Our trip this week to London for an overnight was the third time I've been able to take Smix over for an adventure. I couldn't do it without Ryanair, so I thought I might share the wealth (of knowledge) and tell you how to get a flight from Belfast International to London Gatwick for the same price you would pay for the bus up to the airport from The Great Victoria Bus Station.
The three trips we've taken, I always book the same flights. Out of Belfast International at 11am (means you don't have to get up at dawn), then home on the return flight the night after, departing from Gatwick at 9.45pm (means you have all day in London, catch a train to the airport after the tea time rush is over).
On all three trips I've never paid more than £50 for the flights. Total. For us both. That's both ways. This time I managed to get all four tickets, including booking fees, seat choices etc for £39.16 (see pic left, cause I wouldn't believe it unless I saw it either). You can see, two flights each, including our seat choice onboard.
How the hell do I manage that? Patience. Like I said this isn't a one-off, this is the third time I've booked these flights for under £50 total.
Say I want to book the first week in August, I start checking for low fares around May, but it's not always true that the earlier you book, the cheaper it will be. I check every couple of days for the dates I'm looking for, then usually five or six weeks before the date, a flight will start to show £13.99 and £16.99 seats for the route I want to catch. This time I booked on 23rd June, for flights on 8th & 9th August.
You may be thinking even £13.99 each person , times two journeys is well over £50, but even if you pick a £13.99 seat it will be less than that once you enter the age of the child who is flying. So technically if it's two adults flying it will be about £56, but for one adult and one child it's under £45 total, altogether, usually.
So, travel by air this time cost under £40, but there are other costs to take into consideration. We drive up to Belfast International, and we sort of have to when our home bound flight gets in around midnight. I book the car parking ahead of time, usually just the week before, and choose Park and Fly. There's a bus every 3 minutes to the terminal, and it even runs in the wee small hours.
For The two full days, from 8.30am on day one, until 11.59pm on day two, the parking usually costs on average £17. There's no fussing around if you arrive in a hurry either. The entrance barrier of the car park scans your registration and you drive on in. Same deal on exit, so no having to queue to pay or find an attendant at midnight in a giant car park.
Also you might save a couple of pounds if you do a quick Google for a current active % off voucher code for Park & Fly. Always worth checking, even £1.75 off means more pennies for Krispy Kreme when your train gets into London Victoria... and speaking of trains....
So we've gotten into Gatwick Airport, next you've got to think about how to get into the city. If you aren't smart about this, you'll literally end up paying more than you've paid to fly there.
The most obvious choice is the Gatwick Express. Straight into London Victoria in 30 minutes, no stops in between.
Now I will give you my advice on how we do this part, but I'm not 100% sure this is exactly for certain the cheapest way to do things. You read that booking online in advance is always the cheapest way, but we don't do that, so I may not be giving you the best advice here, but I'll share anyway.
You'll get a little shuttle bus from the plane to Gatwick Arrivals. Once you are in the building you'll pass through the baggage reclaim, then exit into an open area with restaurants & shops. As soon as you get into that large lounge, turn straight to your left, almost turning back on yourself and you'll see a train ticket desk. There's usually three desks open, and no real queue to speak of. You'll want to ask for a ticket that gets you into the city, and back tomorrow, but also works as your run around Underground ticket for both days.
For that I end up paying around £34 total. A child's ticket is only £2 a day, as they are free on The Underground, but the ticket will also get their journey into the city from Gatwick covered.
This fare is for any Southern train, but NOT the Gatwick Express. These trains can take 90 minutes to get into the city. However, we accidentally got onto the Express for the London bound journey this time, after sprinting to catch what we thought was just the next train leaving for London Victoria. When we got to the destination they simply charged me a £4.20 upgrade on passing through the barriers to exit.
Again I'm not an expert on this part of the travel, but EVERY time we've taken the return train journey they've just told us to get on the next Gatwick Express even with our basic ticket. So I'm not totally sure how it works, but be prepared to pay a surcharge if you do get on the wrong train.
P.S. Watch out for the amazing retro futuristic 'Fifty Pence Building' out on your right as you head into the city. It's the Noble Lowndes Tower at the East Croydon Station, designed by Richard Seifert in 1970.
So what about accommodation? Well, we always stay in the Easyhotel, Earls Court. I've stayed here six times now, three times with Smix. I did a full blog post about the hotel last summer, and this trip I paid £45 for a room with a window for the one night. It's a ten minute walk from the nearest Underground Station and has never let me down.
You stay right in the heart of the city and can walk to the Natural History Museum and Science Museum in about 30 minutes. If you watch Made in Chelsea like I do, it's a good dander to take in the above ground scenery if you choose one journey to skip the tube for.
So that's the basics of a trip to London.
Next time I will share my secrets for cheap attractions & eating out in Central London, plus our visit to Kidzania- a must-visit if you are visiting with children- we'd never been anywhere like it!
Last tip- if your kid loves planes like Smix does, hang around to be one of the last to get off the aircraft and you can ask the crew nicely could they see the cockpit (thanks to Clare from Vintage Rocks for this tip). I think it made Smix's trip!