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Penny pinching tips for the dollar/pound exchange rate

I'd appreciate some thoughts on this, but I have seen long term projections for this year and beyond. How do you really stretch your dollar while in the UK? Penny pinching tips?

Posted by
20797 posts
  • Think about how fancy a hotel room/apartment you really need. The value-to-price ratio in touristy English cities/towns is often rather low, and the difference in cost between clean-but-plain and spacious-and-charming can be quite significant. There are a lot of places in Europe where the extra $50 (or more) per night will pay off more than it does in the tourist hotspots of England.

  • If you want to do more than one day-trip from London, consider how much you might save by spending those nights in a less-costly town if you can find one with good rail or bus links to your day-trip destinations. London lodging is expen$ive.

  • Be aware of special events major enough to affect lodging costs in areas you plan to visit and adjust your itinerary to avoid them if they are of no interest to you.

  • Research the train fares on your planned routes to see which ones offer significant savings for advance purchase, and try to pin down your itinerary for the highest-impact travel legs early enough to snag the super-discount fares. And Google "split ticketing".

  • If you're facing a very costly train ticket for a rather short trip you failed to book in advance, investigate bus options. They will probably be much less expensive. Before rejecting buses out of hand, check to see whether they will actually take much longer than the train. Weigh the savings against the extra time required for the trip.

  • For high-cost sightseeing attractions, think about whether you really care enough to pay $20-$25-$30 to visit them. If traveling as a pair, investigate the 2-for-1 offers in London.

  • Don't wimp out on using public transportation within cities and towns. It's usually much, much cheaper than taxis, and it's not hard after you've done it once.

  • Consider airport-transportation costs when selecting flights. The good deal on a 6:45 AM flight may not be worthwhile if it means you decide to spring for a taxi to Heathrow.

  • Don't buy a rail pass or a sightseeing pass without making a serious effort to confirm that it will not be significant money-loser for you. It doesn't matter how much a sightseeing pass covers if you don't have time to visit enough of the sites to recover your cost. Recognize that in large cities, you will spend a good bit of time traveling from sight to sight, so you'll probably not get to as many places as you initially expect. London has a lot of free (donation-requested) museums, many of them really large. Time spent at those world-class sights is time when you're not making use of a sightseeing pass.

Posted by
5467 posts

Buy travel tickets well in advance for the best prices. Stay in Premier Inns and book rooms 6+ months in advance.

If staying in London, many of the museums and galleries are free to enter. Buy lunches at supermarkets and if provided free, eat a large breakfast at your hotel. Staying in an apartment will allow you to save significantly if you prepare your own food.

Look at 2-4-1 ticket offers. Buy cheaper theatre tickets in London at the TKTS kiosk in Leicester Square.

Posted by
9493 posts

If you are staying for nights out of London, check to see if hotel rates in your target city go up over the weekend. Bath is bad about this so it's much less expensive to stay there on nights other than Friday or Saturday. Bank Holidays probably also have an effect altho I've not checked that specifically.

I agree with checking on staying out of London instead of doing day trips. Specifically....I love to stay in Salisbury. The last time I stayed my B&B was about 85£/night with a huge breakfast and very kind owners. That plus the cost of the local tour bus out to Stonehenge plus less expensive food in Salisbury was a perfect expenditure for me.

I travel solo so don't usually eat in fancy restaurants. I'll usually have something from one of the chains like Pret a Manger or Eat for lunch and then eat inexpensively for dinner at a restaurant near my hotel. Also have gotten takeaway from local restaurants or grocery stores for dinner.

I only occasionally drink alcohol so save that way. If I want wine with dinner, I'll certainly do so but it's not a big deal for me. I'm not really comfortable going in to pubs on my own so no line item for that expense, hahaha!

The theater is not something that matters to me but it does to others. It's expensive and if there was something I wanted to see I'd do it but otherwise, no.

I WILL spend money on sights such as Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms, Roman Baths in Bath, etc. I travel to see things so this is where I would spend my money. If there is a special exhibit that is of interest, I'll spend there as well.

