Buy Now or Wait for Olympic Bargains?

If anyone believes airfares can be forecasted accurately more than a year in advance, I have some great bridges I'd sell him or her. Overall, the long-term trend in airfares is upward, as the world's major airlines do a better job of matching seats to demand than they've done in the past. And, at least so far, no transatlantic low-fare lines have emerged to challenge the quasi-monopoly of the giant lines from North America to London. Airlines don't post fares this far in advance, so you can't tell anything yet. And the onerous British "air passenger duty" will continue to make London an unusually expensive ticket.

But the 800-pound gorilla in the airfare room is the price of oil. If oil remains at current levels, you can expect higher airfares in 2012, but an easing of oil prices will certainly ease airfare pressures.

Local transportation

London has spent a lot of time and money in beefing up transport services in and around the primary Olympic site on London's East Side. Expansions and improvements include the Docklands Light Railway to Stratford International, upgraded rail stops at Stratford and adjacent Stratford International to accommodate both conventional and high-speed trains, and expanded underground stations and platforms. Special high-speed trains will make the trip from St Pancras Station to Stratford International in seven minutes.

Although the Olympic Park will host a majority of events, others will occur as far away as Greenwich to the east, and Wembley and Wimbledon to the west. As far as I can tell, all venues enjoy good public transport.

Apparently, British ticket buyers will automatically receive a "Games Travel Card" providing for transport between the primary Game venues and all nine London transport zones. Presumably, foreign visitors will be able to buy similar cards.

What to do?

At this point, I can provide only a few general suggestions for prospective visitors:

Keep following developments.

  • If you prefer to lock in your experience, buy in early – register for Games tickets, accommodations, or packages immediately – and be prepared to be fleeced.
  • If you're willing to gamble, you may find some "sale" prices on tickets, accommodations, and packages as opening day approaches. But waiting runs the risk of paying top dollar. Don't adopt a waiting strategy unless you're willing to miss out entirely on the Games.
  • No matter what, if you don't want to get involved with the Olympics, stay clear of London entirely. Visiting during that time – and probably several weeks or so before and after – is an open invitation for a royal fleecing.

Get fleeced or risk not going – not an attractive choice. But nobody said life was fair.

Ed Perkins is a SmarterTravel contributing editor and a respected commentator on all aspects of the travel industry, including passenger comfort and rights, travel insurance, the best credit cards for travelers, and car rental. This article originally appeared on SmarterTravel.

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