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:
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