16 March 2018

London to St Anton - Easter 2018

flights to Munich have gone up a bit over the last week that i've been looking - unsurprisingly :(

on Friday 30th March the cheapest is 180 gbp - that would allow a train connection
on Thursday 29th March the cheapest is 178 gbp - they had previously been 100 gbp
on Wednesday 28th March - the 100 gbp flight is still available

dep LHR 08:00
arr MUC 14:25 (via DUS)

another option would be to fly to Nuremberg on 29th March for 106 gbp - and get the train to Munich for 20 eur

dep LHR 12:10
arr NUE 17:15 (via DUS)

flights to Austria on any of these dates aren't great.

flights to Zurich on any of these dates aren't great either - the best on Friday 30th would be 155 gbp

the best value flight seems to be to Basel on Thursday 29th - there are Easjet and Ryanair flights for 77 gbp and 83 gbp

the train journey from Basel to St Anton would cost approx 62 gbp

there's a couple of Easyjet flights that are reasonable

dep MUC  21:40
arr LTN  22:45
102 gbp - excluding baggage

dep MUC  21:55
arr LGW  22:55
121 gbp - excluding baggage

or if you wanted to spend the night in Munich - flights the next day cost 54 gbp to Luton and 70 gbp to Gatwick

the cheapest late flight out of Zurich would be 194 gbp for a 21:30 departure to Gatwick.

the same flight the next evening costs 81 gbp

if staying longer - Ryanair have 10 gbp flights out of Nuremberg airport - and incredibly, train tickets are available for 30 euro on Wednesday 4th April.  journey time is just under 5 hours.

there is a flight from Salzburg to Luton on Wed 4th April for 40 gbp (dep 20:30 arr 21:35) - and the train from St Anton to Salzburg main station is available from 20 euro (some departures are more expensive)

there is a flight from Innsbruck to Gatwick in the afternoon of Wed 4th April for 62 gbp - and the train from St Anton to Innsbruck main station is available from 17 euro

there is a flight from Munich to Gatwick in the evening of Wed 4th April for 50 gbp - and the train from St Anton to Munich airport is available from 19 euro (some departures are more expensive)

Dublin to St Anton

going to St Anton for some Easter skiing ... a couple of different options:

on Friday 30th March 2018 - Ryanair to Munich

dep DUB 06:10
arr MUC 09:40
67 eur - excluding baggage fees

the 13:00 train cost 60 euro
the 15:00 train cost 45 euro
the 17:00 and 19:00 trains cost 30 euro

alternatively could flight to Zurich

with Eurowings
dep DUB 12:10
arr ZRH 18:20 (via DUS)
100 eur - excluding baggage fees

with Aer Lingus
dep DUB 07:10
arr ZRH 10:40
132 eur - excluding baggage fees

the 12:18 train (under 3 hours) costs 52 eur
the 20:18 train (3.5 hours) costs 61 eur

on Monday 2nd April 2018 - the same routes are available

dep ZRH 21:40
arr DUB  23:00
195 eur - excluding baggage fees

the 16:57 train (arriving 19:42) costs 53 euro

alternatively from Munich there's a Ryanair flight

dep MUC 21:10
arr DUB 22:40
134 eur - excluding baggage fees

or an Aer Lingus flight

dep MUC 20:25
arr DUB 21:55
165 eur - excluding baggage fees

the train timings aren't as helpful for this route, it's a longer journey and there's only a train every two hours - so it would be the 15:03 departure (arriving 18:55) for 69 eur

29 October 2017

Redeeming Avios on Flybe domestic

I've written before about redeeming Avios on FlyBE flights to Ireland

I thought I would look to see what they're like from London to Scotland.  Of course the comparison is the British Airways standing "Reward Flight Saver" charge of 17.50 gbp

An economy flight to Edinburgh - 4,000 or 4,500 avios plus

LHR - EDI  32.70 gbp
LCY - EDI  56.11 gbp

Or flying from Birmingham

BHX - EDI  26.59 gbp
BHX - GLA  26.59 gbp

Or flying from Southampton

SOU - EDI  25.02 gbp
SOU - GLA  25.02 gbp

Or flying from Manchester

MAN - GLA  26.34 gbp

assuming you value 1 Avios at around 1p - it means that cash flights would need to cost over 70 quid to be worth using Avios

and on the LHR to EDI route that rises to more like 80 quid
and on the LCY to EDI route that rises to around 100 quid

unless you have a stack of Avios sitting around gathering dust - it will usually be better to pay cash.