Transport - I go with the Oyster Card and the National Express bus in from Heathrow. I do take a cab if I have to go to a train station across town.

What kind of long term projections have you seen?

Posted by
3658 posts

I just checked and the current exchange rate £1 = $1.30. Did I read that wrong? Nope.

That's a better exchange rate than I've ever had in the past. There have been times when it was closer to $2.00 per £1.

I hope it stays as good as it is now for your trip. My advice is to plan your budget based on £, not $. Start thinking in £ and don't be constantly thinking in $. Think about how to stretch your pence. Unless something really drastic happens, a few extra pennies per GBP will be insignificant compared to the overall cost of your trip.

For example, if you are using something like Booking.com to find lodging, figure out your price limit in £, set the currency to £ and go from there. I like to do this with both £ and € when I'm traveling in countries that use those currencies.

But still check the exchange rate from time to time to see the exact rate and how it's trending. If you search something like 1£ to usd, Google shows a nice little graph that defaults to a month. You can click on different time periods. Those are historical, not predictions. If you click on Max, you can see back to the really bad old days around 2008!

Posted by
6238 posts

Sign up for airline fare emails.
Book train travel tickets in advance.

If traveling as a twosome make use of the National Rail 2 for 1 deals.
Consider an apartment over a BnB or hotel. AirBnb, Booking.com, VRBO. Or, as noted try to book early for Premiere Inns.
If a coffee drinker take your own coffee. Mugs and electric kettles are nearly always in rooms. Bring your own washcloths though (easy purchase at your 99cent or $ store)
If weather is good, picnic, Get your food at Pret A Mangers, Tesco's, Marks and Spencers, et al.
Have your main meal at a pub. Look for Sandwich boards on the sidewalks advertising their pub grub deals.
http://www.londoncheapeats.com/
Use the 1/2 price theatre ticket booth at Leicester square. You can now look online to see what (same day) shows will be available.
Get an Oyster card when you arrive not the advertised Visitor Oyster. The former has a refundable deposit, the latter does not. If returning keep it. I'm still using one from 2015.

Take clothes you can wash in your room so you won't have to spend any money on laundry. Or, if staying in an apartment ask if they have a washer/dryer combo. A word of warning. Absolutely the slowest washers and dryers in the UK.

If over 60 don't be embarrassed to ask if there is a senior admission. Savings won't be huge but penny pinching is penny pinching.
Review TimeOut London online for free events. Look for Groupon deals for restaurants.
Don't smoke. Costly habit.

Research, research, research.

Posted by
56 posts

Thanks! These are all great ideas.

We are penny pinchers, but England is going to require taking it to the next level.

On our most recent trip, we did not prebook much of anything in Ireland, but Book of Kells and Newgrange, but it sounds like that is really beneficial and needed in the UK!

Posted by
9493 posts

Claudia made me think of another thing. She mentioned seeing if there is a Senior rate which is called Concessions or may be listed as concs. One thing I noticed on my last trip is that previously they would ask if you wanted to add a donation to the ticket costs, this time the donation price was the price they charged you so you had to say No Donation. Here is an example of ticket prices at Tower of London.

https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/visit/tickets-and-prices/

This may make me look cheap but I’m going one time, the charge is nearly 21£ for the walk up price so , no I don’t want to add a charitable donation onto that.

I do see that you can save 15% on buying ahead.

Posted by
1238 posts

Buy a National Trust UK Touring Pass: 7 day pass for two 55 pounds, 14 day pass for two 66 pounds. This pass will cover several properties in Metropolitan London, England and Wales. Really a true bargain. Of course less for a single. You must order in advance on line but can pick up at a number of properties that are listed. You will get your monies worth in a few visits. It usually covers parking if available on the property.

Posted by
1175 posts

Hotel rooms in London can be amazingly inexpensive on Sunday nights, so try to include a Sunday.

The Hearhrow Express is a waste of money for 95% of travelers.

