Dec082014

Cost of hotels, airfare, transportation, food and activities for one week in London

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.

Airfare

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.

London Hotels

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.

Sainsbury Indian food

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.

 

London Transportation

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

Heathrow Express is useful if your hotel is in Paddington or you simply do not want to spend 45 minutes on the Underground.

Heathrow Express

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.

Paddington Station

 

Activities

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.

Les Miserables

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.

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.

Great Bed of Ware

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.

St. Paul's Cathedral

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.

Related Loyalty Traveler posts

Live Well for Less at The May Fair London

Ritzy enough for The May Fair London

My Square Foot London Edition

Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street London convenient for LHR arrival and departure

Radisson Blu Bloomsbury Street London location by British Museum

Gatwick to Heathrow in 3 hours for £8.10 with Oyster card

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Comments

  1. I had tried to comment previously about the London 2-for-1 deal for London Transport card holders. You have to buy the travelcard from the National Railway. They come in 1 day or 7 day cards. The key is that they have to be purchased with the National Rail Logo on them from one of the National Rail Stations. You also need a voucher form. These can be picked up at the train station – but if you can print it from home, that is usually better. Both parties must also have the transport card.

    London Eye, St. Pauls, Tower of London are all one the 2-for-1. By my calculations, the savings on these three covered the cost of the travelcard. (£31.40 for a 7 day pass)

  2. @Katherine – Now that you mentioned it, I recall reading about the 2-for-1 deal with National Rail ticket into London.

    http://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/2for1-london

    A return train ticket between London Gatwick and Victoria Station qualifies for the 2-for-1 offers. That is 30 GBP return.

    I think you can even do London Gatwick to Croyden return for 10.20 GBP and use Oyster card to travel from Croyden train station into London. 2-for-1 offers are good for every day from the start to return date of your ticket. Even if you don’t plan to use the return portion of your ticket, the savings in London makes it worthwhile to buy a return ticket into London and out again.

    Single tickets – These are valid only on the day of validity. A days Travelcard must be purchased from a train station and feature the National Rail Logo.

    Return Train Tickets – You will be able to use your return train tickets with the vouchers at any time between the outward and return journey – if you came on Thursday and returned on Sunday, you could use the vouchers on Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday.

    In order to do this please ensure that you retain the outward portion of your ticket as you will need to show both tickets at the attraction – just ask the staff at the ticket barrier to let you through which they will be happy to do.

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