07 September 2017

Redeeming Avios in Club

As long as you fly once a year with your British Airways Executive Club number tagged to a flight, you gain the benefit of much lower taxes/fees on shorthaul redemption flights - BA call in Reward Flight Saver (RFS).  This means that instead of being Lufthansa redemption levels of taxes/fees - where the points price can be the same as the cash price - the flight will cost 17.50 gbp per sector in Economy, and 25.00 gbp per sector in Business class.

There's a well know trick to reduce the taxes/fees on the ex-EU sector by booking two singles.  For example an Economy seat from DUB to LHR currently costs 12.59 gbp (instead of 17.50) and a Business seat also costs 12.59 gbp (instead of 25 gbp).  So if you're booking a return ex-UK it always worth checking if it's cheaper to book as two singles, especially if travelling Business class (although there may be other reasons you don't want to).

I was recently looking up ex-DUB flights to Rome (connecting in LHR) on the Avios website, and it was charging the expected 41,000 avios, but requesting 100 gbp in taxes in fees.
I tried booking DUB-LHR-FCO as a one way ticket and FCO-LHR-DUB as another - but it still kept trying to charge me 50 gbp for each ticket.

This seemed strange, so I scooted over to the BA website, and for exactly the same flights they wanted 41,000 avios and 79.10 gbp
Booking it as two separate tickets (DUB-LHR-FCO and FCO-LHR-DUB) they wanted 31.26 gbp and 47.84 gbp - so no additional saving to be had !

Booking through the BA website, you also get a lot more choice on which connecting flights to take - with the Avios website, they just give a single connecting option for each initial flight.  This may not be an issue, but worth remembering if you don't like what's offered.

What I don't know is whether you would be charged the lower amount if you weren't eligible for RFS - that would be perverse ... but possible !

06 September 2017


as part of my trip to Svalbard ... i flew into StaVanGer ... and hiked up Pulpit Rock

last time i did it, we had a hire car - which ended up proving rather expensive, as the tolls for the road tunnels are rather high (and the car hire company added a service charge) !

this time we didn't want to hire a car, so we looked at public transport.

the ferry goes from the centre of Stavanger to a place called Tau - it's a very frequent service with ferries every 45 mins during weekdays

from Tau there is a public bus (number 100) to Jørpeland ... but there's no obvious public bus from Jørpeland to the base of the Pulpit Rock hike - although there is a special service four times a day during the summer

that left us with two different private companies:

Tide - will sell you a combined ticket for the ferry and their bus.  in advance it is 320 NOK per person, or 350 NOK if you buy it at the ferry terminal, on board the ferry or on the bus

Pulpit Rock company / Boreal - sell tickets for their bus for 190 NOK in advance or 200 NOK in person (more during high season), and then you buy your ferry ticket directly for 56 NOK each way - so a total of 312 NOK

whilst the ferries go every 45 mins - the two companies seem to alternate which one they connect with.  since the difference in price is so small, we just went with the company which matched our preferred departure time - which was Tide.

the tourist information office in Stavanger helpfully sold us the tickets - so we got the "advance" price.

in the evening the gap between departures from the Mountain Hut parking lot start to spread out - and we missed Tide's penultimate departure by about 5 mins (we saw the bus pull out).  whilst the tickets aren't officially interchangeable, we thought it was worth trying our luck on the Pulpit Rock company bus that departed next.  possibly because we had purchased our tickets in the tourist office, they didn't have any company branding (or maybe our driver wasn't too bothered), but we managed to get away with it - which was much better than hanging around 40 minutes for the final Tide bus !

if i do it again, i will definitely buy tickets in the tourist office, in the hope that it gives the chance of some flexibility.

for completeness - the Puplit Rock company also run a weekend morning departure which picks up from hotels and drives around the bay (avoiding the ferry) - but it doesn't give any flexibility, and i can't tell you the price, as it seems to have stopped running for the year !
unless you're staying out of town (and the "tour" bus collects from your hotel), i would suggest taking the ferry for the extra flexibility - especially as hiking times vary enormously from person to person, and you may want to time your departure based on the weather forecast.

