London is expensive, but not nearly as expensive as you might expect based on the price of major hotels near city center tourist attractions around Westminster. While hotels and restaurants can bust your budget, other expenses for visiting London, like dozens of free museums, offer cheap entertainment to stretch your travel budget.
London transportation is efficient and affordable with Oyster Card discount rates for city buses and Underground. Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard, Horse Guards and royal parks offer many other places around the city for free tourist activities.
Dining and drinks in a pub is an easy way to toss down £50 in a seating. The price of beer and food in a store like Sainsbury’s, Tesco or M&S are budget savers.
Chinatown by Leicester Square is a place where £5 buys a take-away box from a Chinese buffet and £8 or £9 buys an all-you-can-eat seat.
Europe’s Capital Cities on a Budget
This is my fourth article in a series about traveling expensive European capitals inexpensively. A recent article in Matador ranks the European capital cities from most expensive to cheapest for a tourist.
Every European capital ranked from most expensive to cheapest, by Matthew Meltzer ranks 49 capital cities in Europe by average price in four travel expenses: Hotel, meal, beer, taxi.
My initial article showed how I spent two days and nights touring Monaco for about $170 in a city where hotel prices can regularly be over $400 per night. Reykjavik and Amsterdam are other expensive capital cities I visited in 2018. In each place I found ways to reduce the cost of a city stay. In London lodging is often the main expense to tackle. Good news is there are ways to get lodging discounts at several chain hotels in Central London.
Loyalty Traveler – Traveling expensive European capitals inexpensively – Monaco
Loyalty Traveler – Traveling Expensive European Capitals Inexpensively – Reykjavik, Iceland
Loyalty Traveler – Traveling Expensive European Capitals Inexpensively – Amsterdam
I think the four categories for travel expenses shown in Matt Meltzer’s article: hotel, meal, beer and taxi closely mirror the expense categories that concern me most when I plan my budget for travel expenses in Europe.
I expand his category of ‘taxi’ to ‘transportation’. In my travels, transportation usually means public transportation for travel to and from airports and city/regional transportation by bus, train, metro. Generally I get around most cities in Europe simply by walking. That is why my focus is generally getting a city hotel in a central location I want to explore.
Most Expensive European Capitals
- Reykjavik, Iceland
- Dublin, Ireland
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- London, UK
- Paris, France
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Hotel: $314.36
- Meal: $32.82
- Beer: $6.56
- Taxi: $4.07
Meltzer data from Matador.com
Loyalty Traveler in London
London is a city I have spent a week or more visiting every year for the past five years. The most noticeable change for London is the US Dollar strengthened significantly since 2014 when the exchange rate was $1.57 USD = 1.00 GBP. That rate was down to $1.27 today meaning our US Dollar is about 25% stronger than four years ago. The price of many things in London is comparable to five years ago or even less with generally low inflation.
What is not a deal in London are the price of hotel reward nights with most loyalty programs.
My strategy for London hotels is travel in the off-season when rates are low.
Marriott Rewards – 35,000 to 60,000 points. Marriott has 12 category-7 hotels in central London that are currently available to book for 60,000 points per night. Once Marriott Rewards puts peak season rates in place, most of these hotels will likely rise to 70,000 points for most summer dates. And once Marriott Rewards decides to populate their new category 8 in 2019, I expect several more London hotels will likely get the bump the next time Marriott Rewards announces hotel reward category shifts.
Radisson Rewards – 50,000 to 70,000 points. 15 London hotels are top tier at 70,000 points per night with only 3 city center hotels at 50,000 points. I burned over 500,000 Radisson Rewards points in London when the former Club Carlson program offered their Visa card members one free reward night on reward stays of one or more or nights. We booked a lot of 2-night reward stays at The May Fair Hotel and a few other Radisson Hotels in London. Those were the days – gone, but not forgotten.
Hilton Honors has many hotels in London and rates were as low a 29,000 points for some hotels in winter rate checks. Still, when compared to the posted room rate, all hotels provided less than $5 per 1,000 points redemption value. This means it is better to pay the room rate than buy points at $5 per 1,000 points during a promotion. No real points deals with Hilton in London unless you happen to already be sitting on a pile of points.
World of Hyatt – Andaz London Liverpool Street and Hyatt Regency The Churchill are both category 6 at 25,000 points. No deals in London buying Hyatt points, unless you consider $400+ per night a deal. Of course, if you generate tens of thousands of Hyatt points through credit card spend, then the price of Hyatt points is not much of a factor.
IHG Rewards Club – London is a city I have found surprisingly affordable between November and March and the city where I have earned hundreds of thousands of IHG Rewards Club points during Accelerate promotions.
IHG London December 26 rates
$140 to $150 in central London is a low rate.
Last year I was in London after Christmas and went farther east for a cheap hotel night at Holiday Inn Express Stratford.
I am paying $1 more to stay at a Holiday Inn Express this month in a California valley town in a far less interesting place than London Stratford.
