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London Olympics MoneySaving

30+ tips to save during the Olympics

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Archived 24 Jul 2012

picture of medal

Don't assume you need to pay in bullion to watch athletes go for gold this summer. London is the UK's most expensive destination, yet there are scores of ways to enjoy the best of the capital without paying Olympic prices.

We've put together a guide of over 30 quick tips for medal-worthy MoneySaving in London during the Games.

Rent a spare room to beat hotel price hikes

Short-term room rental sites AirBnB and Wimdu.com offer rooms in private London homes from £8 a night.

We found a double room in an east London flatshare near Victoria Park for £22/night over the Olympics, so it's a handy trick if you're struggling to find affordable last-min digs.

Always take precautions. Check Visit London for a database of lodging companies recognised by Olympic organisers Locog. See the Rent a spare room for your holiday discussion to read others' experiences.

Homestays are unlikely to cater for large groups or families, so this mostly suits couples or those staying on their own.

Missed out on Games tix? Watch for free

BT will broadcast coverage of medal events throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games on multiple screens in Hyde Park, Victoria Park and Trafalgar Square. Turn up on the day and it's free.

Advanced booking isn't necessary, but events are subject to capacity so if set on a certain day it could be worth getting advance tickets for guaranteed entry. There's usually a £3.50 booking fee for these, but book online via this BT London Live link from The Sun newspaper to avoid this. There's a max of four per person - full info in The Sun Deals.

Free-to-watch events across London

Plus even if you missed out on tickets, you can still catch some of the world's top athletes in action this summer without a TV screen in sight.

Some Olympic and Paralympic events are free to watch, including the road cycling, triathlon, marathon and race walking competitions. Venues vary with each event, but include top locations such as Hampton Court Palace and Hyde Park.

Most routes are un-ticketed and free to watch on the day. To view the starting and finishing lines you'll need to already have advance tickets, but there are plenty of great free viewing locations en route. See the event pages on the London 2012 site for full info.

Bag 2for1 tickets to London Zoo

picture of lion cubs

London's more than just a concrete jungle, with animals from Macaroni penguins to Sand Tiger sharks also calling the city home.

London Zoo offers a great family day out but with peak summer admission prices at £23 for adults (£17 kids), here's a tip to get in for less.

National Rail offers 2for1 deals on admission to London's wildlife centres including London Aquarium, Chessington World of Adventures and London Zoo, saving up to 50% off walk-up prices.

How to get it

Buy a National Rail ticket, register and print vouchers. The key here is you need to print a voucher AND have a valid rail ticket with a London station as the final destination, for the same day. It's worth doing this even if you’re not travelling by train – a cheap single ticket is available for a couple of quid, far cheaper than the entry ticket price.

So just stop by the nearest station on the way to pick one up, then show it with your voucher to get your 2for1. Oyster cards and London Underground tickets aren't accepted, and you'll need to get it by 31 Oct. See the London Zoo deals page for more.

Free £5 credit for London minicabs (5000 available)

This is a nice little freebie that'll get you £5 free credit for a London minicab, though you'll need to be one of the first 5,000 to download a free smartphone app.

UbiCabs allows you to order and pay for minicabs in London, sending one of 2,000 Transport for London-registered drivers straight to you. It roughtly covers travel zones 1-4, as well as airports. You can pay on credit or debit card via the app at no extra charge.

How to get the free £5

There are two ways to get this deal, though you need to be a new user to get it:

  1. Download the UbiCab app for free from iTunes or Android Market Place. Sign up, and in the account section enter the code UBIMSE under "referral or voucher code". You should then see the message 'We have added 5.0 pounds to your account, which can be used to book a minicab'. Book your cab and select 'pay by account'. If your fare is more than £5, you'll need to top it up on your prepay account.
  2. Alternatively, you can use it via the web. Sign up via this Ubicab link and £5 will be added to your account.
  3. There are about 100 participating firms, with around 2,000 individual minicabs. You'll need to redeem the offer by 11.59pm Fri 31 Aug 2012.

    How to use the app

    Simply click "New booking", enter your location and the app will find you a quote. Click "continue" and enter your card details. You'll be notified as soon as a driver accepts the job and again when they’re on their way. You get details of the driver's name, profile picture and mobile number.

    At the end of the journey you pay the fare via the app on your registered card. There are no extra fees, unless you add a tip.

    You must book via the app or website to get the deal. Total fare must exceed £5 and your free credit must be used in one transaction. It can't be used with any other offer, and tips are not included. You can't use this free credit on cash payments.

