BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions came from Freshwater Memorial Hall recently. It was an enjoyable programme with an audience booing and cheering like they were at Shanklin Theatre watching Jack and the Beanstalk in mid-December.
The most interesting moment for me was the ferries discussion, in which someone repeated the old line about the Solent being the most expensive stretch of water in the world per mile (or at least one of the most expensive).
I’ve often wondered where this line came from originally. I suspect it may be similar to the claim about the entire population of the world fitting on the Isle of Wight. We reckon that one ceased to be true in about 1981. We looked into this one in this guide.
The most relevant research I’ve found on ferry prices between different locations was done in 2016 by NatureNet, but this looked at per-km foot passenger fares. It put the Isle of Wight ferries in the mid-table.
However, a lot has changed since 2016 and I wanted to know how car ferry costs compare, since most families still bring a car with them to the Island.
Unfortunately, making a comparison isn’t as simple as you might expect.
A Fair Ferry Comparison?
Many years ago, the Isle of Wight ferries offered more car journeys at fixed prices. I don’t recall the exact details but I seem to think that at the turn of the millennium there were two or three car ferry prices depending on when you travelled.
Nowadays, the Isle of Wight ferries operate much like airlines for most car ferry journeys (with a few exceptions, such as day return special deals and Multilink). Prices go up and down with demand so you can get a much lower price at 3am on a Thursday in February than you would get on 1pm on a Saturday in August.
There are other complications, as users of the same ferry will probably be paying different amounts.
For example, if you were to book a lunchtime return from a Saturday to Saturday with Wightlink in August 2022 then you might more than £250 for a car and passengers.
However, if a local resident uses the Wightlink Multilink deal then they might pay somewhere around £60.
If a holidaymaker stayed at a local hotel or holiday park then they might pay about £120-£200 depending on the ‘trade rate’ available. We’ve seen deals with Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park which are about half the standard fare.
Other canny travellers will have used £80 of Tesco Clubcard vouchers and others will have gained a discount through English Heritage or one of the many other discount providers.
See our ferry discounts guide for the full list of offers, which also includes Red Funnel’s latest deals and an ongoing 10% discount.
Our Comparison Criteria
For our comparison, we looked at two return different journeys - one off peak and one on peak. We figured that would give a fairer comparison of costs as some ferry companies use 'flexi' pricing (e.g. Wightlink and Red Funnel) and others use a simple fixed price model (e.g. Calmac in Scotland, at least as far as I can tell)
For the peak ferry we looked at the cost of:
This produced a higher cost per mile/km than you'd get off peak, but it's when the most number of people want to travel so it is worth examining. We applied the same to other crossings so it should be comparable.
We didn’t include:
For the off peak journey we looked at
Here's our results, presented as a series of numbers and as a chart.
First, here's the peak time prices in order of price per kilometre. The Solent crossings are in bold.
And here's the same data on a bar chart. If you can't read them then you can make them a little bigger on a desktop by clicking on the image.
Next, here's the peak time figures with the Norfolk chain ferry excluded as it skews the figures a fair amount.
Next, here's the off-peak data table.
And here's the off peak data presented as a bar chart. Again, click to make it a little bigger on a desktop.
And finally, here's the graph without the Norfolk chain ferry to make it easier to see smaller differences.
A Few Conclusions and Caveats
A Few Tips For Lowering The Price Per KM With Red Funnel And Wightlink
As I've said many times on this website, you really shouldn't be paying the full price for a ferry crossing to the Isle of Wight. Our discount ferries guide has lots of suggestions for money saving:
Big thanks to Matthew Chatfield, who made this research much quicker by publishing data on different crossings for foot passengers.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog