Posts in the “Opinion” category...
ebookers has become the first of the major online travel agents to offer UK rail tickets alongside flights, hotels, car rentals and its other ‘traditional’ products. The new service is promoted with the promise of no booking fees, something which most other third party rail-only booking sites can’t say.
Continental Club has tried the system out using the ‘ticket on departure’ option familiar to many UK rail users – a reference number is provided upon booking confirmation, and the card used for payment is inserted into a ticket machine at the station to authorise ticket printing. The ebookers reservation worked perfectly.
The initial presentation of travel options on the ebookers site is clear and straightforward too, with the basic information displayed in a format more akin to one you’d expect to see when booking round-trip air travel. That differs from most rail booking sites which show outbound and return services separately – ostensibly to quickly facilitate mix-and-match itineraries.
So far then, so good. If you’re looking for a straightforward Standard Class ticket and you’re paying by debit card, then there’s little to worry about.
However, it’s the things that you can’t do that currently mean ebookers first attempt at UK rail isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you’re hoping to travel in First Class, you’ll have to look elsewhere. It’s also not possible to use a railcard yet. Tickets can’t apparently be changed or cancelled online, even if the underlying fare conditions allow it (which, in all fairness, is very much the way that online travel agents deal with air travel and hotel bookings too). Credit card payments do attract a fee – again a situation which is not unusual with third party rail booking sites.
The bigger issue which applies to the new ebookers system, and generically to all third party booking sites, is that it can’t offer certain ticket types sold only by the train operating companies themselves, and sometimes only by the actual operating company for the service selected.
As an example, here’s a random trip for three passengers travelling between London and York, offered by the ebookers site:
The journey is operated by East Coast Trains, which offers a 2% discount on its own advance tickets when bought at eastcoast.co.uk. There’s no booking fee and no card fee. They also offer East Coast Rewards points for ticket purchases of £22 and over.
In this admittedly rather extreme example, here’s the East Coast quote on its own site for the same journey and number of passengers:
Even paying by debit card in both cases, the East Coast quote is almost £118 cheaper for the group than ebookers – because quite apart from its own 2% operator discount, East Coast can also sell something called a 3plus ticket to parties of 3 or more, which reduces the individual ticket price by 33%. In fact, in this example, the ‘upsell’ button on the East Coast site shows that the party could travel in First Class for less than the ebookers Standard Class quote.
Continental Club’s general advice when booking UK rail has always been to check which train company operates on your chosen route, and then to visit the company’s own website for the best ticket prices. For a directory of all UK train companies, visit:
One final thing to take into account is whether online seat selection is available on the operator site – some train companies allow you to pick your carriage and seat, which can be useful.
If there’s no saving on the operator website, and the operator in question doesn’t offer seat selection, then the current ‘best buy’ route is to join the East Coast Rewards Programme and book at eastcoast.co.uk.
The ebookers launch is a good addition to their website though, and it can work well in the right circumstances. Hopefully, it will be developed to offer all the options that the individual operating companies’ sites do, and also link hotel and car rental bookings as well. It’s a good start, but for the moment and for many passengers, rail companies’ own websites will remain the first choice.
by Continental Club on February 11, 2013 | Leave a comment
There can be few buildings in London that have been written about more in recent years than Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras Station. Since 2007, it has been the capital’s rail gateway to Europe; William Barlow’s sky-blue trainshed spanning not only platforms hosting Paris and Brussels-bound Eurostars, but also soaring over the longest champagne bar in Europe and a sculpture of Sir John Betjeman – former Poet Laureate and the man credited with saving St Pancras from the wreckers’ ball in the 1960s.
There are few railway stations in the world that have not only been so warmly taken into the hearts of their users, but that have actually become destinations in their own right. Grand Central Terminal in New York stands out. Chhatrapati Shivaji (Victoria) Terminus in the former Bombay. And now St Pancras seems to have taken a place that hardly any who knew it would have expected it to, just a couple of decades ago.
by Continental Club on July 5, 2012 | One comment
Two new offers from American Express may be of interest to those looking for the most generous travel-related benefits currently available.
Members of the British Airways Executive Club who have not yet applied for a BA American Express credit card may be tempted by the card giant’s latest sign-up offer, valid for applications made by 1st August 2012.
Once accepted as a new British Airways American Express Premium Plus cardmember, a welcome bonus of 30,000 Avios is the reward for spending a minimum of £3,000 in the first three months of membership. The welcome bonus is in addition to the normal benefits of up to 3 Avios per £ spent, and an Avios ‘companion voucher’ when £10,000 is charged to the card account in a membership year.
by Continental Club on June 19, 2012 | Leave a comment
And here’s the story behind the ad:
And here’s probably the niftiest bit:
Enter a United Kingdom postcode and see what your home looks like from on board a British Airways aircraft.
by Continental Club on March 31, 2012 | Leave a comment
Over the last few weeks, checking of rates has quite regularly seen Thomas Cook’s website hotels4u.com returning some very competitive rates.
