Getting to Scotland
Generally speaking, the cheapest and quickest way to travel to Scotland from outside the UK is by air. There are good links to Edinburgh and Glasgow, with direct flights from many European cities, and direct flights from North America to Glasgow. There are also flights from a few European cities to Aberdeen and Inverness. There are no direct flights from North America to Edinburgh; these are usually routed via London or Dublin. There are also daily flights from Ireland and regular flights to most Scottish airports from other parts of the UK. There are no direct flights to Scotland from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or Japan. You will have to get a connection from London.
Those wishing to visit England as well should note that it is generally cheaper to fly to Scotland from the rest of Britain if you use an Airpass bought in your own country. This is offered by British Airways and British Midland. Airpasses are valid only with an international scheduled flight ticket.
There is a mind-boggling number of outlets for buying your plane ticket, and finding the best deal can be a confusing business. Fares will depend on the season. Ticket prices to Scotland are highest from around early June to mid-September, which is the tourist high season. Fares drop in the months either side of the peak season – mid-September to early November and mid-April to early June. They are cheapest in the low season, from November to April, when very few visitors are willing to brave the Scottish winter. The exception is during Christmas and New Year when seats are at a premium and prices rise sharply. It’s also worth noting that flying at the weekend is normally more expensive.
It is always worth spending a bit of time researching the various options available and starting early, as some of the cheapest tickets have to be bought months in advance and the most popular flights sell out quickly. One of the best ways of finding a good deal is to use the internet. There are a number of sites where you can check out prices and even book tickets. You can search in the travel sections of your web browser or try the sites of the discount travel companies and agents listed in this section.
Cheap flight tickets fall into two categories: official and unofficial. Official tickets are called budget fares, Apex, super-Apex, advance-purchase tickets, or whatever a particular airline chooses to call them. Unofficial tickets are discounted tickets which are released by airlines through selected travel agents. They are not sold directly by airlines. Discounted tickets are usually as low or lower than the official budget-price tickets.
Return tickets are usually a lot cheaper than buying two one-way tickets. Round-the-World (RTW) tickets can also be a real bargain, and may even work out cheaper than a return fare. RTW prices start at around £900 (US$1,500), depending on the season. Note that it’s easy to include London on a Round-the-World itinerary, but a stop in Scotland may be harder to arrange and may involve backtracking. It may be cheaper and easier to buy the London to Scotland leg separately or to travel overland to Scotland from London.
When trying to find the best deal, make sure you check the route, the duration of the journey, stopovers allowed, any travel restrictions such as minimum and maximum periods away, and cancellation penalties. Many of the cheapest flights are sold by small agencies, most of whom are honest and reliable, but there may be some risks involved with buying tickets at rock-bottom prices. You should avoid paying too much money in advance, and you could check with the airline directly to make sure you have a reservation. You may be safer choosing a better-known travel agent, such as STA, which has offices worldwide, or Trailfinders in the UK, or Council Travel in the USA. These and other reputable discount companies and agents are listed above.
Flights from Britain, Ireland & Europe
There are direct flights to Scotland’s three main airports – Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen – almost hourly from London Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports. There are also daily flights from provincial UK airports and from Dublin. To fly on to the smaller airports, you'll need to change planes. The cheapest flights leave from London Luton or Stansted, plus a few provincial airports, with Ryanair, easyJet and Go. If you book on-line, fares can be as little as £5 one-way during promotions, but usually you can expect to fly for under £50 return. These tickets are often subject to rigid restrictions, but the savings can make the extra effort worthwhile.
Cheaper tickets usually have to be bought at least a week in advance, apply to only a few midweek flights, and must include a Saturday night stayover. They are also non-refundable, or only partly refundable, and non-transferable. A standard flexible and refundable fare from London to Glasgow or Edinburgh will cost at least £150-200 return.
Specialist agencies such as Usit Campus or STA (see above) offer Domestic Air Passes on British Airways flights to travellers under 26 years old. These give you substantial discounts on ‘Hopper’ flights to Inverness and the Hebrides.