Nab hidden last-min theatre discounts

There are plenty of ways to enjoy London's West End without paying prices worth making a song and dance about.

  • Search Theatre Monkey for hundreds of offers valid throughout the summer. Just scan the 'current offers' page for the show you're after.

  • If you don't mind waiting until the last minute, it's possible to get 'em half-price on the day from the Half Price TKTS Booth in Leicester Square. Tickets are allocated on a first come, first served basis.

  • Under 16s go free to selected West End plays throughout August and can take part in specially-crafted workshops before the show. Visit Kids Week for a full list of participating shows and how to book.

Ditch hotels & camp for a tenner

Cut costs and set up camp less than 10 minutes away from the Olympic Park. Book online at Camping at the Games to stay at one of 6 campsites available in and around London throughout the Olympics. Spaces cost £10 for adults and £5 for kids across all sites. See the Camping Deals page for full info.

Meanwhile Camp in London is 10 minutes from the Olympic Park on a free shuttle bus service. Kids stay for £10 a night and adults up to £25 per person. Visit the Camping virgin discussion for tips from MoneySavers (and don't forget to bring a tent!)

Bag free entry to top London museums

London is home to a host of world-class museums and best of all, most offer free entry.

picture of knight With venues dedicated to everything from banknotes and zoology to portraits and fashion, there are masses to choose from, including the Tate Modern, Science Museum and the Museum of London.

If you're looking to educate and entertain kids at the same time, the Free Museums and Galleries guide is crammed with the best venues that don't charge a penny.

Grab an Oyster Card for cheaper city travel

Whether visiting London for a day, or a whole month, using an Oyster card while you're in London is usually the cheapest way to travel on the capital's public transport services.

  • Bus: Cash singles cost £2.30, but are £1.35 with Oyster. Before taking the bus, make sure the balance is topped up as you can't add credit at bus stops like at Underground stations. You'll have to pay in cash if you want to travel, for an extra 95p a journey.

  • Underground: Cash singles for tube travel (zones 1-3) are £4.30 at any time. With an Oyster Card the same journey's £3.10 at peak times and £2.60 off-peak, saving up to £1.70. There's a £5 deposit, but this and up to £5 of any remaining balance are refundable when you're finished with the card. Oyster cards are also valid on most National Rail routes, including London Overground, and the Docklands Light Railway.

Only buy an Oyster card online if there's time for it to arrive (via first class post) before you travel. Registered post costs £4.60, so if you're leaving soon wait until you arrive in London and buy at any Underground ticket office, or from newsagents.

If buying online, opt for a standard Oyster card over a visitor card. Visitor cards only benefit those travelling from abroad as normal Oyster cards bought online aren't shipped outside the UK. What's more, visitor cards require a non-refundable £3 activation fee, but deposits on standard cards are completely refundable.

Hunt for high-tech treasure

picture of knightIf you've got a GPS device, try geocaching for a cheap way to put a smile on kids' faces. It's a great way to educate the whole family about London and have fun at the same time, searching for goodies across the capital.

This real world outdoor treasure hunt hides 'geocaches' at specific locations, essentially Tupperware boxes containing hidden toy stashes.

To get started, sign up for a free membership on the Geocaching website, then enter your postcode to find geocaches near you. Enter the co-ordinates of your chosen site on your GPS, and off you go!

After you've found one, put it back as you found it. The rules of the game state you can take an item from it if you wish. If you do, leave something of equal or greater value for the next person. Discuss your finds in the Geocaching tips forum discussion.

Eat dinner at lunch time!

Many restaurants run a set lunch menu, offering diners selected dishes at a snip of the price. If there's a fancy Michelin joint you've always wanted to try, your caviar and lobster ravioli will be vastly cheaper at lunch than at dinner.

For example, a three-course set dinner at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Claridges costs £70, but the three-course menu costs £30 at lunch - a massive £40 saving. Or if you're after something a bit less pricey, Cafe Rouge offers an evening set menu for about £11, but its lunch set menu's £9.

Don't forget your free Games Travelcard

London 2012 ticketholders get free travel on the day of their event with a Games Travelcard, a useful bonus if you're travelling in the city. The card arrives in the same package as event tickets and can be used on public transport in London zones 1-9 on the day of the ticketed event.

It can be used on buses, Tubes and most rail services, but can't be used for travel on Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick express trains, or for taxis and minicabs.

Download a free map of Tube and rail routes covered.

Try student digs for cheap summer stays

London 2012 runs throughout the student summer vacation period, making it the prime time to find cheap rooms in university halls. Check University Rooms to rent halls of residence rooms left empty during the holidays in 20 UK cities, including London. Prices range from about £18 to £151 per person a night.

