Get to the London Olympics for Less Than $2K
The 2012 London Olympic Games are quickly approaching, and for those of you considering taking that hop across the pond, time is running out. Flight costs are steadily rising and available hotel rooms are dwindling. According to the New York Times, airfare between July 27 and August 12 (the dates of the games) is 13 percent higher than it was for the same weeks last year. But don't let that deter you from supporting Team USA over in foggy Londontown. While it won't necessarily be cheap (we're setting the budget at $2,000), there are ways to immerse yourself in the Olympics without bidding adieu to your life savings. These crucial tips will allow you to hold onto your cash without forcing you to skimp on experience.
Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, says travelers are often wary of package deals because they assume they're too good to be true. But that's not the case: International airlines often agree to steeply discounted rates for those willing to book their hotel and flight at the same time. Bason claims that travelers who take this approach often save as much as 60 percent on the two most expensive aspects of travel. Currently, Hotwire's Vacation Planner shows package deals for the first week in August starting at $1,400. While all you bargain hunters out there probably just felt the onset of a panic attack, bear in mind that this price includes round-trip airfare, eight nights in a hotel, and all taxes and fees. Plus, you'd still be roughly $600 under your $2K budget.
If package deals aren't your style, you can save major mulah by flying into a less-busy European city and making your way to London from there. While this may sound like a very round-about approach, here's something to consider: Between late July and mid-August, Hotwire estimates that round-trip flights from the United States to London will cost sports fans around $1,275. Meanwhile, a round-trip flight from the States to Madrid will cost roughly $1,184 during the same period, and airfare to Berlin is expected to average around $1,151. Once you've made it across the Atlantic, finding transport to London is fairly easy. Discount airlines like Ryanair and easyJet offer daily flights to London for shockingly low prices (for example, a round-trip flight on Ryanair from Berlin to London in August will cost roughly $60). Europe is also known for its extensive rail services that can also serve you well.
Although London has welcomed roughly 2,300 new hotel rooms in preparation for the games (upping the city's room count to 100,000), prices are still considerably high compared to last year. Even bare-bones properties are charging an arm and a leg this summer. To save yourself some extra dough, forego the hotel altogether and reserve a rental apartment instead. Many Londoners who are skipping town to avoid the onslaught of visitors are padding their own travel budgets by renting out their apartments. Websites like Airbnb help connect travelers with homeowners in London, and for the first week in August, it lists private room and apartment rentals starting at $70 per night (much less than a hotel room). Plus, having access to a kitchen will allow you to save money on food as you won't have to dine out.
While prices are high for hotels in London proper, you can nab some desirable rates if you're willing to leave the city behind come nightfall. Hotels in towns such as Oxford, Cambridge, or Brighton are not experiencing the drastic tourist influx, meaning it's still possible to find an affordable room. You can even find reasonable rates at hotels near Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Yes, you will have to commute back into London, but England's train system is efficient and budget-friendly. Should you decide to opt for a room in a nearby town, you can reach Euston or King's Cross train station (both in downtown London) in an hour or so, and one-way tickets average around £25 GBP (roughly $40 USD).
It is still possible to get tickets for Olympic events, but because each participating country is only allotted a certain number of seats, prices are high (ranging from $31 to $1,117, depending on the event). But you can skip the ticket-buying process (and the headache that comes with it) by showing your support for U.S. Olympians at one of the free competitions taking place around town. For example, you can line up along The Mall (the walkway extending from Charing Cross to the front gate of Buckingham Palace) to cheer on the participants of the road cycling races taking place July 29 through August 1 and the marathons on August 5 and 12. You also won't have to pay to watch the Olympic sailing competitions (taking place between July 29 and August 11) in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour, both along England's southern coast. To learn more about upcoming Olympic events, visit the official London 2012 website.
You don't need to splurge on tickets to watch your favorite events in true London fashion. Rather, head to one of the UK's Live Sites, where massive screens project Olympic competitions in real time. For the 2012 Summer Olympics, Live Sites are being erected in more than 20 communities. There will be five Live Site locations in London alone, with screens occupying real estate in easy-to-reach areas like Hyde Park. To learn more, visit the London 2012 website's Live Site page. For a more intimate setting, just snag a stool at any London pub. Nothing says "authentic London" quite like a pint of English ale, a community of regulars, and an international sporting competition.