Is £5,000 too much to spend on a weekend away? A middle seat on a crowded EasyJet flight is not how you’d expect such an extravagant weekend break to start.
Passengers either side seem to think it’s their right to occupy your armrests. The solution is to fold your arms — in protest or necessity — for the duration of the flight. The rows are also too tightly packed on budget airlines; the tray table brushed my stomach as I lowered it. But a weekend on the ski slopes is hardly the time to start another diet.
It sounds like I’m having a moan, but actually, EasyJet is a pretty good operator. It’s punctual, the booking process was transparent and our flight didn’t accidentally divert to Edinburgh.
With a flight time of one hour 10 minutes, I could tolerate the lack of personal space and paying for an expensive box of crisps. So why didn’t I fly first-class? Because the weekend break, for all my economies, costs a stack of cash.
A pilgrimage to my apartment in the French Alpine resort of Alpe d’Huez is an annual delight. With some predicting travel chaos after Brexit, a visit before March 29 seemed sensible. Like most “facts” peddled during this whole tortuous divorce process, it turned out to be a nonsense. Given the number of gilets jaunes in evidence, the French clearly need to hang on to the tourist trade.
The reality is this year has been busy and I needed a decompression session — a short break to recover from the stresses and strains of waking up every weekday at 3.20am to present a radio show.
However, a third home is an expensive asset to maintain. Arguably, the opportunity cost is such that I should consider selling up and staying at a hotel or at least rent it out. Given my choice to travel economically, you might assume I am throwing money away by not doing so.
I am happy to spend if I need to. But I am not in favour of throwing money out of windows and watching people chase after the notes. Rich people can be ridiculously tight if needs be. The jumper I am currently wearing has two holes in it, for instance. That said, I am not so tight that I’ll tolerate other low-cost airlines. But this year, I resisted the urge to save money by booking our flights far in advance.
Flexibility is now top of my list when it comes to travel. The last time I visited my Alpine bolt-hole was last March. We booked well in advance to obtain the cheapest return flights, costing less than £100 each.
Alpe d’Huez calls itself “L’île au Soleil”, the sunshine isle, so you would hope for fine conditions. For our sojourn last March, the weather forecast was shocking. While we had heaps of snow, it was cold and very windy.
Some say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. In normal circumstances I’d agree — but if you cannot see one inch in front of you and every part of your body has frozen, it’s really not a pleasurable experience.
Skiing requires sunshine, especially as one gets older. To ski in a whiteout is something I only did as a youth. My parents were adamant that skiing holidays cost a fortune and unless the lifts were closed, we’d be out — all day.
I am unconvinced the snowflake generation is particularly well labelled because at the slightest hint of bad weather on a ski trip, they stay indoors on iPads or iPhones, bingeing on Netflix.
Looking back, we would have been better off to cancel and go another time. So this year, nothing was booked in advance.
I used a selection of long-range weather apps to make a snap decision when conditions were right. With just a week before departure, flights were still available, including speedy boarding and an allocated seat. And it worked. We enjoyed an epic weekend of amazing snow and sunshine.
The downside of booking late was a more expensive flight, inflating the cost of a return flight to £225 each. But I really didn’t mind paying £13.99 per person for speedy boarding. With everyone trying to travel only with hand baggage, if you happen to languish in the airport shops too long you’ll turn up at the gate to find they want to put your cabin bag in the hold. That’s another half-hour of your life you won’t get back — so it is a small price to pay to avoid the horrors of the baggage carousel.
The hire car cost us a mere £67 and a three-day ski pass was €150 each, so even dropping €120 on a rosé-fuelled afternoon lunch in the sun at La Folie Douce seemed like a bargain. All in, the trip cost two of us about £1,500. So where’s that £5,000 I touted earlier?
It’s the cost of that third property. There’s a quarterly service charge of €550, plus French property taxes (tax d’habitation and tax foncière). This all adds up to about £3,500 per year.
The usual retort I get is: “Why don’t you rent it out?”. Certainly, lots of people say they would like to stay there. All it takes is one photo of the balcony view, and the knowledge that you can literally walk out of the front door, put on your skis and off you go and people are biting my arm off.
But I have never been keen on this. The life of an absentee landlord involves dealing with endless questions, the hassle of keys, laundry and cleaning, not to mention fixing stuff. It’s all too much.
Turning up to your own apartment, with all your stuff and kit in it, means you really can do hand baggage only. Skis, boots, clothing and champers in the fridge . . . everything is there waiting for you. It’s a joy. If you have invested in Hungarian goose feather pillows, that’s what will be on the bed. It’s home from home. And isn’t that what we want from a holiday? Even if it is a really short one.
And one final thing — my apartment is worth at least three times more than I paid for it (£90,000) nearly 20 years ago. So actually, my holiday was probably free. If there’s one thing rich people like more than a cheap thing, it’s a free one.
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