You can also search for cheap uni rooms across the UK on Travelstay. We found a twin room at King's College's halls in Hampstead, north London for £38.75 a night during the Games period, compared with £119 at a nearby Premier Inn.

Book as soon as you can, as the cheapest rates are snapped up first. Try halls in universities just outside London for better availability during the Olympics. You won't get the Ritz, but many MoneySavers have been pleasantly surprised. Here's some feedback:

A US friend and I stayed in Wadham College, Oxford for a night, a couple of weeks ago. Single en suite each, with breakfast in the old Hall. £60 each well spent, wonderful room, brand new bathroom. MoneySaver GIBBSRULENO3

My son stayed at Canterbury University for one night - £45ish for single room incl breakfast. It's a bit of a walk and a steep hill from Canterbury itself, but good accommodation.MoneySaver MZFITZ

Plan ahead to avoid travel nightmares

London's public transport network can be mindboggling, so plan your city travel in advance. This can save wasting time and money because you've taken the wrong bus or travelled in the wrong direction (we've all done it!).

Transport for London recommends you leave plenty of time to get to your destination as public transport will be particularly busy at the start and end of sporting sessions. Bookmark Get Ahead of the Games to keep up with disruptions and delays in travel hotspots.

Sign up for free travel alerts and warnings of Tube and Docklands Light Railway delays at TfL. Smartphone users can check for disruptions on the go for free by taking advantage of station wi-fi services being rolled out across the Tube network.

Get bus updates on the move

Use a smartphone to track London's buses and avoid faffing with directions and paper timetables. Download the free London Bus Checker app for iPhones and Android for timetable updates and directions to the nearest stops.

Don't rule out hostels

Don't think dodgy smelly dorms - most are clean, have private rooms available and serve breakfast, so this is handy if you're after a cheap 'n' cheerful stay.

Use Hostelbookers and Hostelworld to quickly compare prices. We found a bed in a single-sex dorm with a private bathroom at an east London hostel for £24 per person, per night on 2 August.

Travel's cheaper above ground

If staying in London for a week or more, it could be worth avoiding the Tube altogether and opting for a 7-day bus pass for £18.80, compared to the cheapest Travelcard which includes the Underground and trains, which costs £29.20.

Hopping on and off the London buses gives you an authentic tour without paying overpriced rates on city bus tours, as you can see the same things for a snippet of the cost. If you already own an Oyster card, you can add bus passes at any London Underground ticket office or local newsagents around the capital.

Check if it's quicker to walk

Don't forget, the London Tube map can be extremely misleading. Walking is free and can cut down on sometimes pricey fares, especially during peak times when trains are busier and the fares are higher.

Lots of places in central London are a lot closer to walk to than the Tube map makes out. There's arguably no better way to see the city than to walk. Try walkit.com for routes to get you from A to B.

Get free tix for TV show recordings

picture of tv cameraAs most TV recording studios are based in London, audience tickets are a great day out in the capital for nowt.

You can watch TV shows, sitcoms and comedies being recorded including Big Brother, Million Pound Drop, The X Factor and many more. See Free TV Tickets for how to apply.

Halve restaurant bills with vouchers

Of course, eating in's usually the cheapest way to feed your little monsters, but if you're going for a family meal out, restaurant vouchers are a seriously easy way to save (without anyone going hungry!)

Taking 60 seconds to check online for deals at your fave eatery can instantly get you 2for1, 50% off, or even let the kids eat free. Opentable provides an easy way to search for restaurant deals across London. Check its London offers page for the latest deals.

See the Restaurant Vouchers deals page for the full compendium - bookmark it on your browser so you can quickly find it before you head out.

Stay just outside London for cheaper rates

Parts of southern Essex are within easy reach of the Olympic Village and offer rooms at cheaper rates than their more centrally located counterparts.

When we checked, the cheapest available Premier Saver Room rate at Premier Inn at Euston, central London was £199 on Thursday 2 August. Compared to £65 at Premier Inn Stansted Airport and £69 at Colchester (off the A12), it's a saving of up to £134 a night.

If you're willing to go a bit further afield, other destinations in the south east of England offer cheap rates on rooms and have great transport links into London. See the Cheap Hotels guide for a lesson in hotel booking.

Travel off-peak when possible

Wait until after 9.30am to use London's Tube and you'll avoid commuter rates. Daily Oyster card travel at peak times is capped at £10.60 (between zones 1-3). This price drops to £7.70 for off-peak travel, saving £2.90 a day.

