pile of suitcases

Ferne Arfin  8 September 2018

Cut travel hassles with a few travel treats

When it comes to clichés, “getting there is half the fun” is probably one of the classic porkies* of the modern travel industry. Indulging in some luxury travel services at the start of your trip may not make getting there half the fun but it could make it less of an ordeal.

Imagine, if you will, the start of a typical long distance vacation or holiday trip:

  • You choose a flight that departs at a relaxed, reasonable hour but getting there early enough to check your bags and clear security means you have to travel during the rush hour, or before the sun comes up, or before the trains start running, or even the day before you’re scheduled to fly.
  • To save money, you decide to take public transportation but you have lots of luggage and there’s no elevator or lift at your nearest station. You end up schlepping your bags up and down flights of steps at both ends of the ride and arrive at the airport with a sprained wrist and broken fingernails.
  • You decide to drive yourself to the airport and pay for parking. You leave at a reasonable time but then hit traffic on the way. When you get to the airport, the long term parking is miles and miles from your terminal. After you find a spot, you have to wait for the airport shuttle bus which then stops at every single terminal before it arrives at yours. And the driver isn’t allowed to help you get your bags on board. You arrive at your terminal with minutes to check in and dash to your gate.

Any of this beginning to sound familiar? Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve run through airports just making it on time or occasionally even missing a flight. I’ve broken nails, heels, luggage handles, backpack straps; I’ve torn tights and regularly arrived at the departure gate exhausted, disheveled and just plain pissed off. Now add a partner and a couple of excited kids to this mix and you’ve got a recipe for a migraine and a really lousy start to your holiday.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Hey, it’s your vacation, remember?

If you are flying to your destination for pleasure (rather than business, routine travel, family occasions or emergencies) you’re probably already planning to spend hundreds, if not thousands, per person on air fare, accommodations, meals, attractions, local shopping. So why wreck the first day or two of your getaway just recovering from the ordeal of travel?

I have a better idea.

As soon as you start planning and saving for your trip, why not set aside a contingency fund – let’s call it a treat slush fund of perhaps 5 or 10% of the cost per person of your trip – for a few luxury travel services to smooth the way. So, for example, on a holiday costing £1,000, build an extra £50 or £100 into the budget. Here are some of the things that little bit extra can buy:

All these services are London-based but they should give you an idea of what’s available and inspire you to check out your local area for travel service treats you can indulge in.

Taxis

You can expect to pay from about £48 to as much as £90 for a normal  London black cab, depending upon traffic and time of day. (Gasp! But still within our proposed treat slush fund of £50 to £100 per person). 

YourTaximeter.com  offers real time estimates of the fare between any UK address and any UK airport. On a Friday at rush hour, estimated fares were £46 for a west London address and £57 for a central address.

Airport Taxi Service  is bookable in advance, online. The company organises airport transfers to and from all commercial airports in the UK, including Northern Ireland. Enter the start and end points of your trip on their journey planner and get a real time estimate of cost. They quoted a very competitive £33 from Heathrow and a surprisingly affordable £54 to Gatwick Airport for up to three passengers and three suitcases in a standard car.

Addison Lee, is a bookable private taxi company I use regularly. Their prices are similar to London black cabs but, with their app, you can track the arrival of your taxi, receive text messages as it approaches or telephone your driver direct. They quote you a fixed price you pre-pay with a credit or debit card so that even if you get caught up in London traffic, there are no cost surprises.

Valet Parking

Most major airports do have long term parking connected to terminals by shuttle bus. The price is usually comparable to the round trip cost of a taxi. But you do have to allow extra time for the shuttle bus transfer. On your return, after a long flight, you might have to wait some time for the shuttle bus to take you back to your car. And, at a large airport like Heathrow, you have to factor in the time taken by the shuttle bus to visit one terminal after another until it gets to yours.

Book valet parking and you can pretend you’re a movie star, arriving at the airport last minute, driving right up to the terminal, tossing your keys to an attendent and taking off. Recently, I was invited to sample the services of I Love Meet and Greet, a company that organises valet parking at three London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted) as well as Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

The experience was seamless. After booking online, I drove to the valet parking area near the lifts in the short term car park at Terminal 3, checked my car in with the valet – who loaded my luggage into a free airport trolley and I was on my way to the departure lounge in minutes. The process in reverse was equally painless. After landing, once I cleared Immigration and Customs, I rang the “valet” with my booking number and by the time I’d taken the short ride in the lift down to the valet parking area, my car was waiting for me along with a stamped ticket for the car park gates.

While it did cost about 50% more than just parking the car myself, it saved a lot of time and hassle; it was well within the treat slush fund and for a few minutes I felt like a millionaire.

Baggage transfers

The most economical and probably environmentally-responsible way to travel to the airport is by public transportation but managing more than one suitcase on a crowded train or bus, including humping bags up and down long flights of station stairs, is no fun. You can dispense with all that with a baggage handling service. Some are remarkably convenient and affordable.

AirPortr   serves passengers travelling to or from Heathrow or Gatwick from anywhere in London or the Home Counties. The service collects or delivers luggage, baby buggies and car seats between the airport and your home or hotel. When I was offered the chance of sampling the service for free in 2016, it was brand new and just getting off the ground. My luggage was picked up at home and taken to an AirPortr desk at the airport. From there, I was supposed to collect my bags, check them in and take them through airport security myself. It was lovely traveling to Heathrow by Tube empty handed, carefree and fancy free. But back then, the new service was not well known by airport staff and I had some difficulty finding the AirPortr desk at the airport.

Two years on and they’ve made it much easier by entering into partnership agreements with several airlines so that the AirPortr driver who collects your bag from your home or hotel actually seals it, checks it in then and there and delivers it to your airline. The next time you see it will be at baggage claim at your destination. British Airways, American Airlines, easyJet and Finnair all participate. And, as of December 2018, they’ve added Virgin Atlantic to their service. So, going forward, you’ll be able to check you bags from home for all Virgin Atlantic Flights from London Heathrow and Gatwick.  The cost is £40 for four bags from a central London address within a three-hour pick up window or £30 for one bag with a one-hour pick up slot.

Sleepovers

Nothing gets my day started as badly as having to arrive at an airport at 3:30 a.m. for a 5:45 a.m. departure. If it’s Gatwick, the usual culprit for these dreaded early morning flights, that means I have to leave home at least two hours earlier, even before the trains are running. If it’s your holiday you’re heading for, don’t fight it – just book an overnight at an airport hotel. It may not be as expensive as you think and it can even be fun.

YotelAir operates moderately priced “pod” hotels at both Heathrow and Gatwick. The pods, located right inside the airport terminals, can sleep from one to three people at a cost of about £72 for one to £120 for three (if booked well in advance). The pods are ergonomically designed and are surprisingly comfortable for such small spaces. I’ve sampled a one person pod. The bed is about the size of the bunk in the sleeper compartment of a train but more comfortable. There’s a tiny bathroom with a “monsoon” shower, a fold-down table and chair and a “technowall” with television and plenty of plugs for charging devices. There’s also 24/7 service in an area called “Mission Control” that has free touch screen wifi for checking emails and an in room phone for ordering food or other necessities such as an alarm clock. There’s not much room for luggage but  if you arrive the night before,  many airlines will allow you to check your bags right away.

  • Porkies – This is London slang for lies. It derives from Cockney rhyming slang where a pork pie is a lie and porkies = lies.

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