There are direct flights to Edinburgh and Glasgow from Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Madrid, Paris and Zurich. Also to Glasgow from Gothenberg and Edinburgh from Zurich. There are also direct flights to Aberdeen from Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stavangar, and to Inverness from Amsterdam and Zurich. Discount charter flights are often available to young travellers aged under 26 and holders of ISIC cards through the large student travel agencies listed above. The London listings magazine Time Out is a good place to look for cheap fares, as well as free magazines such as TNT which you can find outside train and tube stations in London.
Flights from North America
There are direct flights to Glasgow from New York (Newark Continental, Chicago (American Airlines) and Toronto (Air Canada). There are also flights from many other US and Canadian cities via London with the Transatlantic carriers listed on page 32. Icelandair flies to Glasgow via Reykjavik from Boston, Halifax, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando and Washington. Northwest Airlines flies via Amsterdam to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen from Detroit, Memphis and Minneapolis, with onward flights operated by KLM UK<. Because of the much larger number of flights to London, it is generally cheaper to fly there first and get an onward flight (see above for the best deals).
For low season Apex fares expect to pay around US$400-600 from New York and other East Coast cities, and around US$500-700 from the West Coast. Prices rise to around US$700-900 from New York, and up to US$1,000 from the West Coast in the summer months. Low season Apex fares from Toronto and Montreal cost around CAN$600-700, and from Vancouver around CAN$800-900, rising to $750-950 and $950-1150 respectively during the summer.
Flights from Australia & New Zealand
There are no direct flights to Scotland from Australia or New Zealand. You will have to get an onward flight from London. The cheapest scheduled flights to London are via Asia with Gulf Air or Thai Airways. They charge A$1300-1500 in season and up to A$1800 in high season, and involve a transfer en route. Flights via Africa start at around $2000 and are yet more expensive via North America. Flights to and from Perth via Africa or Asia are a few hundred dollars cheaper. The cheapest deal currently on offer is with Britannia Airways Airtours’ charter flights from Australia or New Zealand to London Gatwick or Manchester via Singapore and Bahrain. It’s a ‘no-frills’ service which only runs between November and March. Fares start at around $1100 in low season and up to $1750 in high season. For more details contact the UK Flight Shop(see above).
The cheapest scheduled flights from New Zealand are with Korean Air, Thai Airways or JAL, all of whom fly via their home cities for around NZ$2000-2300. The most direct route is via North America with United Airlines, via Chicago or Los Angeles. Fares range from around NZ$2800 in low season to NZ$3200 in high season. Britannia Airways’ charter flights from Auckland cost from around NZ$1600 in low season to NZ$2100 in high season.
A Round-the-World (RTW) ticket may work out just as cheap as a return ticket. Good deals are offered by Qantas/British Airways. As with North America, it may be cheaper to buy the London to Scotland leg of the trip separately.
For all UK airports, visit http://www.baa.co.uk
Glasgow, Tel: 0141-8871111. Terminal facilities include car hire, bank ATMs, currency exchange, left luggage, tourist information, Tel: 8484440, and shops, restaurants and bars. There’s also a Travel Centre, Tel: 8484330, in the UK Arrivals concourse (open daily 0800-2200 in summer and till 1800 in winter), and a Thomas Cook Hotel & Travel Reservations desk in the International Arrivals concourse, Tel: 8877220.
Edinburgh, Tel: 0131-3331000. Edinburgh airport has all facilities, including a tourist information desk, currency exchange, ATMs, restaurants and bars (first floor) and shops (ground floor and first floor). For car hire, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and National car hire desks are located in the terminal in the main UK arrivals area.
Scotland’s other main airports are Aberdeen, Tel: 01224-722331, Inverness, Tel: 01463-232471, Prestwick, Tel: 01292-511006, Dundee, Tel: 01382-643242, and Wick, Tel: 01955-602215.
All air tickets are subject to a passenger service charge and airport tax. For economy fare flights within the UK and from EU countries the tax is £5. For all other flights it is £20. Taxes on first-or club-class flights are £10 for UK and EU and £40 for other destinations. The service charge varies from one airport to another.