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prep and planning - flights

booking my Scotland trip on the cheap

After nearly two months of going back and forth about whether I could make this happen, it's finally beginning to come together. This next bit is going to be the crazy part, because I'm now scheduled to leave a week today.

Based around a six-week work contract in Edinburgh - which was only finalised today - I'm extending my trip to nearly ten weeks in order to spend some time with family and to travel around Scotland.

I took a gamble and booked part of my flight before things were confirmed. There is a website, Canadian Affair, that offers cheap flights to the UK from Canada - sort of like a transatlantic EasyJet. And we're talking true bargain basement here. They offer flights with Thomas Cook and AirTransat, so it's essentially going to be a charter flight where you're lucky if there's room enough in the seat for you and your knees together. When I flew with them six years ago, there was no assigned seating (it was first come first served), and I think there was a charge for the in-flight meal. There was an option (which I took) to upgrade to what would be economy class on any other airline (assigned seating, free food, etc). The check-in line at the airport was huge, and the flights were delayed by at least two hours both going out and coming in.

That said, they're very cheap if you have some flexibility in your travel plans. I have to be in Edinburgh on the 19th of July. And there was a seat sale on - I could fly to Manchester for $49 (all figures in Canadian dollars) one way if I left on the 13th. Instead of dithering and hoping that the deal would still be there when I was ready, I just went ahead and booked it. With all the taxes and charges it came to $240 for the one-way flight.

(At that price, I could swallow the cost if worst came to absolute worst. And being able to book one way at a time - not having to commit to a return date - was a huge bonus. If the job had fallen through, there was a back-up plan; I'd find the cheapest possible flight home, and spend whatever time that gave me in between with my family. A low-cost vacation option.)

Now, according to their website, things seem to be a bit more civilised. I haven't gone for the upgrade this time since it would have doubled the cost of my flight and money is the primary issue, but I was able to pre-book my own seat (for a charge of $17) and they do seem to be offering a complimentary meal. They also make a lot of claims about leg room and seat-back video screens (on certain aeroplanes only), but I'll wait until I've suffered the flight before I comment on those.

I've also found that their flights seem to be cheaper if you book them one way at a time. For one of the itineraries I was looking at, the same flight was $50 cheaper if I booked it as a one-way than if I booked it as part of a round-trip. I don't know that this is always true, but do explore your options when it comes time to book flights.

Another trick is to check the prices flying into various airports. The $149 flight to London I had been counting on disappeared, but the $49 flight into Manchester made up for it. As it turns out, I have family near Manchester that I can stay with, so it was even better for me than London (which is usually a cheaper flight), but had I needed to get down to London, the UK has excellent rail links, and if you book in advance the tickets can be quite cheap. (Although the UK rail system has been privatised and different routes are run by different companies, you can still book all your travel through the National Rail website.)

I haven't booked my plane flight home yet. The end of my trip is still a bit fuzzier than the rest, and there's a certain part of me that wants to explore the possibility of not coming home at all. I could, if I wanted to, arrive in the UK on a one-way ticket alone and sort out the rest of my plans at some point during my trip, because I have a visa that allows me to live and work there. I may, in fact, end up doing that, gambling that there will be another seat sale to get me home closer to the date. If you're just travelling as a tourist, though, you will need to have a return ticket, a one-way ticket home, or a ticket for an onwards journey that will take you out of the country. Immigrations officials don't like it when you turn up with no plans to leave.

I'm waiting on one last piece of information before booking my train tickets, and once those are in place I can start looking at car rentals and accommodations. I'll keep you posted as things progress.

Posted by kithica 13:40 Archived in England Tagged air_travel

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