Flying into an unknown situation
December 6, 2006 9:02 PM   Subscribe

These inexpensive flights from London to Florence - will I really find one after arriving in London?

A friend has graciously offered to allow us to stay with him in Florence for a few days in the middle of our otherwise-UK trip in late January. He's told me about fabulous, sub-$100 deals on flights on (I think) an Irish airline, that can be booked only once one is already in London.

Naturally, I fear arriving in London, only to find that it will actually cost $500 or something, or that these flights must be booked three or ten days in advance, or something.

Is this something we can realistically do? We'll be flying into Gatwick from the US, so would prefer to deal with the same airport if possible -- how really does this all work?

And, since we will probably end up spending one or two days in London anyway, bonus if you can tell us how to stay in London inexpensively in case we get stuck there. We've found a promising hotel for not too much $, but are uncertain of the whole dining scene and suspect that guidebooks are written mostly for those who want "nice" meals...
posted by amtho to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why can they only be booked once in London? Do these fares need to be booked in person? Both RyanAir and Easyjet let you book from anywhere, and if you book on RyanAir early enough, you can get flights for $0.01 (it's about $40 US after taxes/fees, but still...)
posted by pdb at 9:06 PM on December 6, 2006

Response by poster: I don't know the underlying reason, but on neither site can I select flights from London to Florence. I was warned that something like this would be the case (and I did try the RyanAir site and the Aer Lingus site before posting).
posted by amtho at 9:10 PM on December 6, 2006

There's no block on buying RyanAir or EasyJet tickets while still in the US - I've done it plenty of times. Just make sure that you're choosing the right route - not all London airports service Florence, that might be your problem?
posted by AthenaPolias at 9:12 PM on December 6, 2006

Best answer: on neither site can I select flights from London to Florence

It seems Ryanair flies to Pisa instead of Florence. Further info from their own site:
Aeroporto Galileo Galilei Pisa is located approximately 80 Km from Florence. Terravision operate a bus service into Florence city centre. The buses depart from outside arrivals. Journey time is approximately 70 minutes and cost is €8 one way.
(You'll find that Ryanair usually flies to airports somewhat far out).

Hope this helps!
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:17 PM on December 6, 2006

Yep, just checked, that's the only problem - neither airline flies from London ->Florence. You could also use EasyJet to fly to Milan and take a bus or train to Florence (a few hours' journey), or try another UK based airline. Use CheapFlights UK, UK, or SideStep to find another carrier.
posted by AthenaPolias at 9:18 PM on December 6, 2006

According to the FLorence airport's website, these are the airlines that fly to Florence, so you may want to check with these airlines to see about bookings. I can't believe that neither Ryanair nor Easyjet fly there, actually, but there we are.
posted by pdb at 9:18 PM on December 6, 2006

You might also try Volare, which is the cheap Italian airline, but I think your best bet is probably flying in/out of Milan.
posted by judith at 9:24 PM on December 6, 2006

I flew RyanAir from Germany to Rome for $50 round trip. We did have to go to the little po-dunk airport and then take a bus into Rome, but that was easy.

Funny story about the airport we flew from in Germany. It was so small that there was ONE airplane sitting outside. ONE. We could all see it from the ONE terminal they had. Our flight was delayed a couple of hours with no explanation. I could see the plane! When it finally was time to board, they hustled us onto a bus, drove 100 yards and then stopped the bus right next to the plane. The flight was full and it was a small bus, so they had to make several trips. Most abusurd airport ever.
posted by youngergirl44 at 9:26 PM on December 6, 2006

Most abusurd airport ever

Was that Altenburg? That's the cutest airport I've ever been to!

PS. PISA people, PISA! Ryanair flies to Pisa and that's much closer to Florence than Milan. *frustrated at being ignored*
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:33 PM on December 6, 2006

Best answer: Yeah, Clarissa is right. Pisa is quite close to Florence. I doubt you'll find a better deal than that Ryanair to Pisa + bus to Florence.

However make sure you include the cost of transport to and from the airports in your budget. RyanAir and many of the other cheapo airlines fly out of London Stansted, which is in the middle of nowhere (which is why the flights are so cheap, because it's cheaper to operate there! no free lunch after all). It is harder to reach than Heathrow or Gatwick. You can take a bus there for about 8 or 10 pounds from Victoria station I think.

Oh, and in case you're new at the travelling thing like I was when I did this, book your flight for the middle of the day if you can, so that you are not counting on catching the first bus of the morning or thelast bus of the night. Just in case you sleep in or your bus is delayed in London, or your flight is horrendously delayed and the bus decides not to wait for you in Pisa. They're supposed to be in synch but you never know.

