Lately I’ve gotten a version of this question quite a bit: How much does watching soccer in England cost? I thought I’d take a shot at answering it here.
(Note: This post has been updated for the 2017-18 season)
I have been to more than 50 games at more than 40 clubs in England, so I would like to think I have learned a bit about it. Much of that knowledge is here on my website:
For now, let’s talk about the cost. And let’s also admit right off the bat that we all spend money differently; I am a three-star hotel, maybe AirBnB guy, but some folks stay at the Grand Sheraton in Covent Garden. I strictly use public transit, even buses; some people rent cars and use taxis. Still, here’s a shot at answering the question: What does it cost to watch soccer games in England?
Years ago I started reading this blog called The Art of Non-Conformity, where I learned about the Travel Hacking Cartel and then The Points Guy, and I started working the credit card bonus game. This is critical, because in about four years, using travel hacking plus a few of paid flights overseas, I put together enough points for seven or eight round-trip flights to Europe, at 60,000 per. I also put together quite a few free hotel nights.
So that’s one thing to keep in your back pocket, as they say. Go forth and hack!
I did a whole post about how to buy tickets for English soccer, but on the cost issue, it comes down to about £45 pounds in the Premier League and £25 pounds in the Championship. Cup games can be as little as £10. And here’s a whole post about the different leagues and cups.
But here’s the thing about the Premier League: the above assumes you can even get tickets from the club. And if you’re set on going to one of the big clubs in the county — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham, probably also Everton and Manchester City — you will have a really hard time getting tickets through the usual channels. You will need a membership, for one thing, and that’s going to run about $50 for each person who wants a ticket. And getting more than one together is super hard.
You might have to have to get a hospitality package, which is really just a seat plus something else (hotel, meal, stadium tour, etc.) I am an official reseller of these, and as for cost … Assuming you’re looking at a big club, expect to spend $150 to $800 here, per person, depending on who is playing whom.
Getting to England
The nice thing about soccer season in England is it doesn’t run in summer, when airplane tickets are the most expensive. It goes from August to May, and whenever I look into it, tickets from the west coast to London seem to run about $1,100. Your mileage may vary, of course.
And speaking of miles, every time I’ve used frequent flier miles to get there, it’s cost 60,000. One time, in January on US Airways, it was 50,000 – which corresponded to the bonus miles I earned for buying a cup of coffee on a US Airways credit card. I’m serious: Buy a coffee, fly to London. Travel hacking rules.
I have also had, on more than one occasion, the experience of a half-empty trans-Atlantic flight. This doesn’t happen in summer.
Asterisk: However you get there, whether into London Heathrow, Birmingham, or Manchester, you’ll pay about a $250 tax for leaving the airport. That’s included in the airfare, but you’ll have to pay it if using miles.
Hotel rooms are super scary expensive in England, especially in London. I am very lucky to have good friends in London, and even luckier that their son is really cool and loves going to games. (And junior tickets are cheaper!) So this saves me literally hundreds of dollars per trip, while also providing lovely company.
Your average Holiday Inn Express in London will be something like £150, or $200+. Crazy, huh? In cities like Birmingham or Liverpool, it’s more like £100. This can add up, of course. I have done AirBnB in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, and this seems to hover around $100 per night in something that isn’t a complete and obvious dump. If you’re splitting this cost, it can become reasonable.
Another advantage of AirBnB, or CouchSurfing (which is free but aimed at a younger crowd) is that you can ask your hosts to introduce you to their friends who are soccer fans. (Here’s a good post on how to find the perfect AirBnB) This adds a whole new level to the experience. Seeing soccer in England, for me anyway, is largely about connecting with the locals, so why not do this and save some money?
Lately, though, it seems even AirBnB is getting expensive. I was looking at rooms in the coastal town of Bournemouth, and seeing AirBnB rates well over $100 for anywhere near the town center. I then found an independent, three-star hotel practically on the beach for $70 through Expedia — who also offers free cancellation on many reservations, as well as loyalty points you can cash in.
Trains Between Cities
Since I am into longer trips and seeing as many games as I can swing, I try to bunch the games in a particular area to save time and money on trains. On one trip, for example, I had a Saturday-Sunday doubleheader in Birmingham (Wolverhampton and Aston Villa), so I got to stay in Birmingham for the weekend. Of course, I also had a Monday in London, Tuesday in Liverpool, and Wednesday back in London. But I’m insane.
Anyway, train prices are really over the place, but here are some tips and sample (standard class) fares on Saturdays as of August 2017:
- Booking ahead often saves money, although it might lock you into a particular train. This is important to note!
- You absolutely must bring with you whatever credit card you used to book the tickets. Literally nothing else will get you that ticket.
- Especially during the week, traveling during the usual rush hours will cost more, especially around London.
- London Euston to Birmingham New Street: £32 next-day, £11 advance, 90 minutes.
- London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street: £38 next-day, £28 advance, 2.5 hours.
- London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly: £55 next-day, £25 advance, 3.5 hours
Those fares really are just guesses. Go to nationalrail.co.uk and use their Journey Planner to figure your own costs.