I personally think the HOHO bus in London is a waste of money. A walking tour with London Walks is only £10 and allows you to actually experience the city rather than a UN cacophony of languages on a bus.

There are other places in the UK besides London, Bath, Stonehenge, and the Costwalds. Hotel rooms in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham can be 1/3 of the price of London.

Wetherspoon pubs offer meal deals many days. It’s not gourmet food, but is perfectly decent. They also have good prices on drinks.

Posted by
12759 posts

True, the worse exchange rate was $2.00 to one GBP. That was in 2008, I almost went that summer but ended up not doing that because of this basically "two for one " exchange rate. The best one for Americans was that immediately after Brexit when it was reported the GBP vis-a-vis the US $ had dropped 30%, the rate I had rate was $1.24 to one GBP.

Posted by
2529 posts

my number one tip is don't tip every one and anyone,no need to tip barmen,maids,etc.and where tips are expected like restaurants round things up or a max of 10%.

Posted by
587 posts

Look for the budget hotel chains in major cities. Premier Inn has already been mentioned, and they are OK but you have to pay extra for breakfast. Holiday Inn Express (in my opinion better than Premier Inn) has great beds and a free breakfast.

Also look for Wetherspoons pubs - it's a chain and in most cities. They do great breakfast and lunch deals so you can get a full meal at bargain prices.

Supermarkets offer 'meal deals' often including a sandwich, bag of crisps (chips in the US?), or a piece of fruit, and a drink (e.g water or soda) for around £5. They also sometimes have dinner meal deals, where you might get a starter, main, side, dessert and bottle of wine for two people for around £15 to £20. Could be useful if renting an apartment.

As others have said plan your rail travel and book 'advance' (non flexible) tickets well in advance for maximum savings. Also it is well worth researching split ticketing if doing long journeys.

Hotels in predominately business areas may have cheaper rooms on Friday and Saturday nights (no business travellers then), whereas in really touristy places the room rates might not vary much.

Posted by
52 posts

Many great ideas here. I’d like to make a counter point here. Some of us can be TOO frugal, opting out of experiences we would really enjoy because they cost too much. Or making a visit out of London when the train fares are cheapest but perhaps the weather is a problem. We sometimes remind ourselves we didn’t plan this trip to save money but to have experiences. Strike a balance.

Posted by
747 posts

Consider making your own meals and buy stuff from Sainsbury's. There must be some sort of public price support for food. Its incredibly inexpensive to buy food from super markets in London.

Posted by
2287 posts

Lots of great tips already given, mine is to really give some thought to your absolute must-dos. I'm assuming you're going to London where many of the wonderful museums are free, and it's great to just wander and be in London, but there are also quite a few that I consider musts that cost to get in, such as the Tower or Churchill War Rooms. I recently returned from my 2nd trip to London and I had seen plenty of the free museums the first time, so this trip was about very particular things for me and I booked in advance so by the time I went I'd paid them off: guided day trip to Highclere Castle ($192), round-trip train + entry to Bletchley Park (approx. $42 total), Buckingham Palace ($27), supplemental ticket for the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the V&A, which is otherwise free ($22) and another visit to the Tower just to see the ravens ($28; BUT I got the best souvenir ever, a raven's feather!)

I give more than a little thought to what I buy in terms of souvenirs given the exchange is never in our favor, BUT, as a quilter with a long-time urge to visit Liberty of London's famed fabric dept I did budget for a bit of extravagance there. I guess it comes down to priorities and trade-offs.

Posted by
1244 posts

1) forget the exchange rate as you cannot control it.
2) we stay outside of major tourist zones, most recently in Brentford, where rates for accomodations are more reasonable. We seek hotel/apts offering a kitchen from which we prepare breakfast, can make our own picnics and have a late night snack.
3) we are not big foodies, but tend to eat one full meal a day as a late lunch. We strive to not eat within tourist zones and find grabbing a tube/bus to jump out to a non-tourist area helps find lower costs restaurants. So where the locals live and eat is what we seek.
4) overall we do a great job at controlling our cost of meals and $ spent on accomodations.
5) With all this said I caution to keep in mind the purpose of your journey is not about saving money. I speak from the perspective of having a brother in law who i believe takes trips just so he can return (darn it, he always returns home!😜) and boast about how much money he saved.