04 September 2017

LYR trip - finally

i've written a few times (actually four) about planning a trip to Svalbard ... so i thought i should explain how i actually finally executed it !

after using the "book activities" section on the Visit Svalbard website to check out potential excursions ... i reckoned that we could see the main sights in just a few days ... and the way the flights worked, that's what we ended up doing.

incidentally, the tourist office in LongYeaRbyen has a couple of computers for tourists to book their trips - and then you can use the booking number generated on the website and make a payment in the tourist office (including by Amex), rather than making payment through the website.  the lady was very helpful, explaining the trips, and calling up a couple of companies to check details.

but back to the journey ...

i used Avios to book a British Airways flight to Norway ... and had a few days in the south doing non Svalbard stuff ... including an incredibly good value ferry journey with Fjordline from Stavanger to Bergen - where the 20 minute bus from Stavanger city centre cost half the price of the 5 hour ferry journey.  just make sure you book it in the correct direction - the website isn't the best designed !

from OSLo to LYR i managed to get a 66 gbp flights on Norwegian (plus 15 gbp for 20kg bag and seat choice).  check in at OSL with Norwegian is completely automated - included printing your luggage label, putting it on the belt, and scanning the label - once a bloke came along to click ok on the screen - which only have norwegian language text !  and the machine accepted my 20.9kg bag without complaint/charge.

transfer from the airport to accommodation is available with a "Flybussen" service - which was 120 NOK for a return.

we stayed in Gjestehuset 102 - which was fine.  i suspect Coal Miners Cabin would have been better - but it was full by the time i booked (less than a week before arrival).

the flight prices for the return journey were getting expensive, but i managed to use 15,000 united airlines points, and book seats on LYR-OSL-LHR and LYR-OSL-LHR-DUB (15k for each seat).  initially the United website wouldn't complete the DUB ticket (i actually ended up with two incomplete DUB bookings).  the first time I called United they claimed that they could no longer book AerLingus flights - and their website was incorrect (despite it showing loads of different EI flights).  the next time i called United, they were able to ticket the incomplete booking, without too much trouble !

United have a "late booking fee" which was applied to the LYR-OSL-LHR booking that went through without human intervention.  apparently they apply it to bookings made within 21 days of departure.  which i didn't know.

there was only availability on the 2.30am departure from LYR, which i wasn't keen on - but it turned out that with window seats, we both managed to get some sleep.  the seats on SAS short haul do not have the useful headrest "wings" that keep you head in place.  those blow up head pillows would have been particularly useful - if i'd known.

despite a few hour gap between flights at OSL, one of our bags went missing.  if i'd thought about it, i would have asked the very nice and speedy check-in lady at LYR to short check the bags to OSL and we would have collected them.  lesson for next time !

we were very lucky with the weather in LYR - we had one amazing full day of sunshine and hardly any wind, and the following day wasn't bad either (just not very sunny).  i think a few days is enough to get a feel for Svalbard - without completely bankrupting yourself.  we spent about 200 NOK/GBP per person per day on each of our two days of trips (you can't leave town without a gun), and we used the first day to make our bookings, and have a look around the settlement.

it's worth noting that despite the photos of polar bears in all the Svalbard tourism / arctic trip adverts - you really can't get anywhere near them.  we got to see from a boat, and it was small even through binoculars.  if you're used to african safari walks, it will be a bit of a shock just how far away they are.

despite that, i would still like to go back in March to see it covered in snow (and maybe Northern Lights) !