BritRail Passes might also be an option for you. They are only for non-UK citizens, and they are either for a particular region or for the whole country.,
You can check the prices here, but what I have found is this: They make sense if you’ll be taking a lot of trains and don’t want to be tied to a particular schedule — ie, you wouldn’t otherwise be making advance reservations. If you just want to cruise around whenever, this might make sense. Otherwise, I make advance reservations whenever it would save money, and I just accept the loss of flexibility.
Anyway, you could have an awesome soccer trip just in the cities of London, Birmingham, or Liverpool/Manchester (which are 30 minutes apart). Once you go off that main line, train costs seem to go up.
A Recent Trip: Specifics
UPDATE: These are notes from a trip in 2014, but they stand up pretty well.
October 22/23: Fly to London, 60,000 United miles and $250 tax. Stay with friends, free.
October 24: Charlton at Fulham, an east-versus-west-London derby! Two tickets, but I screwed up and didn’t get a junior ticket … so two adult tickets, $130. Stay with friends.
October 25: Train to Sunderland, probably $100. Ouch. One ticket for Arsenal at Sunderland, $55. Stay in a Holiday Inn with points from my Chase IHG credit card, free.
October 26: Train to Burnley, about $75, one ticket for Everton at Burnley, $69. Stay in a Holiday Inn with points.
October 27: Train back to London, about $50, see Aston Villa at Queens Park Rangers. One adult ticket and one junior, $104. Stay with friends, free.
October 28: Train to Liverpool, $10 advance, one ticket for Liverpool-Swansea game, $58, which is cheaper because it’s a League Cup game. (Liverpool is a tough and expensive ticket!) Paid $142 for a Holiday Inn room after I ran out of points.
October 29: Train back to London, $10 advance, might decide to attend Brighton at Tottenham Hotspur, also a League Cup game, for about $45. Stay with friends, free.
October 30-31: No games, stay with friends, hang around London.
November 1: Train to Birmingham, $15, attend Wolverhampton-Birmingham City game (local derby!), one ticket for $49. Stay in a Holiday Inn with points.
November 2: Still in Birmingham, go to Aston Villa-Tottenham game, one ticket for $71. Stay at Holiday Inn on points.
November 3: Train back to London, $10, see Sunderland play at Crystal Palace. One ticket, 32 pounds or about $50 – but I had to buy a 25-pound membership to get it, so we’ll call this a $100 ticket. Yikes. But there was no other way to get in, and now I can get Palace tickets pretty much whenever I want one. Palace is also a tough ticket.
November 4: I might go back up to Birmingham ($10) and get a ticket for Birmingham City vs. Watford. For some reason, that ticket is only 10 pounds, or $16, and the hotel room is $115. Or I might not.
November 5: Back in London, and Fulham is at home vs. Blackpool. A ticket is 20 pounds, or $32. I’ll probably go to this one. Stay with friends.
November 6: Fly home.
Now, notice the big thing not accounted for there: Food. Also getting around London (get an Oyster card), and getting around the other towns on buses or trains. I don’t eat too extravagantly, so I think we can put this whole category down to about $40 a day. Again, I’ll update this as I go.
There are also stadium tours, which I do for the book, and which go for anywhere from $15 to $30. (Here’s a post from my tour of Fulham’s Craven Cottage.)
Wrapping It All Up
Okay, let’s now assume I actually go to every game mentioned above, which would be a shocking 11 games in 13 nights, in five different cities! And let’s throw in that $40 a day for food and local travel. Here’s what I show this trip costing me:
That’s “give-or-take,” of course, but it feels about right to me.
It’s a chunk of money, but it’s a crazy, two-week trip with 11 games in it. At a per-day rate, you could call it $150 a day. So a one-week trip with, say, four or five games could come in around $1,200 – assuming you use miles for your ticket, of course. And, again, I have spoken with people who are traveling with family and spending $500 per night on hotels!
Ways to Save Money
First, I just can’t over-emphasize the importance of the travel hacking, so I’ll say it again. Learn travel hacking, no matter where it is you want to go.
You could just stay in London, and save on all the train tickets I’m getting, but of course London is more expensive to sleep in than these other cities. (It’s also a lot more fun!) You could concentrate on cheaper games in the lower leagues, or the Cups. If you stayed in London for the whole two weeks I’ll be in the country, you could see at least six games without leaving town – and that doesn’t even take League One or League Two into account.
You could also base in Birmingham, which has half a dozen teams in the Premier League and Championship within it, or within an hour of it. Same thing for Manchester or Liverpool. Both of these are cheaper to hang out in than London.
Other Thoughts, Perhaps Only For Me
I don’t look at this as spending $2,200 versus spending nothing, because if I were just staying at home in Portland, I would be spending money as a person and a business. Best guess is that I spend about $30 a day on personal incidentals (food, groceries, coffee, whatever), so that’s $400 I’d be spending if I stayed home. Same thing for my business: Just assuming I’d spend about the same (and it’s probably more), the real comparison for me is $2,200 (and the points) for going versus $800 for not going …. So the real cost in my world is around $1,400, net, for deciding to go to England right now.
The Bottom Line:
If you want to go to England to watch soccer games, and if you’re willing to put in some work in planning and the travel hacking game, it doesn’t have to be a bank-breaking deal. And take it from me, if you love sports and travel and meeting new people, it is absolutely money well spent.