Posted by
3923 posts

I wish the Cdn exchange rate was that good - we're looking at about 1.70 to our dollar right now - and that's only because the value fell due to Brexit. Our worst was a few years back when it was pushing about 2.10. And the euro is sitting at around 1.50. But great deals for Europeans visiting Canada!

But def look into advance train ticket purchases and time of day tickets. If you are going to be there over a school/bank holiday - prices will shoot up for travel as well. Last year, we were going to Brighton to meet up with my sister who lives in the UK. I just put the Sun before the week we were going to go, as the schedule/prices wasn't out yet for our date. I thought I was going to die! The price was so high. With the exchange rate, it was pushing $150 round trip for 2. Well, when the schedule finally came out and I checked again, it was about 1/3 the price. The culprit? It was a school or bank holiday weekend. So def check into holidays and plan day trips accordingly!

Posted by
3252 posts

Kim, you have no control over the exchange rate. But penny pinching tips? This is I can help!

  1. If your lodging does not include breakfast, get it from a grocery store in advance. Buy yoghurt, fruit, muffin, croissant, whatever you like. If you have a kettle in your room, have tea with it.

  2. Get lunch also from a market like Sainsbury, Tesco or M&S. Typically they'll have a sandwich, drink and fruit/chips deal for under £4.

  3. If you drink bottled water as I do, get it from the grocery store. It's dirt cheap.

  4. In London, use your Oyster card. It has a daily cap based on your zones and once you've met it. you're traveling for free. You'll probably be in only zones 1-2. LHR is in Zone 6.

  5. The National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, British Library, all Tate museums, and others are FREE. Go for it!

  6. Don't take taxis. They are such a rip off. Consider car service without a meter running.

  7. Go to Evensong -- absolutely free.

  8. If you're at St Martin's in the Field in London, have dinner there. You'll be in the crypt and it's reasonably priced.

  9. Avoid HOHO buses (a rip off) and take the local buses; sit upstairs. Plan ahead and you'll enjoy it more.

Posted by
1172 posts

Things that we 'splurge' on: - sightseeing and experiences. If I am coming all the way to London, I am not skipping the Tower of London ( as an example) to you to save $. What I will do though is go online to see if there are discount codes or pre-puchasng discounts nor cheaper days/times
Although we do not stay in luxury hotels, I stay in places that have good ratings, are clean and I am not sharing a bathroom.

Where we save $: food: As others have said, try to book a hotel that includes breakfast, picnics for lunch, more family friendly restaurants, We use public transportation and see if there are ant deals travel cards. We do not buy souvenirs and as a general rule do not shop while on vacation. I never really understood why people want to spend their time in department stores or worse yet.. malls!

Posted by
1217 posts

Buy a National Trust UK Touring Pass: 7 day pass for two 55 pounds, 14 day pass for two 66 pounds.

If you're USA-based, there's also the Royal Oak Society, which gets you similar benefits for an annual fee:

https://www.royal-oak.org/join/

Posted by
232 posts

I'd like to think I'm a thrifty traveler, but as far as penny pinching goes I do that at home so that I'm not worrying about pinching pennies while traveling. It probably helps that I'm a solo traveler and not fussy.

In the UK I'm a fan of YHA accommodations. I've had a private room in the Ironbridge Gorge in a 1790s dated china factory on the banks of the Severn River for £17 a night. And a few weeks ago at YHA St Paul's within the shadow of the Cathedral my room was £35 a night.

When I change cities I'll book the train travel for the time frame between 11am and 2pm. This is the period when the advanced train fare is the lowest and right between when I check out of one place and into the next.

I do enjoy checking out grocery stores as much as dining in a restaurant. More so though I found myself going to Borough Market for lunch -- a wide range of inexpensive food options.

