LAST MINUTE MUGGIN(G)S.
Cross Channel operators put the brakes on otherwise totally flexible driving holidays.
‘Book as early as possible to get the best prices.’ There’s a hardly an article written about crossing the Channel that doesn’t feature that dull, self-evident sentence.
Cliché or not it’s painfully true as we, who specialise in un-booked trips, know too well.
Pulling up out of the blue at the Eurotunnel terminal last Sunday lunchtime we were charged £159 to cross to France. Almost as bad, coming the other way last spring on the DFDS Dunkirk-Dover boat cost £115. The £165 we paid to come back from the Hook of Holland with Stena Line in autumn 2012 was £40 more than the same crossing the next day.
It won’t be news to the ‘demand management’ budget airline generation that the closer the departure the more the ticket costs. Passengers wanting to travel have deals thrown at them left right and centre (from £59 Eurotunnel, £29 DFDS). Passengers needing to travel are at the operator’s mercy.
The deep irony is that otherwise road trips are the most flexible kind of holiday imaginable. By imposing rigid start and finish times the cross-Channel industry finds itself sucking the spontaneity out of the entire enterprise – and charging customers through the nose for the privilege of soaking up their excess capacity.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We don’t book hotels in advance either. In ten year’s travelling we have yet to identify a single instance of being ripped off, even when stood at reception past ten o’clock in the evening.
Oh well. Until someone innovates a more sophisticated successor to demand management – like Groupon-style daily special offer add ons – we all just have to put up with it. Potential customers will continue to cower at home rather than chucking their bags in the car when the sun shines because they are fearful of the carnage at check-in. That’s in nobody’s interest.
To be fair some operators are building a kind of flexibility into their standard fares. Last year P&O for instance started allowing passengers to catch the boat before or after for no charge. That’s great as far as it goes.
Otherwise, try anything to avoid buying a ticket at the port. Even those bought just a few hours in advance are cheaper than those from over the counter, in our experience (though most operators won’t sell tickets less than two hours before departure). Our fare on the DFDS Esbjerg-Harwich boat last week, bought two days in advance, was the same as it had been the week previously.