When can “discounted travel” wind up costing tourists money? When you’re an adult travelling to the attractions at Royal Museums Greenwich using special combined tickets on MBNA Thames Clippers.
The river bus company recently unveiled a new joint ticket for trips to the Royal Observatory, joining an existing package for the Above And Beyond Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum.
And while both are advertised as a money-saving offer on the website of Royal Museums Greenwich, travellers could, in fact, wind up paying up to £5.20 more per adult than necessary in both cases. Here’s why.
What’s the deal?
The tickets cover entry to the attractions and two trips on the Clippers anywhere within its Central and East zones (excluding some services). They can only be used after 9am and must be printed out prior to travel to show to the crew.
The prices for adult tickets are £22.50 and £21.10 respectively. That equates to the standard attraction entry price plus £13 in both cases.
At maximum whack, the most anyone can pay for a return journey from the Clippers’ Central zone to Greenwich pier and back is £16 (two paper ticket singles at £8 a pop). So that’s a saving of £3, where’s the problem?
Well there are two.
The first is that if you have a contactless bank or credit card, an Oyster card, the Clippers app or access to a computer (hardly any of us, then) you can get those journeys at a discount anyway, specifically £3 for the return from Greenwich to central London. The total price for that is exactly £13, the same as the joint package.
Even better, you can travel at any time (before 9am if you wish) and, if using one of the cards or the app, you don’t need to print anything out to do so. Just whip out your wallet at the pier.
Hardly a discount for the majority and more of a pain if you have to locate a printer.
East End woes
The second problem is the tickets are valid for journeys within the Clippers’ East zone (from Canary Wharf to Greenwich and back, for example) as well as from there to central London.
Travel in that area is cheaper in any case and joint ticket buyers will pay over the odds if they don’t venture as far in as Tower Bridge on the river network.
Single trips on paper tickets in East cost £4.20 meaning, if you purchase the joint ticket and travel only in that area, you’ll effectively be spending £4.60 more per adult on a return than necessary. Use the cheaper methods to pay and the loss rises to £5.20.
For two adults travelling to the Royal Observatory from say, Woolwich, that’s more than the price of a third ticket to the attraction.
While the claim of a discount on the Royal Museums Greenwich site is technically true, it fails to mention the specific conditions that must be adhered to for money to actually be saved and makes no suggestion that it’s possible and, in some respects easier, to pay less.
It’s worth pointing out Thames Clippers’ site makes no reference to any discount at all, advertising the fares simply as “joint ticket packages” and suggesting their use from central London.
But it isn’t prescriptive about where ticket holders must travel from to avoid spending more than the cheapest fares available.
Savings here, savings there
To confuse things further, there’s a joint ticket for the Cutty Sark which, despite also being part of Royal Museums Greenwich, offers a slightly different and marginally better deal.
Buy that one and you’ll save at least £1.35 on a return to central London. You’d still lose £3.85 on a trip to Woolwich and back, though. Maybe it gets a better deal because it involves a boat.
In any case, you’re probably better off buying the firm’s Tower Of London deal which will save you a minimum of £2.90 however you pay (although the £26.50 ticket only covers entry and a single journey so you might have to make other arrangements to escape Traitors Gate).
Clearly, the odd East Ender aside, the various Greenwich offers are intended for use by people travelling into the centre of town before heading down the Thames.
And who would suggest that there's a better way of doing that than on the Clippers? Just use your contactless card or Oyster – it won't cost you any more, might save you money and is arguably less hassle.
A statement from MBNA Thames Clippers said: "MBNA Thames Clippers’ joint tickets are designed to make it easy for visitors to London to travel to and explore, some of the city’s top attractions.
"We tailor our joint tickets to work best for those journey start and return points and to encourage travel outside of the peak commuter periods.
"All joint ticket components are in response to customer demand and are continually reviewed.
"MBNA Thames Clippers welcomes anyone using the river network to buy their tickets in the way convenient to them.
"We offer ticket purchase online, at the pier, via an app, via Oyster card or via contactless payment on credit or debit cards."
In a further response to this story Royal Museums Greenwich director of enterprises Richard Wilkinson has released a statement.
He said: “When we set up these joint tickets MBNA Thames Clippers did not accept oyster on their boats so the offer was clearer.
"For now, we will review the way we present the offer online for clarity and discuss with Thames Clippers how we might make our reciprocal offers more widely attractive in the future.
"The current joint ticket offer of Thames Clippers and Royal Museums Greenwich is targeted at encouraging domestic and international tourists visiting central London to make a trip out to Greenwich, hence the value being around the inclusion of a longer river trip."
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