Fact checked: Football fan flies to Wembley via Menorca as it’s cheaper than train

·5 min read
A Ryanair Boeing 737-400  (Getty)
A Ryanair Boeing 737-400 (Getty)

A Sunderland football fan is travelling to London via ­Menorca to watch a match at Wembley, as it’s cheaper to fly on a budget airline than getting a train or bus, reports The Sun this week.

James Jelly, a 33-year-old purchasing manager, says he is travelling to the capital for Sunderland’s League One play-off against Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley Stadium this Saturday.

He claims a £12.50 air fare with Ryanair is the cheapest option, with trains to London running into the hundreds of pounds.

But is it really cheaper to fly this route via Europe? The Independent fact-checked the story.

Can you really fly from Newcastle to Menorca for £12.50, and on to London Stansted for £10.50?

You can do better than that: Mr Jelly overpaid for his flights. The Thursday 19 May flight from the Tyneside airport is currently priced at £9.99 for the first leg, and €9.99 (£8.55) for the onward departure on Friday from the Spanish island to London Stansted – a total of £18.54.

How much more expensive is a train or bus?

Buses seem to have been forgotten in Mr Jelly’s calculations. Megabus is significantly cheaper than a budget flight.

The most expensive daytime journey from Sunderland to Victoria Coach Station on Mr Jelly’s day of departure, Thursday 19 May, is £15.96, including booking fee. On Friday 20 May, the fare falls to £15.48.

Does the train really cost £260 return?

“One lad I know paid £260 for a return to London on the train,” Mr Jelly told The Sun.

It is unclear where that figure came from. How much you pay for a train from Sunderland to London depends on how much flexibility you want on when you travel - with the upper end (the most flexible) certainly in the hundreds of pounds.

A direct one-way train from Sunderland to London King’s Cross with Grand Central on Thursday is currently priced at £44.50, and on Friday £50.50. Similar fares are available for journeys home after the match, amounting to around £90-100 return. However, a standard Anytime return from Sunderland to London, with maximum flexibility, costs £344. Off-peak returns, also offering flexibility within certain hours, cost £125 on Grand Central only and £158 on any operator.

Cheaper fares are available to London from Newcastle Station - a 40-minute drive from Sunderland - with budget operator Lumo, typically costing £30-£40 each way.

So the plane beats the train, anyway?

Time to consider the extras. Mr Jelly has to travel to Newcastle Airport. On the Tyne & Wear Metro, the fare from Sunderland is £3.90.

“A good Samaritan has offered him a lift from Stansted to London, where he will stay on Friday night with a relative,” reports The Sun. Mr Jelly therefore avoids the £20.70 Stansted Express rail fare.

His mysterious benefactor will need to contend with Stansted’s tricky and potentially expensive pick-up and drop-off arrangements, and possibly the central London congestion charge, too.

It is not clear who will be paying for fuel for what is presumably a round-trip for the Samaritan; the cost is likely to be a minimum of £15.

“British Airways wanted £161.99 for a direct flight”

This is a puzzling assertion. BA is cancelling a significant number of flights from Newcastle to London Heathrow, which is pushing up fares. But it is not clear to what the very precise £161.99 claim refers.

On Thursday the lowest one-way BA fare between Newcastle and London is £80.73. This includes 46kg of cabin baggage.

What will Ryanair’s baggage fee add to the cost?

Mr Jelly told The Sun: “I can’t wait for it now I’ve booked it. I’m going to pack my shorts and make a little holiday out of it.”

He will be hard pressed to carry much more, since Ryanair’s cheapest fares only include one small piece of hand luggage that fits beneath the seat in front.

Added luggage costs between £12.99 to £59.99 depending on size.

What about the £28 Menorca airport hostel between flights?

The Sun reports that Mr Jelly will stay overnight in a Menorca hostel, close to the airport, spending £28. The only possible candidate close to the airport terminal is the Hotel Rural Biniati, which is charging over £100 on Thursday night.

The Hostel & Gym Relise in Sant Lluis, a three-mile walk from the airport, is available for £24 for a bunk in an 18-bed dormitory on the same night.

Any other travel admin required?

Mr Jelly will need to provide proof of vaccination (a first course completed less than 270 days ago, or a booster) or recent recovery from Covid-19 to the Spanish authorities in order to enter Menorca overnight. This is not required for direct travel between Sunderland and London.

So are budget flights really cheaper than cross-country trains?

Only if you look for the extreme fares on either end. It is easy to find examples where a pair of cheap flights at off-peak times (such as in mid-May) might work out cheaper than an on-the-day or Anytime train fare between two UK destinations.

For example, you could buy a Ryanair flight from London Stansted to Bordeaux tomorrow for £9.99, and another on Wednesday from the French city to Manchester for €12.99 (£11). So I can theoretically travel by plane from London to Manchester for under £21 via France, compared with £185 on the direct train.

But as with this case, that fails to compare like with like: on-the-day air fares are often extremely high, and the cost of getting to and from the airport are glossed over, as well as accommodation during your connection. More importantly, few would opt to pay £185 for a London-Manchester train when many more affordable options are available.