London Travel Guide -Part I

In the last post we showed you how we were able to purchase 6 round trip international flights for less than $600. As part of our two week European trip, we spent 4 days in London. This will be the first post in a series of three detailing lodging, transportation, sights and tips to make your trip to London smoother and hopefully, a little cheaper!

The kids seeing Big Ben for the first time!

Arriving in London:  There are many entry points into London. Whether arriving by plane or train, determining how you’ll get to your hotel upon arrival will be one of the items you’ll want to cross off your list early. You have several choices in transportation to get from Heathrow Airport to central London. They include:

The London Underground (aka the Tube): I love the tube. It’s easy to navigate and it’s probably the cheapest way to get into London. It takes about an hour to ride into London from Heathrow. Costs vary depending on the time of day, but usually no more than £8 one way. We recommend purchasing an Oyster card at the kiosk which you can prepay and top off as needed.  Tip: There are a ton of stairs in the tube stations. If you like to travel with a larger than carry on or more than one suitcase, save yourself the trouble and skip the Tube.

Heathrow Express is the fastest way to get into London – usually 15 minutes. The train takes you to Paddington station, from there you can transfer to the train that will take you to your destination. Tickets are £25 for one way during peak hours or £37 roundtrip all day (no peak pricing with roundtrip tickets). Children 15 and under are free with a paying adult (we love that!). You’ll have no problem finding the train, just follow the purple signs on the ground that lead you right to it!

Someone has jet lag! She didn’t sleep one minute on the flight over and crashed as soon as we got in the ExpressWays van.

Taxi or car hire is probably the most expensive, unless you have children or are traveling with a group. A taxi into London is around £45-£70 and takes about an hour. For us, the cheapest option was to hire a car. We chose ExpressWays. We didn’t want to deal with stairs in the tube station and reserving a car hire for 6 was cheaper than taking the Heathrow Express. We paid £68 for an 8 passenger van that dropped us right at the hotel door. While the ride took about an hour in London traffic, we were so happy we didn’t have to navigate the tube stairs or walk a few blocks with our luggage. We just called the driver when we made it through customs and we were met at the exit. So easy!

 Where to stay? Travel hacking hotel rooms:

If you have ever looked at booking a room in London, or Europe for that matter, you know that finding a room with more than one bed is near impossible. Family rooms are expensive and hard to find. While budget hotels can be found (Premier Inn, Ibis, etc) and apartment rentals make more sense when traveling with a family, our goal was not to spend any money on hotels. With a family of six, we had to book two rooms a night, sometimes three rooms a night. Here’s where our points took us in London:

Park Plaza: Plaza on the River:

Our river Thames view from our room

The hotel: This all suite hotel is right on the river Thames just a few blocks from Westminster Bridge, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. All suites have kitchens which are perfect for families and many rooms have views of the Thames or Big Ben. Nearest tube station is Vauxhill – just a 10 minute walk.

The room:  We booked a standard suite which had a king bed and a pull out sofa with a kitchen. One of our rooms was accidently upgraded to a one bedroom suite that had a washer and dryer which we used to wash all our clothes from day one. Even though we had a kitchen, we were suffering from jet lag too bad to cook and ordered pizza for dinner instead.

The cost: We booked 2 rooms for one night. Standard room rates are $300/night or 70K points/night. We spent 140K points total saving us $600.

How did we earn points? This hotel is part of the Club Carlson group. Although we do not have a Club Carlson credit card, we were able to earn a lot of Club Carlson points with my husband’s business travel (this Marriott loyalist was not overly excited about all those Country Inn and Suites stays!). Club Carlson had a great promotion that earned us 30K points with every 3 night stay. I also earned Carlson points as a goodwill gesture after a bad hotel experience. Club Carlson has several credit cards you can choose from with great sign up bonuses.  Please note: U.S Bank is notoriously stingy and will deny you if you’ve applied for too many credit cards.

London Marriott Hotel County Hall

A Big Ben view during breakfast

The hotel: This is my favorite hotel ever! It’s gorgeous. The building, the location, the bathrooms, the wallpaper, the orange chairs! I could go on and on! This hotel is located on the river Thames and a block away from Westminster Tube Station. The London Eye and Big Ben are right outside the door. Underneath the hotel are popular attractions SeaLife London Aquarium and Shrek’s Adventure! London. The Southbank is a short walk away with more attraction and dining options.

The rooms: We booked the standard room with 2 double beds. Out of 13 nights on the trip, this is the only hotel that put us in connecting rooms. Nice size bathroom with a small desk. Kids liked that the tv had airplay so we could stream Netflix movies. My husband has Marriott Gold status which means he gets free breakfast and lounge access. Unfortunately, even though we had 2 rooms, Marriott limits this to just 2 people on the reservation. He took my teen son one day for breakfast and me the other. We each took turns going to the lounge for free drinks and snacks in the evening.

The cost: A standard double room rate is around $500/night. We had 2 rooms for 2 nights which would have cost us over $2,000 with taxes and fees. Instead, we spent 45,000 points a night per room (this is a Marriott Category 9 hotel) for a total of 180,000 Marriott points.

The best way to relax after a long day of walking!

How did we earn points? My husband and I each opened the Chase Marriott personal card and earned 80,000 points each after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. If you are a family of 4, this card will get you 4 nights at my favorite London hotel if you and your partner both apply! Pro Tip: Did you know that you can reserve an award room with Marriott before you have the points in your account? As long as your points are in your account before check in you won’t lose your reservation.

Have hotel points but not sure where to stay? Check out HotelHustle.com. Just enter your city and dates and it will tell you how many points you need to stay at your preferred hotel.

Don’t have hotel points and looking for a budget family room? We’ve had a lot of luck using booking.com

 

Next up! London – Part II – Sightseeing in London (A 3 Day Itinerary)

 

 


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