Staying in London inexpensively is not terribly difficult if you're willing to stay in a hostel. (,, etc...) You could share a room with fellow travellers. Or, you could find one with private rooms, and it would still probably be cheaper than most hotels. London is a popular city for young backpackers on a budget. There are many guidebooks that will tell you how to travel cheaply - try Lonely Planet's Europe on a Shoestring for example, and search the ask metafilter archives for 'europe' and 'london'.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:02 PM on December 6, 2006

Stay at the Camden Holiday Inn. Decent enough Hotel and the location on the Regents Canal is great. Much nicer to see canal boats outside your hotel window than traffic!

Train to Stansted is from Liverpool Street and costs closer to £15 but Stansted is not much harder to get to than either Heathrow or Gatwick.

Yes and go to Pisa not Milan. It's nearer and you get to see the Leaning Tower as you fly in!
posted by merocet at 12:14 AM on December 7, 2006

I doubt you'll find a better deal than that Ryanair to Pisa + bus to Florence.

There's a train from Pisa airport to Florence central station: sometimes direct, sometimes via Pisa central. It's cheaper than the RyanAir bus... but it's an Italian train.
posted by holgate at 12:19 AM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: I live in Florence and fly to and from London at least once a month. Here's the deal: Three airlines service Florence from London.

1. British Airways flies from Gatwick, to Pisa

2. RyanAir flies from Stansted to Pisa

Pisa airport has a bus to the centre of Florence that is timed against the RyanAir flights. It costs about 6euro and takes just over an hour. Happily enough for your destination, RyanAir as founded by Dante, and used as inspiration for the later chapters of the Inferno, so you'll be in the mood for when you arrive.

3. Now, the best option by far is Meridiana, which flies from Gatwick to the newly renovated Florence airport itself. This is bookable online, and although it's sometimes more expensive than RyanAir, it leaves from Gatwick (and not Stansted, hussah and hurrah) at civilised times of day. Thus making it worth the extra twenty quid or so. Florence Airport is basically in the middle of the city. There's a bus, or taxis to the centre of town take fifteen minutes/ten euros.

Flying to Milan is a bloody silly idea. It's three hours away, and the airports are at least another hour from Milano Centrale station, on a bus. I did it once to go somewhere else, and it was hellish.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 1:30 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I would be a bit skeptical about those fabulous deals. These days the budget airlines tend to be cheaper the earlier you book, and they're happy to sell to anyone.

The two gotchas to look out for with ultra-cheap flights are flying to inconvenient airports, and leaving at inconvenient times. They can be worthwhile if you're on a budget, but you can easily end up saving, say $20 on the flight only to pay $25 for the transfer.

The $100 mark is not unreasonable. I just booked a flight from London to Florence for a little over that.

I suggest checking Lastminute and Expedia: I've booked with both without problems. I doubt you will be able to get much cheaper deals than there, especially if you leave it late. The Irish airline is probably Ryanair.

London is expensive, but you can make do if you try. I think a McDonald's Big Mac Meal is about £3.50, which works out at about $6.90. A pub lunch will cost you maybe £5 to £10. You can get sandwiches and such pretty cheaply in supermarkets.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:36 AM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: Florence is a hella scary airport - nearly as bad as London City. Florence is cupped by (big f'in') hills and the airport is smack in the centre of the city. Fly to Pisa, it takes as long to get from there to Florence as it does from Heathrow to Central London.

What do you consider expensive in terms of dining and so on amtho? I can definitely give you some decent recommendations, but it's useful to have a starting point. Also, I recently helped an American friend with hotels in London, and can probably give you some advice if you can give me a bit more information on what areas / costs / styles you like.
posted by bifter at 1:46 AM on December 7, 2006

i flew from london to pisa for a few days in florence in october. it was painless. i found the difference between ryanair and british airways to be negligible - so obviously i flew BA..
posted by ascullion at 2:35 AM on December 7, 2006

BA is Gatwick - Pisa I think, Ryanair is Stansted to Pisa. The best airline might well depend on where you plan to stay while in London.
posted by bifter at 4:18 AM on December 7, 2006

Argh, not spamming, honest, but I just remembered something in relation to your question about flight costs that might be useful. My family had to fly back from our holiday in Italy earlier than planned via Pisa just two months ago. We didn't have flexible tickets, so had to book at very short notice. Ryanair was actually more expensive than BA at that sort of notice, and we ended up paying £150 - £200 each for a middle-of-the-day flight at 48 hours notice. Some tickets, given a bit more notice, were around the £100 mark (3 - 4 days in advance).
posted by bifter at 4:22 AM on December 7, 2006

I've done this journey, and as of two years ago the easiest flights to get cheap rates on out of Stansted were the very, very early ones... so early you can't get a train there from London in enough time. I stayed in Cambridge the night before instead.
posted by methylsalicylate at 4:51 AM on December 7, 2006

great info above. Tha way RyanAir work is that the closer to the dates you are travelling the higher the cost of the seat until on the day a one-way can cost up to £250. So do book it before you come.
posted by Wilder at 5:41 AM on December 7, 2006

By public transport I don't think there is a significant difference in the difficulty of traveling from Central London to Heathrow, Gatwick, or Stansted. You can get fast trains to all three.