Peak and off-peak fares on the buses are the same. Travel as early in the morning as you like and still pay the same standard fare, with a daily price cap of £4.20.

Bag top price seats to Wizard of Oz for £22

If you're off to the theatre between events, a deal lets you can bag top price seats to all Mon-Thu Wizard of Oz performances from Wed 25 Jul - Thu 23 Aug 2012 for £22.40.

The cheapest elsewhere for the same seats is £35, and they can cost up to £55, so it's a decent saving. All top-price seats are discounted, but numbers are limited per performance. For full details and how to book, see London Theatre Deals.

Get £5 coach travel on Weds

If you're travelling to London, go on Wednesdays with Megabus and you'll pay no more than a fiver (plus 50p booking fee) on all routes across England and Wales.

The National Express Cheap Fares Finder offers fares from £7.50 (plus booking fee) if you're flexible travel dates. Find the latest offers on coach travel on the Cheap Trains & Coaches deals page.

Bag 2for1 West End tickets

National Rail's 2for1 London scheme has scores of offers on West End shows. Current deals include 2for1 tickets to the musical Chicago, saving you up to £70.

The only catch is you need that day's valid train ticket. Get around this by purchasing a cheap single on any National Rail route on the day for £2-ish.

Read the Cheap tickets guide for more tips on cutting theatre ticket prices and discuss tips with other MoneySavers in the cheap theatre ticket discussion.

Explore London's parks

If the sun is shining, there's no better way to enjoy London for free than visiting one of the city's parks.

For family fun visit Golders Hill Park in Hampstead to entertain kids with free access to its resident zoo, butterfly house and play area. Or you could explore one of the capital's historic Royal Parks.

Pack a picnic

London is one of the world's greenest capitals so there's no need to leave town to eat out in the fresh air. If the weather's fine, make some serious savings and celebrate the great British summer with a picnic lunch.

Grab some cucumber sandwiches and settle yourself on the lawns of Regent's Park, the expanse of Hampstead Heath or the charmingly secluded Holland Park. See the Visit London website for some of the capital's green highlights.

Bag extra discounts on river trips

Beat the bustle and get the best view of the capital by travelling on the River Thames.

Thames Clipper

Thames Clippers runs regular services along the river in London, and these tend to be less congested than the Tube or bus networks. For about £6 you can ride from the London Eye to Greenwich, getting a free virtual sightseeing tour along the way.

Plus your free Games Travelcard offers one-third off using the 2012 Games River Bus Express and River Tour Services. Pay-as-you-go Oyster cards are valid on Clipper services with 10% off standard price single ticket journeys.

Party with the athletes

During the Games many countries will set up national hospitality houses to entertain athletes and VIPs. The good news for fans is that some of these London 2012 hospitality houses will be open to the public, hosting medal ceremonies, exhibitions, concerts and parties.

Non-Olympians can visit Africa House in Kensington Gardens and be part of the African Olympic festivities for nowt. Located next to the Albert Memorial, Africa House is open daily throughout the Olympics and gives fans the chance to sample African culture and meet national athletes for free.

Turn up to this event for free on the day. Admission to other national houses may require advance tickets, so check before you go.

Fiesta for nada

Hit the party scene without obscene prices, with a host of free London festivals throughout the summer. There are free events to suit everyone, from foodies to music-lovers, including Brixton Splash and the world-famous Notting Hill Carnival. Read the Free Festivals guide for a round-up of the best the top gigs in London this summer.

A festivalThe London 2012 Festival runs till 9 September. Many events are free and include everything from concerts and art exhibitions to Shakespeare plays and dance performances. Download the free 2012 festival guide for full listings.

Even if an event is free you may still require an advance ticket. Check the individual event page, to find out if it's ticketed or not. All 'free' event tickets are handled by Ticketmaster and an extra £3 booking and administration fee is added to each transaction.

Swap Tesco points for cheap days out

Bag up to four times the value of in-store Tesco vouchers using Clubcard rewards.

For example, Clubcard vouchers worth £8 become a one-day entry token to attractions such as Ripley's Believe It Or Not and Madame Tussauds. Read our Tesco points boosting guide for more ways to max Clubcard points' value.

Grab free tastecard trials for extra discounts

The tastecard offers exclusive 50% off and 2 for 1 deals across loads of chain and independent restaurants in London such as Thai Square, Pizza Express and Strada. Taste often offers free month-long cards; these are always included in the free weekly email.

Be warned though, restaurants can get mardy if you suddenly produce the card at the end of the meal, so always book ahead, mentioning the offer, then show the card before ordering.

