I’ve recently spent many happy hours updating our price comparisons.
That may sound as interesting as your Grandmother’s pressed flower collection, but luckily I find there’s much fascination in seeing how prices for holiday accommodation and ferries varies wildly depending on when you want to travel.
My feeling is that back in the day, fares and ticket prices didn’t fluctuate so wildly. Train fares were simpler, most B&Bs had one or two rates and the Isle of Wight ferries only had modest variations in their pricing (feel free to comment below if you disagree).
Accommodation prices certainly went up during school holidays but the algorithms are now in charge and are trying to persuade us to visit off peak.
The result is double-edged.
On the one hand, there are absolute bargains to be had – and no-one ever complains about those. Take a look at the price of a bundled hotel and ferry deal in the middle of winter for some examples.
On the other hand, you get occasional quirks in the algorithms which are enough to make your eyes water.
For example, whilst updating our guide to cheap ferry travel for caravan owners we found this Wightlink return fare for £485.
For comparison, the peak Red Funnel fare was £355.
Rather than huffing, puffing and complaining at something a computer spewed out, I felt it might be more useful to offer 8 ways that you can avoid fares like this.
1. Get an accommodation and ferry bundle
Counter-intuitively, going direct to the ferry companies is rarely the cheapest option for a caravan holiday. Many of the Isle of Wight’s camping and touring parks have trade rates agreed with Red Funnel and Wightlink which they pass on to you.
For example, last year we did a price comparison and found that Away Resorts would charge me £149 to take a caravan on the ferry to stay at Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park whilst Wightlink were charging £271 if I got it from them direct.
We’ve got a guide to the camping and touring parks on the Isle of Wight if you’re deciding where to stay.
2. Travel when everyone else is asleep
The computers which decide how much to charge you are very keen to fill up the mostly-empty ferries in the middle of the night.
Admittedly, it’s not a very practical option for a family with young children but the saving can be massive during the school holidays.
In our price comparison, travelling in the middle of day in August 2020 with a caravan cost £344 with Wightlink whilst travelling in the middle of the night was £149 – nearly £200 difference.
Of course, the challenge is what you’re supposed to do when you arrive on the Isle of Wight at 4am. Perhaps watch the sun rise at the beach?
3. Join the Camping and Caravanning Club
Wightlink offer a 20% discount to Camping and Caravanning Club Members. When I checked, membership is £40 but in our price comparison we found it often pays for itself with one booking. You need to book through this link once you’ve got your membership.
There are also discounts for motorhomes with the same membership.
4. Wait for a discount code
This one’s a bit of a gamble.
Generally, the ferry companies advise to book early to get the best prices (you'll see offers such as 'book 2020 at 2019 prices'). Their pricing systems put the prices up as the ferry fills up, much like a budget airline.
However, discount codes sometimes turn up for both Red Funnel and Wightlink which can lower the price considerably.
You can get 10% off Red Funnel with our booking widget, but Red Funnel discount codes of 20% or 25% have become more regular in the last couple of years. The best discount I ever saw was around Black Friday a couple of years ago when it was 50% off, although I think that was a car only deal and only certain dates.
Shareable Wightlink car ferry codes haven’t been quite so regular of late, but they have started giving out decent discounts via their MyLink loyalty scheme which is free to join.
A note of caution though before you get too excited – some of the discount codes are just for cars so won’t give you a discount with a caravan.
5. Decide whether you need the upgrades
Our £485 fare was for a ‘standard’ Wightlink fare rather than the ‘economy’ fare which would have been £29 cheaper. The main difference is to do with the cancellation policy – you can’t get your money back with the ‘economy’ option, but you can make amendments for free online.
6. Buy a smaller caravan
Ahem, I’ll admit this advice is as much use an inflatable dartboard if you already own a caravan.
I thought I’d mention this for anyone who is about to buy a caravan for regular Isle of Wight holidays. The price creeps up for every extra few centimetres, so it might be a factor worth considering.
For example, we found that an August 2020 Saturday return crossing with Red Funnel was £285 for a 5.5 metre long caravan or £325 for a 6.5 metre long caravan (£40 extra).
7. Use Tesco Clubcard vouchers
One of the best discounts available is the deal Wightlink has with Tesco Clubcard, which can be used with caravan bookings (last time I checked, October 2019).
Every £2.50 in Clubcard vouchers is worth £7.50 in ferry travel, so (for those who don't do maths) £50 in vouchers would be worth £150 in ferry travel.
8. Check fares with Wightlink and Red Funnel
Despite that £485 fare shown above, it isn't fair to say that either Red Funnel or Wightlink is always cheaper for caravan journeys to the Isle of Wight.
In our price comparison, Red Funnel was £60 cheaper during the day for a return crossing in August 2020 whilst Wightlink was a whooping £90 cheaper for a night time crossing on the same day.
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