Travel UK on the cheap
May 20, 2013 11:39 AM   Subscribe

A friend and I are planning a trip this summer for early August to London, Edinburgh, and Dublin. We're looking at flights, hostel stays, and food/entertainment for a 1.5-2 week trip, and hoping to do it somewhat cheaply. All the flights we've found are in the $1700-$1900 range, so that would be most of our budget for the trip, leaving not much left for anything else. (We were originally hoping to spend less than $2500 each) Is there some secret we just don't know? A site for finding the deals? We've looked at and expedia, but what's the best way to find cheap flights? (is it a travel agent?)

I've seen older questions on here about this, but most of the ones I've dug up are a few years old, and it seems as if a lot has changed since. I know we're going at peak travel season, but it's really the only time that works for us, so we're stuck, datewise!
Any other advice for cheap travel is greatly appreciated. We've both done a study-abroad trip in college, but of course we weren't in charge of planning those and so we feel a bit out of our depth.
posted by lockstitch to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
alas, it's summer! You don't say where you're flying from: certainly from Boston I would expect, flying to London in peak summer, having not booked any earlier than this, not to pay any less than $1000. once you're in the UK, there are ways to travel more cheaply on the ground -- Megabus, trains etc., particularly if you book in advance -- but I'm afraid flights are just going to be intractably expensive. If you don't already know about this excellent flight-finding website, you could try play around with parameters and see what you can find, but my sense is that you won't find much that isn't in the $1k range and above.
posted by idlethink at 11:47 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at flying into other airports? You could drop a couple hundred bucks on your flight if you fly into Manchester, and that's served by lots of trains to get you other places you need to go (and be able to see a few more sights along the way)
posted by olinerd at 11:48 AM on May 20, 2013

You're in Seattle? Sorry, I'm guessing based on your profile since you didn't say.

I like exploring fares with ITA's Flight Matrix. But I can tell you that there are cheap flights from Vancouver to London via Air Transat. They are definitely a budget carrier, less comfy (smaller seats), smaller baggage allowance, and not much flexibility in terms of flights, plus you'll have the added hassle of getting to Vancouver. But I just priced a round trip ticket at $1382 CDN.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:48 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Once you're here in the UK, travelling around isn't, sadly, very cheap. Coach companies are probably your best bet if ticket cost is your overriding priority. National Express and Megabus are the ones to start with. You can try booking train tickets this far in advance and you might get lucky, but remember a) that train pricing is a total mystery, certainly beyond most passengers and sometimes beyond those people whose job it is to sell train tickets, and b) if you buy a ticket for a particular train on a particular day (and these are often the cheapest tickets by far) you have to travel on that train, only. Hitch hiking isn't usually done anymore, and you might find real difficulty getting picked up.

Definitely look into flying into the regional airports (Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Bristol) although they're not reliably cheaper. From the east coast the rock bottom fare always used to be the Air India flight to Mumbai or Delhi, but this might have changed; it's been a while.

Cheap accommodation can sometimes be found by staying in university dorms ("halls of residence" grandly, over here) and don't discount camping - there are still quite a lot of places with showers and facilities for not much money around (bike or car useful often, though).
posted by cromagnon at 12:04 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

August is absolutely the worst time to visit the British Isles on a budget - if you have the capability to move your dates, even just to the week starting Monday September 3rd when then the English schools re-start - you would get much better value for money. Bear in mind that the Edinburgh festival will be happening in early August. This is fun to see if you intend to be there - but it makes everything very expensive if you are not.

In terms of flights: there is an off chance that you may find it less expensive to get to the UK via another European airport - for example Barcelona. No guarantees - but it is worth a check.

As cromagnon point out, travel within the UK, will add considerably to your costs. One option would be to modify your itinerary accordingly. For example a trip that took in London and hosteling/camping in the Scottish highlands or a spell in Western Ireland would be considerably less expensive than the one you are suggesting.
posted by rongorongo at 12:14 PM on May 20, 2013

The Edinburgh Festival is on at the beginning of August. It will mean accommodation in the city is expensive and you'll need to book early.

You're better booking flights directly with the airlines rather than holiday sites. Flights between Dublin and Edinburgh are currently around £50/€70/$95 one way with aer lingus which is Ireland's national airline. Also Ryanair is good for cheap flights between London/Dublin/Edinburgh (but beware the added extras that add up such as baggage costs.)

For accommodation I usually use Or try the local tourist boards for Edinburgh or Dublin.

Accommodation in London will also be very expensive and London is an expensive city in general, but definitely worth a visit. Dublin is also very expensive, especially in touristy areas such as Temple Bar, but with the euro you'll get slightly more for the dollar than you'll get in pounds.

You also might want to check out university accommodation as that fits in with your dates and might be a cheaper option. Trinity College Dublin, London Met and Visit Scotland are good places to start.

Have a great trip!
posted by billiebee at 12:37 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Three friends and I did 10 days in London/Northern England/Amsterdam on the cheap (under $2000 each) - in the summer! Here's what I think helped us the most in keeping costs down:

- Alternate airports for flights. Stalk fares like crazy! I still paid about $1k but felt like that was a good price, given the other options I saw.
- Avoid general hotel-based sites like expedia for accommodations. We used to rent a flat for four days in London - splitting a flat ended up being cheaper (and nicer!) than a hotel room, and helped us find hostels for the cities we stayed in for just a night (including a houseboat in Amsterdam!). Almost everywhere we stayed had a small kitchen + laundry (we specifically sought this out), which made eating cheaper and allowed us to travel with less luggage.
- Consider overnight travel when you move between cities - assuming overnight accommodations are available. The cost of an overnight ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam was about the same as one night in a hotel, so it ended up being more economical than traveling during the day.

This can be done, but I remember it taking a TON of searching for the right flight - the right place to stay - the right itinerary - etc.
posted by marmago at 7:16 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I stayed with my 50-something mother at YHA hostels in London and Bath - and both were great. It was £25/night each for a twin room in London, which was a couple
pounds less than a student residence would be. We were at the Oxford Street YHA, but the St Pancras one was renovated since and may be a more convenient location. The hostels usually have access to a full kitchen - we saved a lot of money by cooking for ourselves as restaurant food tends to be 2-3 times more expensive in the UK than in North America.

Train travel is more expensive than bus, but with planning you may be able to catch deals. A friend of mine found us £24 tickets from London to Edinburgh by getting on an email list and watching for sales.
posted by jb at 9:09 PM on May 20, 2013

By twin room, I mean a private room with two twin/single beds.
posted by jb at 9:10 PM on May 20, 2013

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