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

Updated: London things to do

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

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 ...

15 May 2017

TfL zone extensions

I've written a few times before about the downside of PAYG Oyster/Contactless - but one of the upsides (when it works), is that if you travel outside your normal zones, you only pay the daily cap for the zones you travel in.

So if I'm usually paying £6.60 per day to travel within Zone1-2 but on one day in the week I make journeys in Zone3, my daily cap kicks in a £7.70 - so just £1.10 extra for all my journeys in Zone3.  It gets more complicated if your journeys are on your 6th or 7th day, when the Monday to Sunday cap has already kicked in (I need to follow up with TfL on my refund request).

The downside of the Oyster Travelcard is that for extra journeys outside your Travelcard zones, you pay as if you are making a single journey from the edge of your zone.  So with my Zone1-2 Travelcard, if I want to visit a friend in Zone3, TfL will charge me £3.40 for a return during peak, or £3.00 for a return off peak.  And if you're travelling to a Zone3 National Rail station, it become £4.20 during peak and £3.80 off peak.  This seem rather a lot for what can be just a single extra station.

One way you may be able to reduce that fare a little if you're travelling off peak is by using your Network Railcard (assuming you have one) when purchasing a ticket in advance.  On Saturday I bought a ticket from the edge of Zone2 to West Norwood in Zone3 (from the ticket counter at Victoria station) and saved a whole pound sterling !

The ticket agent checked that my Oyster really did have a valid Zone1-2 Travelcard, and didn't seem overly keen, but she did eventually come up with it.

17 April 2017

Holyhead and Dublin ferry offloading

When flight prices between London and Dublin and nearby airports (and not so nearby airports) become unreasonably expensive, I quite often revert to the old fashioned Sail Rail connection - since the standardised fares mean that (as long as they don't sell out) your fare is capped at a regulated price, even over holiday weekends.

So London to Dublin Port (you need to get a bus into Dublin city centre) fares start from 41 gbp with most tickets selling for 46 gbp.  When last minute flight prices can easily reach 300 gbp for a single during busy periods - if you have the time, taking the ferry and the train becomes an appealing option.

The Seat61.com website has a huge amount of detail on travelling this route.  One issue (which Seat61 briefly mentions) taking the ferry as a foot passenger is how quickly you can get off the ferry once you arrive into port.

Holyhead - Dublin offloading

Stena - Adventurer
I've used this ship a few times, and have always had to wait at least 20 minutes for most of the cars / trucks to off load, before Stena bring the buses on board the ship, to get you into the ferry terminal.  One time we had to queue up (in the rain) to have our passports/IDs checked as we left the buses and before they let us into the terminal building.  Seriously unimpressed !

Irish Ferries - Jonathan Swift (fast ferry)
Sometimes they give you the main berth with passenger gangway, but if the Ulysses is in berth, then the Swift gets relegated to a crappy berth around the corner, where you have to wait for the cars to disembark.  However, since the Swift isn't very big, it should only take about 15 minutes before you get to walk off.

Irish Ferries - Ulysses
The Ulysses gives you the best chance of speedy offloading - you almost always get to use a dedicated foot passenger gangway, so no waiting for the cars.  One time there was a vehicle parked on the quay wall which blocked the passenger gangway, so we had to wait for the cars to off load, and then get a bus to the terminal building - but that was highly unusual.
This is my preferred option for Holyhead - Dublin route.

Dublin - Holyhead offloading

Irish Ferries - Jonathan Swift (fast ferry)
You have to wait for the cars to off load, before you walk off the ferry, and board a bus to the terminal building.  Since the Swift isn't very big, it only takes about 15 minutes for the cars to drive off.  Just make sure you get on the first bus, as the second/last bus will wait for the old and infirm to slowly exit the boat - no point wasting good Coop/Lidl shopping time waiting for the OAPs !

Irish Ferries - Ulysses
I haven't done this routing in ages (for morning trips the Ulysses departs Dublin at 08:05 and may not connect with the 11:27 train from Holyhead, so the Swift is much more attractive) ... but considering the arrangements for loading Ulysses at Holyhead, I assume you have to board a bus on the Ulysses to transport you to the ferry terminal ... so you presumably have to wait for most of the cars and trucks to offload before Stena drive the buses onto the ship.  I suspect this may take a while.

Stena - Adventurer
I haven't done this routing in ages (for morning trips the Adventurer departs Dublin at 08:20 and is unlikely to connect with the 11:27 train from Holyhead, so the Swift is much more attractive) ... but considering the arrangements for loading Adventurer at Holyhead, I assume you have to wait for most of the cars and trucks to offload before you get to walk off the ship (possibly to the funny little staging building where you catch a bus to the ferry terminal), or Stena brings buses onto the ship.

The different disembarkation options need to be considered when working out which train you are likely to catch (or timings for friends/family pickups) and which ferry to choose.  My choice for afternoon departures from Holyhead is the Ulysses.  For morning departures from Dublin my choice is the Swift (despite the slightly higher Sail Rail fare) as it also gives you some extra sleep time!

One other thing to bear in mind is that booking tickets in Ireland doesn't allow you to reserve a seat on your trains in the UK, so if you're booking a return from Dublin to London, you might want to book two singles, so you get to reserve seats on the trains from London.