London in Summer with IHG PointBreaks
One of the best deals with London are PointBreaks hotels. I have booked several reward stays in London during PointBreaks.
IHG Rewards Club regularly sells points for $5 per 1,000 points making a PointsBreak hotel at 15,000 points a $75 reward night.
Unfortunately, I have not yet managed to get to London to complete any of my booked PointsBreak reservations. The timing of PointBreaks this year has not matched up well with my actual travel plans. I visited Vienna and Czech Republic instead during the dates of my reservation at HIX Greenwich last summer.
Choice Privileges – many readers might never consider Choice Privileges when looking for hotel reward nights in London. There are some real deals to be had at times.
London December 17-20, 2018 rates
5 central London hotels are priced from 8,000 to 12,000 points. Choice Privileges currently has a buy points at 25% discount making the rate $8.25 per 1,000 points.
Loyalty Traveler – IHG and Choice Buy Discount Points offers (Nov 14, 2018).
This makes these 5 London hotels cheaper to pay with points than cash. They cost even less when you book PointsPlusCash reward nights paying 6,000 points per night and buying additional points for reward nights at time of booking for $7.50 per 1,000 points.
Comfort Inn Buckingham Road at 12,000 points can be booked with purchased points for $99.00, which is a significant savings on the published rates for these dates. The cost drops to $94.50 when you buy 6,000 points at $8.25 per 1,000 points ($49.50) and pay $7.50 per 1,000 points, or $45, for the other 6,000 points when you book a PointsPlusCash reward stay.
Reward rates are 12,000 Choice Privileges points per night or $94.50-$99 to buy points when posted rates are $172 to $191 for Comfort Inn Buckingham Palace Road.
Oyster Card is the way to get discounts on London Underground and city bus travel. Most city center rides are priced from $2 to $4.
London is a great city for walking neighborhoods. We generally take the Underground or bus to an area of London and walk around for hours, then head back to our hotel. When staying in Westminster central London we may wander around all day without using any public transportation.
Loyalty Traveler – London Walks 2016
London can be expensive for dining. Numbeo.com lists the price of an inexpensive meal in London at 15 GBP ($19.50 USD). That is fairly common for many pubs and restaurants.
Sainsbury’s and other grocery stores tend to provide most of my meals in London. These are places where there is hot chicken and often hot Indian food dishes.
I don’t have much in the way of advice for dining, except don’t forget to order vegetables.
Poppies Fish & Chips in Camden ranks #879 of 19,031 London Restaurants on Tripadvisor.
Indian food is my most common meal when dining out in London to maintain somewhat of a green diet compared to the fish & chips and many other fried foods temptations. There are places on Brick Lane where 7 or 8 GBP buys an all-you-can-eat buffet. We had a good meal last year at Preem, however, TripAdvisor is not kind to this place.
There are all kinds of street markets around London if you know where and when to go. Some of the street markets I most enjoyed are around Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road in Tower Hamlets.
I discovered the Whitechapel area initially when staying at Holiday Inn Whitechapel in 2016. The hotel was called Holiday Inn Commercial Road at the time of my stay. At the time, I wondered why they did not call the hotel Holiday Inn Whitechapel?
One reason I wanted to stay at the hotel, besides low room rate in September, was to check out the area I recognized by name as Whitechapel, the stalking grounds of Jack the Ripper. A walk around the Whitechapel area also revealed historic connections to the founding of Salvation Army, The Blind Beggar pub where Ronnie Kray murdered a rival gang member, Old Spitalfield’s Market and Spitalfield’s Church, Tobacco Dock and the upscale residential areas along canals today built on the former St. Katherine’s area docks of East London destroyed in the London Nazi Blitz of World War II.
London’s Chinatown near Leicester Square in the West End Theatre District is another place for inexpensive food under 10 GBP per person. Just be sure to bring cash since many Chinatown places do not take credit cards.
Several Chinatown restaurants allow you to fill a buffet take-away box for 5 or 6 GBP, which I find is sufficiently large enough for a hearty and quick meal. In the interest of disclosure, I have dined on Chinese takeaway boxes in Chinatown restaurants, but I have not eaten at Mr. Wu. TripAdvisor is not too kind to Mr. Wu, so do not take my photo inclusion as an endorsement. You might want to check some restaurant ratings before you decide where to dine among London’s 19,000 restaurants.
The price of beer in London is variable. Main thing to know is the price of a pint in a pub located around a place with tourists in central London is likely charging 1.00 to 2.00 GBP more than pubs outside of central London. The cheapest beer I had in London pubs in December 2017 were 2.75 GBP-3.25 GBP per pint. Places in tourist areas around Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square tend to be 4.50-6.00 GBP.
The website GetWestLondon lists the average price of a pint in a London pub is 5.19 GBP in a May 2018 article.
All kinds of pubs around London offer local beers, craft beers and major brand beers.
Grocery stores sell beer for 2 to 2.50 GBP or less per 660 ml bottle for beers like Carlsberg, Peroni and Stella Artois.