Before we get into the meat of this Solent-sandwich let's make it clear that there isn't currently a simple fixed price discount which every Isle of Wight resident receives on every vehicle crossing on the Isle of Wight ferries. You can’t just turn up at the ferry, shout a secret phrase ("alright nipper!") and help yourself to a £50 return journey without any effort or commitment.
However, with a bit of investment, faffing or forward planning then most people can make some good savings on the ferry if they're an Isle of Wight resident.
This blog post will focus on car ferry travel but there are deals for Isle of Wight foot passengers such as My Link and the Blue Card.
Anyway, let’s start with Wightlink car ferry travel.
If you’re an Isle of Wight resident or a second homeowner then you are entitled to buy a Wightlink Multilink pass.
The idea is that you buy a book of ten crossings for a car and passengers. At the time of writing, it costs £290, so a return journey is £58 regardless of when you travel or how many passengers you have. During the peak of summer that will probably save you more than £100 per crossing.
As far as I can tell, each ferry crossing has a number of spaces reserved for Multilink passes so you need to book early if you’re planning to use the ferry on a Saturday lunchtime in August. The Wightlink website says it is at least 10% of the available space on a ferry.
There are some key bits of smallprint – some of which make it more appealing and some of which make it less appealing.
The main downside is that you need to use the journeys within one year of topping up. You may conclude that since you only manage two or three return journeys with a car each year, that it’s not worth it.
But wait, dear reader!
There are a couple of bits of juicy smallprint which will make your heart race.
Firstly, you can share a Wightlink Multilink pass with someone else who lives at the same address and you don’t have to be the driver. They aren’t tied to one vehicle, so a parent could share a pass with a son or daughter who is away at university.
Secondly, if you don’t use all your journeys within one year you can carry over spare credit by topping up another five journeys. This works well if you have a year of minimal travelling followed by a year of more regular journeys.
Thirdly, if you decide you don’t need your pass anymore and it has credit left, you can apply to get 75% of the cost back. There are some bits of smallprint to abide by but it’s not too complicated and it means that you’ll stil get a good price if you only use three or four crossings and then cancel the pass.
Let’s move on to Red Funnel, which takes a completely different approach.
Their travel deals for regular car ferry travellers are available to Islanders and Mainlanders (20% off if you prepay £1000). However, they do send out something called the Red Funnel Big Book of Savings to Isle of Wight residents (71,000 homes apparently).
They are sent out five times a year and offer special deals and discounts for residents. You can use the discount codes a limited number of times (usually three times) which is why we don’t share them on this website.
The deals either offer a fixed price or a percentage discount. As you’ll see from this marketing website the deals can be pretty good – during 2020 they offered 25% off vehicle ferry crossings or Red Funnel car ferry day returns for about £40.
The upside with these deals is that they will sometimes trump the Wightlink Multilink price and there’s no commitment or upfront payment.
The downside is that they are usually designed to steer customers towards lower demand sailings, whereas the Wightlink deal potentially lets you travel any time. You can’t rely on these discounts if you’re planning a trip to the mainland long in advance.
Besides those deals from Wightlink and Red Funnel, there are also generous discounts for Isle of Wight residents who have low incomes.
To qualify, you need to either be receiving ‘Local Council Tax support’ or housing benefit. This council page announcing the scheme back in 2018 reckons there are about 14,000 eligible people.
Once you’ve applied for the scheme, you can get Red Funnel return car ferry travel for a maximum price of £51, at the time of writing. They call it the Assisted Fares Scheme. Wightlink also offer a discount under the name of the Discounted Fares Scheme although I couldn’t see prices.
There are also foot passenger discounts for people on low incomes from Red Funnel, Wightlink and Hovertravel which is somewhere around half price. Hovertravel call it the IOW Council Affordable Fares Scheme.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that there are schemes in place for Isle of Wight residents who are visiting hospitals on the mainland.
At the time of typing, you get a 50% discount with Wightlink if you're going for an NHS appointment. Red Funnel do a fixed price hospital trip deal whilst Hovertravel offer discounts to foot passengers under their Hovercare scheme.
If anyone knows of other discounts and deals which are exclusively for Isle of Wight residents, please add a comment below. We cover all the deals and offers that we know of in our ferry discounts guide.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog