Soon after I booked the flights for our Santander trip, I started searching for a hotel. My initial booking was with Expedia. Although I had to pay the full amount immediately, this was fully refundable until one week before our arrival. This gave me the opportunity to keep my eyes open for a better deal, with the security that I had accommodation arranged.
I paid Expedia using my Barclaycard World Mastercard, which gives me 1% cashback. Expedia doesn’t charge an additional fee for paying by credit card. However, I was aware that if I cancelled the Expedia booking after a few weeks, I’d be out of pocket for at least a month. The payment made at the time of booking would have appeared on my credit card statement before the refund arrived and I’d have to pay for a new hotel booking upfront.
I booked a room at Travelodge London Bank for four nights in March 2013. The total cost was £146, on the non-refundable Saver rate, booked 5 months in advance. £36.50 a night is a really good price for Zone 1 ensuite double room in a London hotel. The hotel is a two minute walk from either Cannon St or Bank stations. There’s an M&S Food at Cannon St station and a Tesco Express about five minutes walk away. Many of the restaurants and cafes nearby are closed at the weekend.
Travelodge sign in St Swithin’s Lane
I arrived at the hotel around 12.30 but check-in wasn’t until 15.00. As Travelodge don’t offer luggage storage facilities and I wanted to make the most of the daylight hours, I paid the £10 early check-in charge, enabling me to deposit my suitcase in my room and get out and about. I was allocated a double room on the first floor, directly above the hotel entrance overlooking the cobbled courtyard, shared with a restaurant. I was a bit concerned that my room might be noisy if people from the restuarant and hotel came out into the courtyard for a cigarette, or if the restaurant’s rubbish bins were wheeled out early in the morning. But I wasn’t disturbed by any exterior noise.
I stayed at Travelodge London Clapham Junction for two nights in March 2013. I chose this hotel because it cost £34 a night for a family room, booked around 10 weeks in advance, and I wanted to explore the Clapham area.
Family room at Travelodge Clapham Junction (taken with fish eye)
Although there isn’t a Tube station at Clapham Junction, there’s a very frequent rail service into Victoria Station (a ten minute journey) and it’s a stop on the London Overground. It only took me a couple of minutes to walk from Clapaham Junction station to the hotel. There’s an Lidl supermarket opposite the hotel, a McDonald’s up the road and plenty of other shops, restaurants and bars within a five minute walk.
Exterior of Travelodge London Clapham Junction
The receptionist was very friendly. I was allocated a room on the second floor. It was a large family room, nice and bright with two windows. I could hear a bit of exterior noise as there was a bus stop across the road. However I didn’t hear anything from adjoining rooms.
The Travelodge London Clapham Junction doesn’t have a Bar Cafe, so there’s no free WiFi here. I did have problems getting online with both my USB modems. I assume this was because I was on a lower floor, if I stay there again I’ll request a room on a higher floor which should improve the mobile broadband signal.
I read that IHG hotels, which include Holiday Inn and Crown Plaza, will soon start to offer free WiFi to members of their Priority Club. I thought this was a good move, as the £15 a day charge to get online at the Holiday Inn London Bloomsbury was one of the negative issues about my recent stay at the hotel. Elite members will be first to be able to access the free WiFi in July this year. During 2014, free WiFi will be rolled out to all Priority Club members. I decided to register online for the Priority Club so I could get free WiFi on any future stays at IHG hotels.
A couple of weeks after registering for Club (basic) Priority Club membership, I received a mailshot informing me that if I successfully applied for a Priority Club Rewards Visa credti card, I’d be automatically upgraded to Gold Elite Priority Club membership.
The other incentive to take out the credit card was 10,000 Priority Club bonus points, as long you used the card to make a purchase within 90 days from opening the account. That’s supposed to be enough to get a free night’s stay; let’s hope availability is not restricted to out of the way destinations in low season.
I now look back fondly to the early days of Ryanair when my ticket price included one piece of hold luggage, I paid with Visa Electron to avoid admin fees and there were no check-in fees, no EU261 Levy nor the ETS levy. When we’d book a package holiday in the past, the flight check-in, the in-flight meal, one piece of luggage and the resort transfers would be included in the price and there was no additional fee if you paid by debit card.
Now, there seem to be charges for almost everything under the sun. As most package holidays now seem to only consist of a flight and accommodation, many people compare the price of booking a package holiday to the price of booking their own flights and accommodation separately. While it’s fairly straightforward to compare the price of accommodation, it’s harder with flights. You have to go through a few pages of options on the airline site to arrive at the final price for the tickets. Telexext Holidays have produced a report warning consumers to make sure that they check the real cost of their holiday.
What surprised me was that in many cases, the taxes and airport charges combined were higher than the base fare. The report compared the headline price for three different flights from the UK to Paris, Alicante and Malaga, with what it could end up costing after some addditional charges were included. Hold luggage charges seemed to push up prices most. But if you’re going on a week’s holiday, it’s hard to fit in everything you’d like to take into one carry-on bag.
Roomoramaoffered me credit to try out one of the short term rentals offered on their website. As I’d be travelling alone, renting a room was the most cost effective option. This type of home stay is promoted not only way to save on travel versus paying for a hotel, but to also get a more authentic experience than staying in a hotel.
The last time I’d rented a room in someone’s home for my travel accommodation was more than thirty years ago on the Greek islands. That was very informal with potential hosts accosting tourist dis embarking from the ferry. I was interested to see how it would work out in a more structured form arranged through a third party online agency.
I decided to look for accommodation in London in August 2012, in the gap between the Olympics and the Paralympics. I prefer to have my own private bathroom, I didn’t want to pay a cleaning fee or a large security deposit, so that narrowed done the possible options a lot. I wasn’t too bothered about the area in which I stayed. I enquired about two rooms, one in Canary Wharf and one in Stepney, in the Tower Hamlets borough of East London. Initially, I didn’t get any response from the one in Canary Wharf but the Stepney room was available for the three nights I’d requested.
Living/dining area at the Roomorama Stepney accommodation
I stayed in a family room at the Travelodge London Excel for 2 nights in August 2012. It cost £29 a night room only, on the Saver advance non-refundable booking rate. It was one of the cheapest ensuite rooms I could find in London. It only takes a couple of minutes to walk to the hotel from the Royal Albert station on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).
Exterior of Travelodge London Excel
My third floor room was at the front of the hotel facing the River Thames, with the DLR track a couple of hundred metres away and London City Airport just across the river. Thankfully the double glazing was pretty effective, so I hardly heard any external noise once the window was shut.
View from my room at Travelodge London Excel
The hotel opened recently so the room was in good condition. The room was really hot as you could only open one small window a little bit. There was a fan in the room but it was a bit noisy to have it on all night. The bathroom looked as though it was pre-moulded as a unit and then inserted in the room. There was a small bath with a shower above.
My room at Travelodge London Excel
We stayed at the Travelodge Perth Broxden Junction in early May 2012, on the final stop of our budget break in Scotland. The room only cost £10 a night in the Travelodge December 2011 Sale.
Entrance to Travelodge Perth Broxden Junction
The hotel is located just off the A9/M90 junction, a couple of miles from the centre of Perth. There’s a Harvester pub and a McDonalds adjacent to the hotel. We were allocated a room on the 2nd floor which meant we had some views over the surrounding countryside.
View from room 212 at the Travelodge Perth Broxden Junction
We stayed for 2 nights at the Travelodge Inverness during our budget break in Scotland in early May 2012. The room cost £10 a night booked in the Travelodge December 2011 Sale. The hotel is located just east of the A9 off the Nairn road. If you’re coming off the A9, you need to drive right around the first roundabout (you’ll see a large Tesco supermarket) and then take the first left signposted for the Holiday Inn Express. The Travelodge is on your right. There’s a bar/restaurant just across the access road from the hotel.
Our budget break in Scotland from 5 - 10 May 2012 was based on cheap rooms bought in the Travelodge UK December 2011 sale. I paid £59 for 5 nights accommodation, one night in TraveldogeDufermline, two in both Travelodge Inverness & Travelodge Perth Broxden Junction. You can save on travel if you snap up hotel deals whenever you spot them. While Travelodge is unlikely to offer a memorable experience, you get a comfortable place to sleep with your own bathroom. I managed to get a decent mobile broadband signal with my T Mobile USB modem during our trip. Although Travelodge offer free WiFi in their Bar Cafes, none of the Travelodges at which we stayed had Bar Cafes.
Caledonian Canal Locks at Fort Augustus in the Scottish Highlands
We decided to come home a day early, on Thursday 9 May, as heavy rain was forecast for the following day. We’d been very fortunate as the weather was much drier and brighter than forecast and we didn’t want to end the trip on a soggy note. It turned out to be a wise decision, as it rained non-stop all day on the 10 May.
Cost of Budget Break in Scotland
Accommodation - £59 It was £19 for the first night in Travelodge Dunfermline, Travelodge Inverness cost £10 a night for two nights and Travelodge Perth Broxden Junction was £10 a night for 2 nights, so a grand total of £59 for 5 night accommodation (room only) for two people.
Transport – Fuel £60 We travelled in our Skoda Fabia diesel supermini which returns 67 average miles per gallon. We covered just under 650 miles, so that cost £60 for fuel.
Food – Meals £74 - We took quite a bit of food with us; things like longlife milk, cereal, sandwiches, tinned tuna, cheese scones and fruit for breakfasts in our room and picnics. As we’d be spending money on food at home anyway, I haven’t included this in the cost. Having a flask saves a lot on drinks and means you can pick the most scenic spots for a tea or coffee. We had lunch in Edinburgh on the first day which cost £24, a dinner at Jimmy Chung’s Chinese Buffet in Inverness costing £21 and afternoon tea in Hettie’s Tearoom in Perth, which cost £9 with Groupon voucher. If we’d stayed for the last night, I reckon we’d have spent another £20 on a meal and some food shopping.
Total Spend – £193
Photos from the Budget Break in Scotland
Click here to see all the photos on Flickr.