If you ever find a dinner party on the Isle of Wight needs livening up, just make some vague comment about ferry fares and you will soon find everyone arguing about tunnels, bridges, the price of onboard coffee and so on.
In my view, a lot of people are paying more than they need to, and with a little bit of effort they could travel much cheaper.
Before you begin your email of complaint, take a look at this price comparison which I pulled together in 2015 with the following criteria:
My six conclusions from all that data:
So whatâ€™s the secret to getting the cheapest Isle of Wight foot passenger fares?
Do a bit of research, have a guess of how many times youâ€™ll travel over a year and then pay in advance. And if you're only travelling once and want to save some money, get the car ferry as a foot passenger and pretend it is a cruise...
Shhh...don't tell anyone.
Have you read our recent blog about getting the best car ferry price , or our guide to discount Isle of Wight ferry travel?
There are frequent stories and campaigns about Isle of Wight ferry fares, but this website likes to make much of the fact that there are also many many ways to keep the price down (see our guide to discounts for ferry travel, the beginners guide to Isle of Wight ferry travel or the new ferry guide for caravans).
One of the top tips we routinely rattle out is the importance of booking early, since the ferry companies appear to operate somewhat like a budget airline which increase the price as the ferry fills up. Early bookers get good prices, last minute travellers pay more, apparently.
We decided to put it to the test by checking ferry prices over six months for a busy crossing. We only looked at one journey, so it isn’t watertight stuff which will be published in the Lancet and peer reviewed, but it is just about interesting enough for a blog.
We looked at a visit to the Isle of Wight at October half term 2015, with crossings on Saturday lunchtimes (October 24th and 31st 2015) as close to noon as was available.
I must admit, I was expecting a greater shift in the prices over six months. Red Funnel’s increased by just £4.50 whilst Wightlink’s increased by £28.
I can’t be completely sure that the April prices were the all time low prices (new batches of Isle of Wight ferry tickets aren’t released routinely at pre-announced dates, unlike train tickets) but I was expecting a bigger range over six months.
There was much more variation in the price depending on the time of day you travelled – early morning and late evening remained at a reasonable price even a few days before travelling.
Another significant factor was whether there were any discount codes available. The best time to buy would have been before the end of September, when the price on Red Funnel was £85, which is £53 cheaper than the Wightlink peak price. Wightlink didn’t have any discount codes over that period (as far as we know) but they do have them sometimes.
Another factor to consider is that popular crossings became full near to the day, meaning that we would have had to change our plans a bit.
The question for Isle of Wight visitors is whether you should book early and avoid a possible price rise, or whether it is better to hold on for a discount code and hope the price hasn’t gone up in the meantime.
This small study suggests you’d be better to wait for a discount code to appear (we put them on our discount page), but it’s a bit of a gamble really. We don’t get advance notice of discount codes, they just appear sometimes.
It is also worth bearing in mind that there are many other discounts and deals which are available and which would have brought the price down. For example:
Don't forgot you can keep up to date with new deals on Isle of Wight via our Facebook page
As a bargain hunter I've got mixed feelings on loyalty cards.
Tesco Clubcard and Boots Advantage both seem pretty generous if you play the system (for example, swapping £10 of Tesco points for £30 or £40 of Wightlink travel), whereas Nectar seems to get less and less generous every year.
After a decade of shopping at Sainsbury's we had nearly enough Nectar Points to buy a 400g punnet of strawberries. I exaggerate only slightly.
This week Red Funnel launched its own loyalty card - My Red Funnel Rewards - which is free to anyone who fancies it. But is it any good, or another card in your wallet that you carry around everywhere and never actually use? (I tried to use my Morrisons Miles card recently, only to be told it had been discontinued many months ago).
Isle of Wight Guru's elite team of hotshot lawyers (the wife and I) have spent the last day poring over the terms and conditions and have concluded it is one of the more generous loyalty schemes around.