21 June 2017

Avios redemptions on EI / BE

I wrote previously about the extortionate taxes/fees charged by Avios redemptions on Aer Lingus flights ... which included 41 gbp from Dublin to London Heathrow.

Since then, some prices have come down:

LHR - DUB  39 gbp  on EI
DUB - LHR  16 gbp  on EI

some have stayed more or less the same:

LGW - DUB  53 gbp  on EI
DUB - LGW  44 gbp  on EI

and some have gone up:

LGW - NOC  63 gbp  on EI
NOC - LGW  40 gbp  on EI  (plus airport 10 eur "development" fee)

Avios redemptions on Flybe mostly seem more reasonable - and the same price is available on both the BA website and Avios.com

SOU - DUB  25 gbp  on BE
DUB - SOU 12 gbp  on BE

EXE - DUB  35 gbp  on BE
DUB - EXE  12 gbp  on BE

CWL - DUB  34 gbp  on BE
DUB - CWL  12 gbp  on BE

DSA - DUB  27 gbp  on BE
DUB - DSA  12 gbp  on BE

BHX - NOC  26 gbp  on BE
NOC - BHX  15 gbp  on BE  (plus airport 10 eur "development" fee)

MAN - NOC  31 gbp  on BE
NOC - MAN  15 gbp  on BE  (plus airport 10 eur "development" fee)

EDI - NOC  30 gbp  on BE
NOC - EDI  15 gbp  on BE  (plus airport 10 eur "development" fee)

20 June 2017

Don't use Oyster from St Pancras to Stratford

I needed to attend a talk at one of the hotels adjoining Westfield Stratford, and having recently used a Javelin train from St Pancras to Kent (through Stratford), I thought it would be fun to do the one stop - since I'd seen the yellow Oyster/Contactless scanners.

Walking up to the barriers there was nothing to suggest that using Oyster/Contactless was anything other than a normal journey.

Imagine my surprise when I happened to check my statement, only to find that I had been charged 5.50 gbp for the journey, despite having reached my daily cap - wtf ?!

After extensive searching, I discovered that journeys on the Javelin trains are completely outside the travelcard or daily/weekly price caps.

So my one stop journey cost me 5.50 gbp in addition to my daily 6.60 gbp cap for Zone 1-2 travel.  For the saving of approximately 3 minutes, I paid almost 2 pounds a minute.

TfL really should make this clear on their journey planner website, and around the entrance to the platforms at St Pancras.  I can't believe I'm the first person to suffer this pain / outrage.  

19 June 2017

London things to do - Updated

It may not be quite travel ... but there's lots of things in the city that I want to do ...

museums or places that i've never been to:

The Charterhouse - London's newest museum, apparently

Bank of England Museum - weekdays - free

Sir John Soane's - first Tuesday of the month - evening by candlelight

Down House - the home of Charles Darwin

Freemasonry - book a tour to see the main hall

Wellcome Collection - closed Mondays - free

Croydon Airport - open on first sunday every month

a part of Richmond Park - the Isabella plantation

2 Willow Road, Hampstead - free with ArtFund card

Carlyle House, Cheyne Walk - free with ArtFund card

Household Cavalry Museum - free with ArtFund card

Guards Museum - free with ArtFund card

Keats House - free with ArtFund card

Royal College of Physicians Museum - weekdays only - free

Handel and Hendrix Museum - free with ArtFund card

Museum of the Order of St John - free

Garden Museum - free with ArtFund card

Brunel Museum - free with ArtFund card

Kelmscott House, Hammersmith - open Thu & Sat afternoons - free

Fulham Palace - open Mon-Thu and Sun - free

Syon House
2 for 1 entry using national rail offer.  20% discount quoting BUS17 advert

Strawberry Hill House

Royal Academy Music Museum - part closed Thu and Fri (and fully closed Sun) - free

Marble Hill House, Richmond - from 31st March 2017 - free with ArtFund card

Red House, Bexleyheath - from 1st March 2017 - free with ArtFund card

London Glassblowing

and a couple of museums that i haven't been for a while:

Imperial War Museum Lambeth

Osterley House - free with ArtFund card

Updated - now done !

a cafe that i've been meaning to visit

Sky Garden - opening 5th January

Crossrail Roof Garden at Canary Wharf

Cabinet war rooms

Royal College of Surgeons museum

Eltham Palace

Leighton House - free with ArtFund card to monthly late opening

National Army Museum - reopens 30th March 2017

Wallace Collection - free

18 June 2017

Updated: Countries and Cities to visit ...