25 March 2017

St Pancras International timings

St Pancras International station is a separate building to Kings Cross - so I never know how long to leave between my tube arriving into KX and my train departing St Pancras.  Today I had some spare time, so I decided to use my stopwatch !

Starting point - Piccadilly line eastbound - Carriage two, door three - by the exit
Speed - normal pace, not rushing it - although it was early morning, so not many backmarkers to navigate around
Escalators - sauntered up them
Luggage - smallish backpack
Routing - exited to outside up the steps as soon as passed through the tube barriers.  Probably slightly quicker than using the tunnel underneath Pancras Road (but that routing has the advantage of escalators to take you upstairs into St Pancras station)

Exiting Piccadilly line to Platform B northbound - 5 mins 15 seconds
It would be slightly less to Platform A southbound

Exiting Piccadilly line to Platforms 1, 2 & 3 upstairs - 6 mins 35 seconds
It would be an extra 30 seconds or so if your train was the far end of the platform (as often happens)

Exiting Piccadilly line to Eurostar security - 5 mins 45 seconds

Next time I won't bother giving myself a full 15 minutes to spare !

13 February 2017

Oyster Revolution

I missed the first few minutes, but it was still a fascinating run through Oyster / Contactless ... not least a reminder that the original impetus to develop Oyster was the queues that used to build up at the ticket barriers, as the use of paper tickets (Magstripe) was incredibly slow compared to Oyster and even Contactless !

One option was to build lots more ticket barriers - but thankfully TfL developed Oyster.

Below are some random nuggets from the talk together with some of my views ...

A maximum of 15 passengers per minute can get through ticket barriers using the old Magstripe tickets

A busy commuter station like Liverpool Street (as opposed to a station with lots of tourists) can get over 25 passengers per minute through each barrier using Oyster

Contactless is a bit slower (it has to run more check processes before deciding to open the gate) but it is getting quicker with new Contactless chips, and also TfL are trying to reduce the number of check processes to speed it up.

5.5m people regularly use Oyster Pay as You Go (PAYG)
This represents 86% of users - although some/many also have a Travelcard
58% of fares come from PAYG

The TfL board have decided PAYG should be the primary product in future
The original incentive for season tickets (which was the cost of issue and congestion at the ticket office) is gone
It sounds like in future the PAYG and Travelcard fares will be equalised

Matthew talked about the original requirement for tickets being to stop the bus conductors from pocketing the fares - it wasn't to control passengers.

Oyster customer level data is kept for 2 months - to help resolve customer issues
This compares with Paris where customer data has to be binned at the end of every day

The original Oyster configuration where if you failed to "touch out" you were charged the minimum fare resulted in 15% fare evasion

No mention of what fare evasion level is on Boris buses !

Serious Oyster analysis started in the lead up to London 2012

There was up to a 7% decrease in passenger volumes following widespread warnings about congestion - some stations felt empty !

There are many requests from different parts of TfL for Oyster analysis - most of which get denied as they won't actually lead to better decision making.

TfL have licenced the intellectual property behind Oyster/Contactless to the company Cubic for 15m gbp - TfL themselves will not be directly installing Oyster around the world.

Matthew said that in future TfL will make Oyster "more like Contactless"

There will be a weekly cap on Oyster in the future - and refunds will be pushed out to all Oyster readers (including buses) ready for collection the next time the Oyster card is tapped.

Sounds to me that I will be able to stop using my Contactless once weekly Oyster capping arrives !

31 January 2017

Contactless is 40% more expensive than Oyster

I've written before about how Contactless can be more expensive that Oyster - but I've never done the (fairly simple) calculations to work out by how much.

The important point is that with Contactless, Transport for London computers take your Monday to Sunday travel, and work out whether you have paid more than the cost of a weekly travelcard - and refund you the difference another week later.  That's fine if you arrive into London on a Monday ... but what if you don't arrive on a Monday ?

Let's take somebody arriving into London on a Wednesday and departs the following Tuesday (7 days in London) - and assume a few tube trips around Zone 1-2 each day - enough to reach the daily 6.60 gbp cap

With Contactless it looks like this:

Wednesday £6.60
Thursday £6.60
Friday £6.60
Saturday £6.60
Sunday £6.60
Total £33.00
Monday to Sunday cap of £33.00 - so no refund

Monday £6.60
Tuesday £6.60
Total £13.20
Grand Total £46.20

But if you'd bought a 7 day travelcard on your Oystercard on the Wednesday morning - it would have been a straightforward £33.00 - a saving of £13.20

So if you start your 7 days using Contactless on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday it is a whopping 40% more expensive than Oyster.

So much for all those adverts that "Contactless is the same price as Oyster".

If you start your 7 days using Contactless on a Tuesday or a Sunday it is still an unpleasant 20% more expensive than Oyster.

If you're staying in London for five days or less, then Contactless is the same price as Oyster Pay as you Go.
If you're staying in London for more than 7 days (and not arriving on a Monday) then Contactless will almost always be more expensive than Oyster.

The moral of the story is don't believe the TfL propaganda - Contact is NOT the same price as Oyster.