Any small difference in time is more than made up for by the difficulty of navigating the various airports, which I think is inversely proportional to their distance from Central London.
posted by grouse at 5:52 AM on December 7, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the great responses. I'll definitely look at these options; Meridiana sounds intriguing, though the site is in Flash so I'll have to use our other computer to view it. They key information about flying to Pisa and perhaps from a different London airport will be extremely helpful. Now I'm optimistic!

Bifter: to answer your question about dining costs -- these figures all assume 2 diners -- maybe $40/day or less... maybe a little more? As little as possible? I really have no idea what's practical, but the estimate I've seen make it seem like $110/day is a conservative figure (this is also based on doubling figures given in £). We mostly drink water, though another AskMe thread makes it sounds as though water is commonly sold at the same prices as soft drinks.

Ideally, we'd stay somewhere with a refrigerator and microwave and heat up a lot of our own food - we are vegetarian/vegan (but flexible about the vegan part when traveling), and I do best with non-sweet breakfasts (usually a tofu dish, fake meat, soup, greens, or the occasional handful of nuts).

I've found that this saves time, also, since we tend to like to nap occasionally during the first days of vacation. But the logistics of this - finding the groceries in a strange place, finding an amenable place to stay - seem overwhelming, especially since I imagine these amenities would be nearly impossible to find in a London hotel. We could pack and keep food with us, but the idea of eating primarily cold food in late January, when we'll be traveling, seems not so good.
posted by amtho at 7:16 AM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: You could eat on $40 / day if you didn't have elevated expectations, but you'd need to be canny about it. $50 - $60 for the pair of you is probably more realistic. There is a lot of variety in different parts of London as to what you can expect to pay and the quality of food you get, particularly for quick / cheap lunchtime types of meals. I worked around the City until half a year ago, and the cost of a hot meal at lunchtime would tend to be £5 - £8 or so. This is halved in the West End, where I work now, and you can eat in many places for a round £3 takeout or £5 eat in. Thing is, you really need to know where you're likely to be staying in order to know what sorts of options you have locally.

If you eat in a cafe or restaurant and ask for tap water (don't worry - it's safe), then it will be free (very grumpy places or very basic fastfood chains might refuse to serve it to you). Bottled water will probably cost £1 - £2 for a half-litre max sized bottle.

If you're on a budget by the way, then I'd suggest you make sure your hotel is a comfortable walking distance from the types of places you want to visit. The tube is bloody expensive, and can easily eat up most of the savings you make on a room a little further out than the centre.

You'll probably get a breakfast with your hotel room unless you go very basic. Eating veggie is not remotely a problem in London. A few examples of really cheap and decent places around the Centre to try, but as I say I don't know where you're going to be. Feel free to email me if you get more info and want more advice:

Rasa Samudra, Charlotte Street (does fantastic quality veggie Indian thali trays for takeaway, £3)
Govinda's, Soho Street (veggie cafe run by Hare Krishnas, can eat in, free water, not all Indian food £3 - £5)
Red Veg, Dean Street (veggie fast food / burger joint, haven't been here personally, so can't comment)
Indian YMCA Cafe, Fitzroy Square (this is supposed to be amazing, and incredibly cheap - catering to local Indian students, haven't been though)
Also, many of the chinese places around Chinatown are pretty cheap, as are kebab / shawarma places around Edgware Road and Queensway.
posted by bifter at 8:02 AM on December 7, 2006

Response by poster: bifter, this is awesome and much more detailed than what I've found by browsing myself. Thank you!
posted by amtho at 8:11 AM on December 7, 2006

Happy Cow is a great resource for vegan and vegetarian travellers looking for places to eat cheaply.
posted by cmonkey at 8:53 AM on December 7, 2006

The tube is bloody expensive

Make sure you get an Oyster card. It only requires a £3 refundable deposit. In the new year you will be penalized at least £2.50 per zone 1 journey for not having an Oyster. So even if you can't be bothered to get the refund, you will save money after just two journeys.
posted by grouse at 9:52 AM on December 7, 2006

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