Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

More pints for your pound

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Imagine buying a pint of IPA in an English pub for 99p. That's only $2.60. Incredible. That's a lot less than I paid for a pint of Waikato at the Mangakino Hotel a couple of weeks ago. And it's half the price you'd pay in most central Auckland pubs.

When I was last in Britain, about three years ago, the very cheapest pint I found was £1.65 (around $4.30), most were over £2 and one costly mug of ale was £3. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, as John Heywood wrote in 1546.

The global downturn may be making travel more expensive to many parts of the world, but it's also producing some great deals. And one of the best places to enjoy these bargains is Britain, partly because the pound is one of the few currencies the Kiwi is holding its own against, but also because the British economy is in such bad shape that firms are desperate for customers.

As you might gather, I'm particularly excited about the offer from the Wetherspoons nationwide chain of pubs of a pint of IPA or a range of bottled beers for less than a quid. But you can also get that quintessential British feed, a curry and a drink, or a burger, chips and a drink, for around $12.

Or, if you want something a bit fancier, the downfall of the financial masterminds and their fat expense accounts means even the lofty Michelin-starred restaurants are offering special deals.

At L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London, for instance, you can get a two-course set menu lunch for under $50.

That mightn't seem particularly cheap but last year my wife and I spent, oooh, about 10 times that on a 40th wedding anniversary lunch - admittedly for more than two courses - at its Paris sister restaurant.

Dinner is still fairly pricey but Visit Britain, which is generously promoting these bargains to foreigners, says if you're willing to opt for pre-theatre dining - usually 5.30-7pm - there are some great deals to be had.

At St Alban you can enjoy two courses for $40. And Arbutus, another Michelin-starred restaurant, is offering three courses for only $45.

Most of these restaurants have their own websites or you can check out toptable.co.uk which has more than a thousand special offers running.

Of course it isn't necessary to actually go to the theatre to take advantage of pre-theatre dining but it's worth checking out the ticket booth in London's Leicester Square where you can often get reduced or even half-price tickets to top shows at the last minute.

And if you can't even afford that, Visit Britain points out there's a lot of stuff you can do for nothing.

Indeed, there's even a special web listing of free stuff.

You can't ask for better than that.

- Jim Eagles

Pictured above: The Kiwi dollar is holding its own against the British pound, meaning the price of a pint is now pleasantly affordable in many of Britain's pubs. Photo / Jim Eagles

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