Pretty much every £1 you spend with Red Funnel will earn you 4 points (worth 4p) if you are a mainlander or 5 points (worth 5p) if you are a 'permanent' Isle of Wight resident (it is called My Red Funnel Rewards Plus for Islanders). Second home owners are stuck with 4p per £1 I'm afraid.
Once you've accumulated 300 points you can start spending. That means you need to spend £60 as an Islander or £75 as a mainlander, which you will probably do in one car return journey during the summer months.
You can then use your points on future Red Funnel travel or just splash out on a couple of onboard sausage rolls. So, if you spent £100 on a Red Funnel car journey you would get £4 or £5 on your card.
The points expire five years after they were added on so it wouldn't matter if you only visited the Isle of Wight every couple of years.
Red Funnel Season ticket holders and Red Funnel Travel Card users seem to get points, although they can't be spent on future season tickets and travel cards. By my calculations, an Isle of Wight season ticket holder would accumulate £124.15 worth of points from a 12 month Red Jet pass. They could spend that on a car journey or two. Leave a comment below if you think I've got that wrong, but that's how I understand it.
The loyalty card is only for bog standard travellers. It's not for freight, company accounts or for vans over 5.5m long or 2m tall.
As part of the launch, they are also doing a promotion with some extra points on offer (£20,000 worth of points are being split between everyone who signs up in August).
Based on how other loyalty card schemes I would expect them to do some other promotions along the lines of double points for travelling at 3am on a Thursday in March and so on.
The only thing that might put people off joining is that you are obliged to receive emails about the scheme (you can't opt out) but it does say they won't flog your details to third parties without permission, so it is pretty standard stuff.
So would it persuade me to choose Red Funnel over Wightlink? Personally, I would see it as a 4% or 5% discount and work out which is cheaper with that in mind.
Check out our guides to discount Isle of Wight ferry travel or our guide for beginners
One of our most popular pages is our guide to discount Isle of Wight ferry travel, but the guide is rather long now so I thought it was time for a roundup for first time holidaymakers to the Isle of Wight (I'll do a separate guide for resident Islanders another time).
The first thing to grasp is that the ferry companies (Wightlink and Red Funnel) operate their car ferries much like a budget airline or a hotel chain like Travelodge. That is, the prices go up as the ferry places fills up.
So, the earlier you book your Wightlink or Red Funnel ferry, the cheaper it will be. Similarly, if you can catch a ferry at an unpopular time then you will pay less. Saturday lunchtime in the school summer holidays is obviously more popular then 11pm on a Wednesday in January. Admittedly that’s not much help if your self catering changeover day is Saturday.
I haven’t quite worked out if Wightlink and Red Funnel release their new batches of ferry tickets routinely or not (train companies release tickets three months ahead). If anyone knows the answer, please get in touch.
The same pricing structure doesn’t really apply to Isle of Wight ferry foot passengers on Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel (Hovertravel only do foot passenger tickets). The prices fluctuate a bit based on time of day, but generally you can just turn up and pay the same in August as you will in January.
The next thing to consider is whether there are any offers or discounts on Isle of Wight ferries which you can exploit. My favourites are discount codes and promo vouchers which turn up fairly regularly (we keep these up to date on our ferries guide) and the Wightlink deal with Tesco Clubcard or for disabled blue badge holders.
There are other loopholes and deals added regularly to our ferries guide, such as Wightlink’s deal with Camping and Caravan Club Members, but I won't start listing them all here.
Another key point is that the car ferries charge per car rather than per person. It might not be practical to share transport with another family if you are staying for a week, but it is worth considering for a short break or if you are travelling for a festival (Isle of Wight Festival, Cowes Week, Bestival etc). If you are travelling alone and won't use the car much then it will be cheaper to come as a foot passenger.
If you are booking accommodation then there is sometimes a bundle deal to be had. For example, Park Resorts often give free off peak ferry travel to their four Isle of Wight caravan parks, whilst Warner Leisure Hotels and Blue Chip currently offer a discount. Some smaller independent hotels and guests houses also get special rates.
There are other tips, tricks and loopholes in our more comprehensive guide to discount Isle of Wight ferry travel.
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