This article was originally written by Wendy, who has visited Ireland many times, as a response to a question about bed and breakfast vouchers asked on our old forum. It was such a great response that it’s been put up here as an article so that more people may find it. Thanks and kudos to Wendy for her great overview of the subject, and to Darlene, who originally asked the question.
A friend and I are planning a 10-12 day trip in late April/early May. We’re wondering if it makes sense to purchase a “self-drive package” with car and vouchers? Does anyone have advice for us? We want to try to limit the overnights to a maximum of 3-4 locations (3 would be awesome but might not get us to as many sites as we would like). We have thought of pre-booking lodging but think we might like the flexibility of choosing “from the road”. We will hopefully fly in/out of Shannon/Dublin or viceversa. Thanks in advance for your recommendations!
First of all I must state that I have never used vouchers. Second, I used to think that vouchers were a complete waste but have been convinced that they do have their place for travelers to Ireland… the caveat for them is that you must do your homework before you decide to buy them or use them.
So rather than tell you what I think you should do – to buy or not to buy – I will give you the PROS and CONS and you can make the decision that seems best for you. OK? Here we go!
The Pros of B&B Vouchers
1. When buying vouchers in a package deal, for example along with renting a car, you can really save money if you get a good deal.
How do you know if you are getting a good deal? Well, you have to do some homework, probably a good deal of homework.
First of all you must find out what kind of car is being offered then you need to see what a quote on that car would be on it’s own. I’ve seen folks who have paid very little for vouchers in the end because they got such a good deal on the “car and vouchers” package but I’ve also seen some folks pay full price for both.
You need to really know that you are looking at the same kind of car as well as insurance that is involved. Some rental companies show you the price before they add in the insurance, some will show without VAT and some are really good and show you the full cost and exactly what you are paying for. (Dan Dooley’s web site is one that does this.)
You will also need to have a rough idea of your itinerary and where you want to go. If you decide that you want to stay in all popular towns (Dublin, Kilkenny, Kinsale, Killarney or Kenmare, Dingle, Galway – for example) then finding voucher accepting B&Bs means making reservations as they are going to fill up first.
Also, if you want to stay in towns then prices for B&Bs are usually higher (€40-45 pps) than out of town ones (€35-40pps) so are the vouchers you buying equal to what you want out of your trip?
2. Using vouchers means you don’t have to have cash on hand.
Most B&Bs accept cash only as payment, very few allow you to pay using a credit card. I would say that 99% do NOT take travelers checks and that may very well be 100% these days. And they certainly do not accept non-Euro currency.
If you are paying for your stay using vouchers then that means you do not have to carry around as much cash with you or be sure that you are close enough to an ATM to go get it when needed.
That may or may not be an advantage depending on where you stay. If you are mainly in or near larger towns then finding an ATM is not a huge deal but stay out on farms or in the countryside or other rural villages and you may have to hunt a bit.
I’ve already touched on this a bit upon in terms of not having to carry around cash or find an ATM. But it’s also handy to have the B&B booklet which lists all B&Bs in any given area that accept vouchers complete with numbers, cost and (usually) a photo of the B&B.
Further, if you buy the package NOW but don’t go to Ireland until later (say the Spring) then you have a good chance of paying for your trip in part or entirely before you even go. If you can save money while at it or already have extra put aside then what you spend on your trip is what you spend period. That can be great peace of mind.
The Cons of B&B Vouchers
1. Vouchers can be limiting
Not all B&Bs accept vouchers as payment and if you plan on going to some of the more popular places (think Dublin, Killarney, Kinsale) there are few B&Bs in those towns that accept vouchers at all – most don’t need to as cash is better for them and there are enough tourists around to fill the rooms, especially in High Season.
Some booklets that come with vouchers have many B&Bs listed that do not accept vouchers at all yet are still in the books (for advertising purposes) so you must look carefully. Though a B&B booklet may hold “over 1500 B&Bs listed!” that doesn’t mean they ALL accept vouchers.
If you want flexibility and to chose B&Bs as you go, vouchers may not be the right choice for you. It also depends a lot on your itinerary, where you think you will be on any given day as well as when during the year you will be in Ireland.
Trying to find a voucher accepting B&B in or even near Kinsale in August “on the fly” is a lot tougher than finding one in the same area in April.
If you have X number of vouchers for the same number of nights of your trip but decide on the spur of moment that you want to stay in a manor house or castle, you will be out the money for that voucher that is already paid for plus the money you must pay for your special night out.
Finally, there are no B&Bs in downtown Dublin anymore. There are a few Guesthouses but mainly it’s hotels only. If you wish to stay in the downtown Dublin area you will need to make hotel reservations. Vouchers cannot help you there.
2. Vouchers are a One Price Deal (per season.)
However, B&Bs are not all equal and B&B owners are able to change their prices as needed.
For instance, if you stay at a B&B for several nights in a row, often the owners will give you a discounted rate on your room. If the going rate is €36 per person sharing a room and you stay 3 nights, rather than charge you €216 for all three nights for 2 of you staying they may simply say “€200 is fine” and you’ve saved a few bucks right there.
You can always ask for a discount, too, especially if you tell them you are willing to stay for 2 nights rather than one or three rather than 2 if you get it. By paying for vouchers you pay the same for every night regardless.
In town B&Bs tend to be more expensive than out of town B&Bs. But the in town B&Bs are the first to fill up with tourists, too. So if your vouchers cost you an average of €40 pps, for example, but you are fine with staying in the countryside where B&Bs typically cost less per night then you really aren’t saving that much in the end.
Some voucher systems charge more for en suite rooms than for regular ones so your overall cost may be more than you think if you wish to upgrade to having your own bathroom. Or, if you get the non-en suite vouchers you may end up having to share a bathroom with people you do not know. It’s quite rare these days to find B&B rooms without a bathroom inside the room but for older ones they do still exist.
3. Vouchers aren’t always a good thing for B&B owners.
Many tell stories of having to wait for weeks to get their money from the voucher companies while other stories have been told of owners telling folks who wish to pay with vouchers that there were no rooms available knowing that they can get a full house with cash paying guests.