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Travel & Holidays in later life


How to find a room in London without wrecking your budget? Most tourist visitors to the capital are shocked at the hotel prices, now around the highest in the world. Reg Butler investigates.

Location and timing are the two most important factors in finding a reasonably priced London bed.

If you pitch your stay for weekends, many higher-cost hotels are ready to cut their rates. Quite simply, they can fill up midweek with business clients paying the full whack on company expenses. 

But on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights, many chain hotels publish 'weekend rates' and accept cut-price deals with travel agencies to promote theatre or shopping packages. All kinds of sweeteners can be included in the arrangements, designed to fill otherwise-empty beds.

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Handy locations for early-morning air or rail departures:
Heathrow - Paddington for Heathrow Express every 15 minutes; Gatwick - Victoria for Gatwick Express every 15 minutes; Luton - King's Cross, hourly for a 70-minute journey; Stansted - Liverpool Street station every 15 minutes or Victoria Bus Station on Airbus A6 every 20 minutes with pick-up stops en route. 

Uptown Reservations, 8 Kelso Place, London W8 5QD. Tel: 020 7937 2001   E-mail:

For more information, see Visit London website.  

In London, call personally for information at Britain Visitor Centre, 1 Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, SW1Y 4XT. Open: Mon 0930-1830, Tue-Fri 0900-1830, Sat & Sun 1000-1600; Jun- Oct, Sat 0900-1700.

Travelsphere escorted holidays


Likewise, in the July-August period when business travel goes quiet, most weekday hotel prices soften to weekend levels. Search around on the internet, and you can find bargains. Even try a few direct phone calls, telling the reservation office you're 'shopping around', and asking for a cut rate. Depending how many empty rooms they expect, hotels may be ready to haggle.

Thus, in the luxury grade, a typical 5-star hotel was offering doubles for 129 instead of a normal 320 per night. Likewise another in the same grade featured a standard double for 75 compared with regular 270, on the basis of a minimum 2-night stay any time in August. Check whether or not breakfast is included.

Ask your local travel agency whether they can recommend any ready-priced London breaks which include transport by express coach or rail. Package-tour hotels are mostly located either very central in the West End, or in the tourist areas of Kensington, Cromwell Road, Earls Court and Bayswater, with handy transport by tube or bus.

Tudor-style entertainment at the Beefeaters Banquet near Tower Bridge A Travel Card, transport maps, and discount coupons for museums and entertainment are often included in these weekend packages. Some deals include theatre bookings.

If you're flexible about where to stay, the best bargains are available if you have the nerve to leave booking until the last minute. Go to the prime website and check what's on offer in the London area. 

On this superbly-planned site, you can get a listing of well over 200 hotels, guesthouses and b&bs that offer reduced rates to sell otherwise empty beds during the coming week. These can be short-listed by price-range, category and by location - by postcode, by a general district, or by proximity to a specific Tube station. 

Some of the offers will have you goggling, wondering how London has become so notorious for high-cost accommodation! There are no booking fees. You merely contact the chosen establishment by phone or e-mail, quoting the LateRoom price.

Many people with early-morning flights out of Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton or Stansted reserve an overnight hotel at or near the respective airport. But these hotels can be pricey, and don't bend their rates so easily.

It can be better strategy to reserve a more central lower-cost hotel, handy to the appropriate rail-terminal link, and enjoy bonus sightseeing or theatre during the previous afternoon and evening. With a good rail connection, you can then travel early morning to the airport and breakfast on the aircraft.

For instance, a clued-up traveller on an early flight from Heathrow will refuse to pay extortionate airport hotel prices, and - a typical choice among several - could stay at the Royal Norfolk Hotel, right opposite Paddington station. 

It's a 3-star hotel - not grand but very clean, quiet and efficient - with a double typically going for 60 instead of regular 90. The Heathrow Express train runs every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. onwards, taking 15 minutes to Terminals 1, 2 and 3; or 23 minutes to Terminal 4. (The cheaper Heathrow Hoppa buses take forever). 

The London Eye revolves over the capital's great sightseeing highlights For a weekend in London, it's worth checking to see if Dolphin Square (normal 225 a night for a double) has dropped prices. Depending on the timing, prices are available at around 100 for an apartment with comfortable bedroom, mini kitchen and bathroom - and the pleasure of using their gym and swimming pool thrown in! 

There's less chance of last-minute deals if you prefer to book accommodation longer ahead. But you could still skim through the hotel websites to find prices within your budget. 

Alternatively, the Visit London website gives details of over 1300 hotels, mostly with location maps or directions, and some price details. But you'd have to phone direct to find if any discount tariffs are available. Likewise the website lists 387 guest houses and 200 hostels.  

Entrance to a private Uptown b&bAnother lower-cost alternative to the higher-priced hotels is featured by a company called Uptown Reservations with a portfolio of around 80 private host homes, mostly in fashionable parts of London - Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Kensington and Chelsea.

Fixed rates are 72 per night single, or 95 for double or twin, including private bathroom and a generous continental breakfast. With an informal and relaxed family atmosphere, they are popular with overseas visitors who can come closer to an English lifestyle, instead of being cocooned in an anonymous hotel room. 

Many of the properties are into the million-pound league, which makes you wonder why the owners should want to host b&b guests. But mostly they had bought or inherited the properties when prices were much lower. They might seem wealthy through the enormous price escalation of central London properties, but aren't necessarily cash-rich.

Many of the Uptown rooms feature a very traditional style I stayed in a beautiful two-floor mansion apartment in Tite Street, Chelsea, with a door opening onto an award-winning roof garden. Oscar Wilde, John Singer Sargent, Mark Twain, Constable, Turner and Whistler had all lived in houses along this famous Chelsea street. The elderly owner told me that the year-round income from her b&b room paid her basic bills, in an area where living costs are high. 

A bonus was the host's excellent local knowledge. Following her recommendation I enjoyed a reasonably-priced evening meal at a trendy restaurant round the corner. That was an entertainment in itself. 

Consider these other South East suggestions

LONDON - the capital free show

NORFOLK BROADS - by slow boat

OXFORD - Just Pottering around 

WINDSOR - Enjoy a Royal Wekend

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd - a mammoth 800-page story of the tumultuous life of London across the centuries, makes a fascinating life story that will enhance your experience and understanding of the capital city today. 

London Insight Compact Guide - a handy pocket guide with 14 suggestions for walks around selected highlight areas.

London (Rough Guide Directions Series)  - a stylish and handy guide with good maps and guidance also to the less obvious areas of the capital.

"Time Out" Visitors Guide to London - Seventh edition of Time Out's excellent guide with good photos and maps of the central areas.

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