As a case-in-point, Guoman‘s Tower Hotel in central London is currently (17:00GMT 31st March) directly-selling rooms from £116.40 including VAT for the night of Friday 27th April. The hotel is located on the banks of the Thames, right next to Tower Bridge.
Meanwhile, hotels4u.com is selling exactly the same room for £93.60 all-in; which works out at a verifiable 20% discount.
Although no website is ever guaranteed to offer the cheapest rates at every property on every date, this one does seem to be worth checking for leisure stays at the moment.
by Continental Club on March 13, 2012 | 4 comments
It appears that the next British Airways sale of seats in their World Traveller (economy) and World Traveller Plus (premium economy) cabins from the United Kingdom is being loaded today in preparation for launch on Thursday 15 March 2012. Various travel departures up to 31 January 2013 and 90 destinations worldwide are slated to feature.
Fares for flight-only offers include New York from £396 return and Los Angeles from £449; Dubai from £410 and Bordeaux £98.
Members of the British Airways Executive Club may be particularly interested in the inclusion of World Traveller Plus premium economy flight-only fares in the sale; such fares may be upgraded (subject to availability) to Club World business class using Avios points.
Past experience suggests that fares will be progressively loaded during the day so it will be worth checking the British Airways Low Fare Finder on ba.com throughout the day to see when the new fares appear.
The best availability tends to be before mass-marketing commences on the official launch date.
Bookings must be made by 27 March 2012.
For a full list of currently available destinations and starting fares, scroll down or click ‘READ MORE’ below:
A customer walks into a car dealership. No, not a joke, just an analogy. So, a customer walks into a car dealership and orders a new car. Of course, these days they may not even walk into a dealership; they might just sit down at a laptop and type an order online. Or pull out an iPad and configure the specification with a few sweeps of the screen. Well, assuming that the website isn’t written with Flash.
But I digress.
The customer chooses the model and the colour and all the extras, and does a little dealing on the price. If they’re lucky, they gets floormats and mudflaps, a tank of fuel and six months’ tax thrown in.
A couple of days or weeks later, the shiny new motor is transportered to the dealer, or sometimes even right to the customer’s front door; payment is confirmed and everything’s good to go.
It’s not a lot like that with a Boeing.
First of all, there’s no dealership. Secondly, their products take a while to build. Thirdly, you usually have to go and get them from the factory yourself. And fourthly, when you do rock up to collect a new one, the model and the colour will be spot-on, but you’re probably going to need to fit some of those optional extras yourself.
Of course, you could just buy a standard version; something that everyone else has got and drive it straight to work. But if you’ve got the chance to personalise it, the chance to do something a bit different, then why wouldn’t you?
Which brings us to Seattle. Or should I say Everett. And by us I mean eight of us; bloggers, writers, travellers, passengers: customers – strangers to each other nearly-all. And British Airways, our hosts, whose Boeing we’d come to coo over.
We eight checked-in at Heathrow, and it didn’t take long for the passion for travel to spill forth. By boarding time, any casual observer would assume that they’d stumbled upon a regular reunion, not a minutes-old introduction. Experience, opinion and impressions flowed, from Executive Club Blue members to Premiers and vice versa, through Silvers and Golds between, such that the flight West was over before we knew it – as if our Queen of The Skies had had her skirts picked up by Concorde, and her stateliness sent supersonic.
The Pacific Northwest brought no respite from the buzz. Iconic planes aplenty at The Museum of Flight. Emerald-filmed freighters on the 747-8 production line. Dreamliners by the dozen inching towards hangar doors the size of football pitches. And now forty more folks to share our awe, drawn from every corner of BA. From offices to operations. From desks to decks. From headquarters to hangars. Recognised for exceptional performance for those usually behind-the-scenes; for the highest customer satisfaction scores for those on-stage and front-of-house. To schedule, to serve. To maintain, to serve. To procure, to serve. To Fly, To Serve.
We boarded a bus and rolled in the rain between factory and the Future of Flight. Looking across the aisle, past seatbacks embroidered with Boeing logos, through water-beaded windows, rows of almost unreconcileable technological achievement stood ready to soar skyward.
And inside this aviation delivery room, itself a vast space but one still dwarfed by the production facilities across Paine Field, tables and chairs were set out in front of a bolted, rivetted and crimped Pan Am 737 cross-section. Next to it, a similarly-sliced 787 fuselage was by contrast smoothly-fused, and warm to the touch.
