. Oyster Cards can be purchased at any Underground ticket office, London area rail station, London airport and London tourist centers.
There is a £3 (about $5) nonrefundable charge to buy the card with a prepaid amount. Kelley and I were able to travel for one week on £20 loaded on each of our cards, including travel to and from London Heathrow. We walked a lot.
Public transportation in London is relatively inexpensive using the London Underground and buses. London Underground connects London Heathrow Airport to the city center. One round trip using the Oyster card from London Heathrow Airport into city center is £6.00 cash each way or £3.10 using Oyster card.
Since London Heathrow Airport is the terminus for the Underground Piccadilly Line, getting from the airport into the city is fairly easy to board the train and claim some luggage space on the carriage. Leaving city center London for LHR in peak morning or afternoon congestion times can make it difficult to get onto an Underground train with luggage. The trains in city center can be very crowded.
I got by seven days with buying a £3.00 Oyster card loaded with £20 GBP at London Gatwick Airport Concierge for £46.00 for two cards. We walked a lot since the city seemed easily walkable by focusing on one area each day.
One single fare on the Underground in the city center is £4.80 paying cash. Oyster card price is £2.30 with a daily cap of £6.40 in Zones 1 and 2, which cover most of the tourist areas of central London. This post uses new fares effective January 2, 2015.
Visitor Oyster Card is an advance purchase Oyster card shipped to your home address. The primary advantage is special offers for dining and attractions discounts that are not benefits of a regular Oyster card purchased in the UK. You can check them out. You have to pay postage to get the card shipped to you. I liked the convenience of picking up Oyster cards in the airport. Now that we have them, they are ready for reloading with cash when we return to London or we can pass them on to other travelers to use.
There is also the London Pass which provides attraction admissions too. It is an expensive card, unless you plan to visit most of the attractions to get the London Pass card value back in free admissions.
Heathrow Express to Paddington Station
Heathrow Express is the fast train from London Heathrow Airport to Paddington Station that runs every 15 minutes and takes 15 minutes between Paddington and LHR Terminals 1, 2, and 3 with most of the USA carriers. Price is £21 one way ($33.60) per adult or £34 return ($54.40). There are several discount offers with Heathrow Express including:
- £5 ($8) discount for online bookings 7-days in advance.
- £50 ($80) DuoSaver for two adults traveling on return tickets together for £18 savings.
- Group Saver 33% discount on single or return tickets when 3 or more adults travel together.
- Kids Go Free allows two children aged 15 and under to travel free with each paid adult fare.
Heathrow Express is useful if your hotel is in Paddington or you simply do not want to spend 45 minutes on the Underground.
If not, you still need to get to the area of your hotel and the London Underground is the cheap way to get around central London.
Probably the highest variability in the cost of London travel lies in the cost of activities. Two of the hotels where we stayed in Covent Garden were popular for The West End theater shows. Cheap seats for one play are around $40 per ticket and up to $150 per ticket. Kelley was not interested in the shows we read about during our stay.
One night we sat in the Three Greyhounds pub across from Miss Saigon and watched the crowd of theater goers in line before the performance and we were still holding our pub table when the show let out later. The people watching in the theater crowd showed us those were not the kind of clothes we packed for London.
Most London Museums are Free
Spending a week in London visiting museums is a cheap activity to fill time. We particularly welcomed museum time when it was raining. We balanced walking in parks with museums, since standing for hours on end reading information and observing artifacts and art is hard on the legs.
- The British Museum
- Victoria & Albert Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Museum of London
- The Wallace Collection
- Tate Modern
- The National Gallery
- National Portrait Galley
These are just a selection of the many museums offered to visitors for free in London.
We saw the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, Da Vinci and van Gogh at the National Gallery, royal portraits at the National portrait Gallery, Rodin sculptures at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Sherlock Holmes at the Museum of London.
The Great Bed of Ware was recorded in a traveler’s diary from 1590 describing the bed at an inn. This bed resided at inns for 350 years. The bed was often the most expensive asset listed for a home’s possessions.
Tourist attractions in London often cost £15 to £22 per adult. See comments section about how to get 2-for-1 admission with purchase of a National Rail train ticket.
London Eye £26.55 online.
Tower of London £20.90 online.
Westminster Abbey £18.00 online.
St. Paul’s Cathedral £15.00 online.
All our activities were basically free, except for £1 at a couple of museums for maps and £0.50 for toilets. We visited a lot of museums and admired many of the great monuments of London from the exterior.
Our activities for the week were almost all free and kept us entertained for many hours each day.
Cost of London for One Week
Airfare: SFO-London-Dublin-London-SFO $650
Hotels: $135 for one paid night + 170,000 Club Carlson points for 6 reward nights.
Transportation: Buses, trains and Underground with two £20 GBP Oyster cards including two round trips to Heathrow Airport and train travel between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria Station $110 total.
Food: $250 dining and grocery store + $100+ more for pub pints.
Activities: £5 for museum maps and toilets. We walked parks and neighborhoods and visited most of the big sites in London.
London Trip Expenses: $1,250 all in for seven nights and eight days in London. Add another $500 if Kelley’s ticket had not been nearly free.
My total expenses in Ireland for one week, paying for five nights hotel lodging at Radisson Blu hotels ($325) and one night at Holiday inn Express ($100) and all other activities and ground transportation was under $600 in additional expenses.
The opportunity to spend one to two weeks in Europe for about $2,000 as a couple gives us the potential to take three to four trips per year outside the USA, even to some of the most expensive cities, and stay within a reasonable budget for annual travel.
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