Posted by
56 posts

What a wealth of good info! Thanks for such great feedback. I'm feeling much more confident that London can be managed successfully on a budget, and I've also set my heart on a stone cottage in the Yorkshire Dales for the remainder of the time.

Posted by
1238 posts

For Cottages for rent in Yorkshire look on National Trust UK site under Holiday accommodations. There are several. You will have to judge for yourself it they meet the thrifty requirement.

Posted by
3923 posts

IT doesn't hurt to penny pinch in some areas to be able to splurge in others. It's great that a lot of the museums are free - that helps my decision to spend 7GBP on a pastry a little easier to swallow (there is a pastry shop over by the museums that I visit now when we go to London and I'll treat myself to one of their delicious creations, and try not to think about the fact that I just paid about $10 for a pastry).

Posted by
449 posts

In the USA IKEA prides itself for offering an inexpensive breakfast as a public service to folks who don't have a lot of money. Does IKEA in the UK do the same thing? There's a store in the Tottenham area which I might patronize if i can get a good breakfast deal. Unfortunately, IKEAs website doesn't include a restaurant menu. If IKEA does offer this what would the meal include?

Posted by
387 posts

Yes, the IKEA in Tottenham - I would describe it as the Edmonton IKEA- does a very reasonably priced breakfast. (This is my nearest Ikea). They do a full English, or Veggie version. Tea/coffee is free if you have the IKEA friends and family card. Don't know where you are in Tottenham, but you will probably have a short bus ride to get to it. Btw, there is a mega Tesco across the street from it.

Posted by
6238 posts

Geor, don't know about Tottenham but had breakfast at the Wembley one.

Kim, failed to suggest looking at London food blogs about possible pop ups. Fun and normally a good value.

Posted by
266 posts

https://www.travelodge.co.uk/

Travelodge does not have listings on search sites, not even on Google Maps (at least in the london area), and have been building new hotels recently too. Usually we've had good quality and service in them. Not perfect, but good and good prices. Also the Girl Guide/Girl Scout hostel is good, and secure/friendly (Pax Lodge in Hampstead) https://www.wagggs.org/en/our-world/world-centres/pax-lodge/book-now/

Sainsbury's for groceries, and scones with cream and jam, sandwiches, whatever you like.

Google Maps for planning trips from one address to another, and clicking the public transportation option on the top of the search, Gave me great info about how to get from one place to another on a bus, used Oyster pass, simple when I remembered to be on the correct side of the road :)

It's the best exchange rate now that I have ever seen, so it's looking cheaper to me than anything I've ever seen over multiple visits. When I lived there in London for 2 months, we learned to watch some prices but not to keep comparing to prices at home, because they were not an option any more. "Be here now" kind of mentality. Don't keep converting, just shop wisely.

Souvenirs stores sometimes have business cards with web sites, if you need something for someone, it can be shopped for later after you're back home, with cheaper shipping than hauling it around yourself.

One of my biggest challenges was learning to value my coins. They're worth a lot more than our coins, so I did buy a coinpurse to help keep them organized.

A zillion free museums to keep you busy for a year. :) British Library's Treasure Room is a HUGE thing to go see and it's Free.

PUBS for Dinner! Great burger almost anywhere.

London Eye just brought me farther away from all the sites, wasn't my favorite thing, and was fairly expensive.

Best way to save a lot of money and time is to get really honest about what you really want to do. Spend the money on that. If you do cheap things but leave feeling like you missed the important stuff, that's not a good thing. I won't feel guilty about spending money on the Tower of London next time, I know I want to see the jewels, and probably will be in the free places the rest of the time, so no guilt. :) Do what you love. And I bring an extra credit card to save us with a taxi when we're lost or get somewhere and learn some additonal piece of info that we just could not have known ahead of time. Low stress.
THere are free festivals on community calendars too, a lot of things can be going on that are fun.
And tickets to the Graham Norton show are free, if your timing is right for their show's tapings.

Have loads of fun!