But all eyes were on British Airways and Boeing representatives, emerging with the signed Birth Certificate and ready to commence the delivery room speech. Thirty-foot high black drapes behind them parted to reveal grey but drying skies, and beneath them the newborn – the glossy, gleaming, factory-fresh Triple Seven.
The scarlet-painted stairs we’d ascend were in place, with the bowed red ribbon ready to cut. And under the flight deck window, the name ‘Irene’ was stencilled in royal blue on to the fresh white paint in honour of the most VIP of our assembled throng – one of the operating flight crew’s 75 year old Mum – along for the ride as a special surprise birthday present.
The official scissors were wielded by the winner of a ballot the night before, with the crew and Irene looking on. Four dozen cameras were passed around to record the moment. The man from Boeing snapped from every angle. Then we retreated inside for final preparations to board.
Luggage (mostly spotter-goodies procured only moments before from the Boeing Store next door) was meticulously X-rayed and bodies scanned through the arch. Passports checked and bon voyages issued, we climbed the claret stairway to 777, and the ‘new plane smell’ wafted over us as we crossed the threshold.
Sole seats aboard were in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus cabins, the latest products to fly with British Airways and three at least for each excited passenger. Carry-ons were soon gulped-up into the vast overhead bins.
With forty five minutes to departure, there was time to tour – starting with a one-at-a-time glimpse of the dashboard; 21st century displays on a flight deck as spacious as a Stratocruiser. Acres of brown plastic last seen in Cagney & Lacey’s Dodge Diplomat. The office with the best views of the World.
Next, the Cabin Service Director’s (or Customer Service Manager’s) station, just aft of the cockpit door. Nerve-centre for delivery of onboard operations.
Then to the First Class galley, an empty honeycomb of cart bays and stowage racks; oven voids and chiller fans; switches and buttons to control the yet-to-be-slotted-in kit. But one appliance was already there, primed to dispense the rocketfuel that will wake thousands of slumberers in the years to come.
We walked onward, to the First Class cabin, a hybrid of fully-finished BA bulkheads, curtains and brushed steel skirting, atop factory contract flooring and ex-works wall panels. Like a gallery waiting for its artworks to be installed. For here, in a few short weeks, will be leather-trimmed mini-suites, deep pile carpets and blue-washed blinds.
Behind the gallery, a Business Class ballroom, once more skirted and bulkheaded as she’ll continue to be, but yet to receive the lampshades and Speedmarque, seatbeds and carpets that will complete Club World.
And in the absence of those fittings, along the cabin’s port side, a special grab rope in case of turbulence should crew be caught when passing through.
Through another curtain and it was familar and yet new. The latest wide-backed World Traveller Plus seats, their casings bathed blue with Speedmarque screensavers. Dark navy upholstery and smart carpeting.
Still further we roamed, to equally-new World Traveller seats, with their hammock headrests, glowing screens, USB ports and RCA jacks.
Reversible remote controls for TV and audio, games and messaging, call buttons and lights; more brushed metal for the coathook trayclamp.
Then to the very tail of the bird, to an even bigger honeycomb than that at the nose. Slots and voids hungry to swallow half a day’s sustenance for two hundred or more.
Ranks of tea and coffee makers waited to welcome their stainless steel vessels.
More buttons, more switches; more knobs and more dials – a miniature flightdeck for feeding.
And did you miss it? That door? The one that would be a loo but there’s no ‘Vacant’ or ‘Occupied’ sign glowing. Look carefully: it wasn’t a cupboard. But remember too: only one per bunk.
High above the passengers, atop a tight half-turn staircase, were eight pullman berths with bedbelts and reading lights; dimmer and call-light, the latter for when the rester must return to the workplace below.
And back down there by that rearmost left hand door, Extension 15 of the onboard switchboard.
It was time to fly though, so we settled into our spaced-out places and each took a just-printed safety card, slipped from its cellophane wrap. Our operating captain took the handset of Extension 24 and delivered his welcome in person; each line of the UK Civil Aviation Authority-mandated announcement explained. We knew before that BA9176E was to be operated by British Airways. We learnt then that it’s the law to remind us.
Our cabin crew took over for the demonstration; word-perfect and live. No Lynn West. Beaming smiles. They were clearly enjoying it as much as we were, but they still had a job to do. Belts and backrests were checked. Big wheelies in the overheads? Good. Little wheelies all the way under the seats in front. Electronics away. Mugplugs out. Pointless a crew shouting Brace, Brace and Come This Way if we were all wired into The Best of The Grateful Dead.