Cape Verde islands - stay a bit longer this time
Ethiopia - including the mountains
Libya - Roman ruins, and desert
Madagascar - lemurs permitting
Namibia - including Okavango Delta
Zimbabwe - including Victoria Falls

Brazil - Rio including Fasano hotel infinity pool, Niteroi art gallery, grilled steak at Rubaiyat restaurant; Amazon
Canada - including polar bears
Costa Rica
Cuba - including Havana and Vinales
Equador - Galapagos
Mexico - Mayan stuff around Cancun
Panama - including canal
Peru - Inca Trail / Machu Pichu
USA - including Washington DC (done!), Grand Canyon, Boston - including Opera House, Chicago - including Frank Lloyd Wright buildings (such as Fallingwater), Denali NP, Total Solar Eclipse Aug-17
Venezuela - maybe a tepui

The Peninsula - done!
South Georgia - done!

Georgia - including the soviet architecture in Tbilisi
Indonesia - including Borneo
Iran - including Isfahan and Persepolis, Tehran - including Contemporary Art Gallery
Lebanon - including skiing
Kuwait - to fill in the gaps
South Korea
Sri Lanka - including blue whales
Syria - if there's anything left
Turkey - Istanbul

Australia - Tasmania, Western, Central and Northern, GBR
New Zealand - all

Aland Islands - done !
Austria - Vienna - including Opera
BelgiumAntwerp - including 5 Continents house
Croatia - including Zagreb
Cyprus - including border area and countryside
Denmark - Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen
Finland - the lakes, the north
France - Corsica; the bridge in the sky; Matisse chapel at Vence; LilleChateau de Chambord - for the double helix staircase; Versailles - including the Royal Opera; Nice - including Opera; Paris - L'Acajou restaurant, Jazz Club; Roubaix - including La Piscine museum; Ronchamp - Le Corbusier's chapel of Notre Dame du Haut; Chamonix - nice looking hotel; Noirmoutier including Plages des Dames - and nearby islands
GermanyProra and Dessau and Hamburg (for the funny tunnel, and miniature airport)
Gibraltar - airport and back walk up rock (done!)
Greece - Athens, Mount Athos, island hopping
Ireland - Cork - including butter museum, harbour tour, Titanic Experience, Crawford gallery
Italy - Sicilian volcanos, Sardinia, Tuscany including Montepulciano, Naples, Verona, La Scala in Milano, Como - La baia di Moltrasio bar and restaurant (try fish with Riso in Cagnone) - terrace in summer, Florence - Vasari Corridor will soon be open, Room of Paradise at the recently reopened Museo dell'Opera del Duomo; Calcata town; Castel Gandolfo (train from within Vatican) - must be booked in advance; French Church in Rome; Palio di Siena 
Netherlands - Amsterdam Modern Art Gallery and other galleries, a concert at Concertgebouw, Panorama Mesdag in The Hague, Delft, Leiden, Het Loo palace
Poland - medieval cities (Krakow done!)
Portugal - including Oporto
Romania - rural parts (sort of done). Crazy road.
Serbia - Belgrade
Spain - including the Moorish bits, Grand Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona
Slovenia - try skiing
Svalbard - although a recent report suggested it was dull
Sweden - Stockholm always worth another visit
Ukraine - Kiev
UK - Falkirk Wheel, Cramond island, Ironbridge, Ludlow in Shropshire, Norwich for Europe's largest medieval street plan, Chatsworth House ...