Split your ticket to get the same journey for less

If you're travelling to the Games from outside London, plan your train travel urgently:

  • Split your ticket. If you're sticking with standard tickets, split ticketing is a big trick everyone should know.

    Instead of buying tickets for the whole journey, purchase tickets for its individual legs and seriously cut the cost. See the step-by-step Split Tickets guide for full details.

  • Grab Games discounts. Games Train Tickets are similarly priced to normal cheap advance fares, but are more flexible. You must be an Olympics or Paralympics ticket holder to buy them. Read the Olympic train tickets tip for full info. Plus Olympics ticketholders get free travel in London on the day of the event - see below.

  • Consider a railcard. If you're travelling with others, consider a Family Railcard. They're £28, and mean you and up to three adults get a third off tickets provided you're travelling with one to four children (they get 60% off). Spend over £78 a year on travel, even in just one summer hols trip, and you save.

  • Use Tesco vouchers. Alternatively, trade in Tesco Clubcard vouchers to get double their in-store value then use these to purchase train tickets on booking site Redspottedhanky.com. Here £10 in vouchers gets you a £20 e-voucher in rewards. Full details in the Cheap Train Tickets guide.

For a regularly updated list of super-cheap train promos, vouchers, and codes, see the Cheap Train & Coach Deals index.

Scout for film stars

Cinemas across London's West End play host to all the international movie premieres, so why not try catching a glimpse of your favourite movie stars gracing the red carpet? Visit Premierscene.net for a full list of confirmed premieres and locations.

To entertain the kids on a rainy day, or make the most of a cheap night in, the Cinema Deals page is crammed with all the latest top cinema deals.

Certain deals tend to exclude the more highly-priced central London cinemas, so be sure to check for participating screens in the terms and conditions before you go.

Two wheels are cheaper than four

Grab a bike and skip through the traffic on London's roads without the need to fork out for petrol or wait for public transport.

You don't have to be a member of the Santander Cycle Hire scheme to use the thousands of blue bikes dotted around central London. Pay with a credit or debit card at any docking station and you're free to use the bikes without signing up first. Prices start from £1 per hour (plus £1 access fee).

TfL has a handy docking station map so you can plan your journey and use of the bikes around their location and availability. Download the free cycle hire app for iPhone and Android to locate available bikes and docking spaces.

Check out the London Bicycle Tour Company's Olympic Led Rides scheme for free led bike rides to the Games. Their range of bicycle styles and sizes are better for families and those who think the Barclays bikes are too cumbersome, and you won't get lost on London's roads.

Free wi-fi in McDonald's, Wetherspoon & more

The number of places on the high street offering free wi-fi access is increasing rapidly, which is great if you need to check your emails or make bookings online while you're away from home.

Pub chains Wetherspoon and Walkabout now offer all customers unlimited wi-fi access, as do McDonald's. Coffee shop chain Coffee Republic also offers wi-fi to customers in some stores, but it's limited to 10 minutes - you'll need to pay after this.

Some of London's cultural centres such as the Barbican Centre, Camden Arts Centre, BFI and Royal Festival Hall also offer free internet access to visitors. For full details read the Free Wireless Internet guide.

Sky broadband customers can automatically connect their smartphone or iPad to wi-fi hotspots for free and unlimited usage with Sky Cloud. Locations include cafes, bars, train stations and high street chains including Pizza Express, Wetherspoons and Caffe Nero.

Under-11s travel for nowt across London

Provided they're accompanied by an adult, up to four children aged 5-10 get free unlimited travel on all the city's Tube, DLR and London Overground services.

Beware though, if your little mite looks older than 10, TfL advises getting a 5-10 Zip Oyster photocard. The card itself is free but there's a £10 administration fee.

Use a Family & Friends Railcard to get discounts on fares for kids aged 11-15. Off-Peak Day Travelcards covering zones 1-9 bought after 10am cost £2 each for up to four children travelling with a fare-paying adult.

Bag free outdoor workouts & gym passes

Forget stuffy gym sessions or fussy membership policies and take your daily fitness regime into the fresh air.

Over 50 free-of-charge outdoor gyms are installed across the capital. Check The Great Outdoor Gym Company for full details and locations.

If you don't fancy braving the weather, use free trial memberships or free taster classes across London during your stay. Read the Cheap Gyms guide for free gym deals.

Share your tips in the London Olympics forum

The London Olympics 2012 forum board is a fantastic place to share your ideas and swap tips on ways to save during the Games.

Whether you're after tips on accessing the Olympic Park, info on what food and drink to bring, or just want some ideas on what to do if your event's rained off, there's something for everyone. It's free to join, so get chatting!

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