Were the seatbacks on parade? Standing to attention to mark their first passenger flight? The GE90s spooled, each the diameter of a 737 cabin and, outside in the rain, one of those waving Future of Flight volunteers, in his Hi-Viz jacket, filmed our taxi, our roll, our full-power ascent from the Snohomish County tarmac into the evening sky.
It was bumpy. Very bumpy. We were light and we were bouncy. Seatbelt lights above us stayed on until long after we’d breached the cloudtops and we were heading higher through the jetstreams.
Buckle lights chimed off at last, and World Traveller Plus was designated the dining room. There was an ante room in the first row behind too, for the latecomers loathe to leave their windows.
It was a magical mystery tour for the crew as they liberated the Boeing catering. Pacific North West beer; Washington wines. Shrimp, salmon and crab claws; salad, and to finish: cheesecake. Who knew that there was chicken or beef too? And who wasn’t already too full to eat it?
Conversation flowed as the night wrapped itself around us; passengers swapping seats and stories, meeting those we’d not yet spoken to and learning all about them. The Aurora Borealis danced greens and blues across the Northern skies as we knelt in the First Class gallery, watching the live artshow framed by the port side windows.
The crew found mini tubs of ice cream, and we sat around the dancefloor in that Business Class ballroom, chatting to those with whom we’d still not been acquainted – talking fuel and freight, ramps and repairs, catering and customers.
When we could talk no more, the lights were dimmed in the World Traveller bedroom, armrests were lifted and Mr Sandman lulled the excited but exhausted to sleep.
But some couldn’t rest for long and the shadows of the half light brought new sights to see. The bulk of the doors with their slides smoothly-encased, curving away into a dusky cabin….
Crew service panels glowing blue in softly-lit corners.
Landing lights of seatback screens beneath a cerulean sky….
Waves of sculptured bins in the ballroom….
Unique icons where Ying and Yang will soon waltz….
And lowered eyelids in the scalloped sockets of gallery walls….
When resistance became futile, even the most awed slippedaway to dream, but as the light returned we were descending towards Wales and our day-old Boeing’s Cardiff maternity ward.
The GEs coasted as we approach the cloud tops, reflecting our vantage point alongside.
Their softly-rounded profile disguised their scale, with their pylons appearing like slender forearms to lightly grasp them.
The vortices around them invisible in the transparency of clear air….
…. and only the central swirl and the up-tick of the wing tip giving something away of the forces at play.
And those forces weren’t just at altitude, for as we apprached the runway, a crosswind would be welcoming our half-furnished ‘plane without bulk luggage or cargo; light of fuel and passengers, and with a three-storey vertical stabiliser to catch the breeze. Our flight crew requested that we all be seated in the first rows of the dining room to minimise the additional lateral forces once earthbound again.
We shimmied as we settled on the suspension stops, but the snaking was checked and with the nosewheel planted we were dead ahead for deceleration.
Breakfast time in Cardiff looked a carbon copy of the Washington weather just left.
It wasn’t just us that had returned though; so had those gargantuan GEs, now scaled against the dimensions of the real world on an airport apron.
Irene had the Red Dragon flying from her flight deck, as we parted from the newest member of the family….
….and we took one last look back over our shoulders….
….and up at the wing that had carried us….
…before we handed Irene back to her midwives at British Airways Maintenance Cardiff; to dress her up and to discharge her, fresh and ready to head home for the first time to Heathrow.
And we boarded another bus, wondering whether Boeing had indeed chucked in a free tank of fuel and six months’ tax.
Continental Club travelled as a guest of British Airways and The Boeing Company.
This article is winner of the FlyerTalk British Airways Executive Club Trip Report Of The Year 2012 Award.
by Continental Club on February 29, 2012 | Leave a comment
The Mint (nee City Inn) portfolio of hotels in the UK has recently been sold to the owners of Hilton Hotels, and already three have been rebranded as Hilton Garden Inns.
To celebrate the raising of the new flag above the doors at Glasgow City Center [sic], Birmingham Bridleyplace and Bristol City Centre, HHonors members can earn a bonus 1,000 HHonors points per night when staying for a minimum of two consecutive nights on HHonors eligible rates at those hotels.
No registration is required for this promotion and stays completed by 30 April 2012 qualify. Hilton say that the bonus points should post to your HHonors account automatically with 8 weeks of check-out – though in practice these kinds of promotions do seem to post more swiftly than the Ts&Cs allow for.
City Inns have long been well-regarded in the UK, so the change to HGI brings with it some quality additional HHonors-earning opportunities – further improved in the short term by this useful bonus offer.
To book, click here.