High-Speed Rail Is Killing Short-Haul Air Travel

Planes dominate our skies. According to some estimates there are about 100,000 flights, everyday (about 25% of which are flown by low-cost airlines). Where trains were once the best ways to travel 700km, many are now choosing to fly instead.

But long-distance train travel has seen a recent explosion in many countries with the growth of high-speed rail networks. Bullet trains were once only associated with Japan (they have been operating in the country since 1964!). Though today high-speed trains are much common across the world.

As high-speed rail networks grow, as does their viability to compete with equivalent plane routes.¬†China Southern Airlines, China’s largest airline, expects the construction of China’s high-speed railway network, the largest in the world by a large margin, to impact (through increased competition and falling revenues) 25% of its route network in the coming years.

But how do the two forms of transport currently stack up around the world?

Methodology

Train and plane routes used for comparison were selected to test the following statement on the “High-speed rail” Wikipedia page:

“High-speed rail (HSR) is best suited for journeys of 1 to 4¬Ĺ hours (about 150‚Äď900¬†km or 93‚Äď559¬†mi)”.¬†For trips under about 700¬†km (430¬†mi), the process of checking in and going through airport security, as well as traveling to and from the airport, makes the total air journey time equal to or slower than HSR.¬†European authorities treat HSR as competitive with passenger air for HSR trips under 4¬Ĺ hours.”

I chose 5 well trafficked routes of varying distances above and below 700km from places where both air and rail transport is common: Beijing – Shanghai (1318km), Madrid to Barcelona (621km), London to Paris (492km), Tokyo to Osaka (515km), and Paris to Lyon (409km).

Note, the absence of any US cities. Whilst I did some brief research on potential routes in the country, I could find none that posed a current threat to the massive low-cost airline market. Things are changing though.

For train ticket data for journey costs and time I used Seat61 (25/05/2016).

Using data from Skyscanner I collected flight schedules for each route to obtain the fastest flying time between airports. I also used Skyscanner to search for the cheapest possible fares available during the month of September for comparison (25/05/2016).

To estimate carbon emissions for journeys on each mode of transport I used data from the Aviation Environmental Federation.

Train and Plane Route Distance Jun 2016

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In order to calculate emissions I needed actual journey distance. Train track length is freely available for the routes I selected. Unfortunately, planes never take an exact route due to weather conditions, delays, air traffic, etc. Because of this I used point-to-point distance between airports. As a result, figures used are less than average actual distances flown.

Results

Speed overview

Model Type Max operating speed (train) / cruise ground speed (plane) km/h
Boeing 777-200LR Plane 1037
Boeing 707-320 Plane 963
Lockheed L-1011-1 Plane 963
Sukhoi Superjet 100-95 Plane 954
Tupolev Tu-414A Plane 950
Boeing 777-200ER Plane 948
Airbus A350-1000 XWB Plane 945
Airbus A350-900 XWB Plane 945
Airbus A350-800 XWB Plane 945
Boeing 777-300 Plane 945
Airbus A380-800 Plane 945
Airbus A350-1000 Plane 945
Shanghai Maglev Train 431
Harmony CRH 380A, Train 380
AGV Italo Train 360
Siemens Velaro E/AVS 103 Train 350
Talgo 350 Train 350
E5 Series Shinkansen Hayabusa Train 320
Alstom Euroduplex Train 320
SNCF TGV Duplex Train 320
ETR 500 Frecciarossa Train Train 300
THSR 700T Train 300

Full table.

This table shows the fastest planes and trains currently operating commercially.

Most modern aircraft cruising speeds are just below 1,000 km per hour. The Boeing 777-200LR is the only commercial airliner that has a cruising speed above this figure at 1,037 km/h Рabout 200 km/h slower than the speed of sound (MACH 1 = 1,236 km/h). The 777s speed is probably one of the reasons it is used on many of the longest non-stop commercial routes.

Did you know? Concorde had an average cruising speed of 2,140 km/h.

The world record for the fastest train belongs to Mitsubishi L0 Series maglev. A speed of 603 km/h was achieved on a test track in April 2015. Whilst world records help push innovation, the sad fact is actual operating speeds for the travelling public are much slower.

The Shanghai Maglev, the fastest train in operation today reaches a max speed of 431 km/h¬†in just over 3 mins 20 secs¬†(it has reached a non-commercial speed of 501 km/h). You won’t be travelling that fast for long, the track is only 30km long¬†and the fastest scheduled journey time to cover the distance is 7 mins 20 secs.¬†The¬†line was designed to connect Shanghai’s Pudong airport to the¬†outskirts¬†of the city so that passengers can quickly connect to¬†metro lines.

The¬†9 other fastest trains in operation¬†travel at speeds between 300 – 380 km/h. The 10th fastest airliner has a cruise speed of¬†945 km/h — over 3 times faster than the slowest train.

Journey Times

Train and Plane Journey Time Jun 2016

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Whilst planes can take more direct routes, stations are usually much more time efficient for passengers. Stations are often found in the middle of cities with great transport links. Take Paris, for example. Charles Du Gaulle Airport is a 29km car journey to the centre of the city. Gare Du Nord is walkable to many hotels in the city.

Check-in times are also much more lenient at stations. Whilst you might need to arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before departure, some international train journeys advise you to arrive 45 mins before departure¬†— a potential time saving of over 2 hours.

Given this, lets assume additional travel time for air travel is +150 minutes and  +60 minutes for rail.

Train and Plane Complete Journey Time Adjusted Jun 2016

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Even taking these factors into consideration, travel times, in most cases, are tipped in favour of the plane for three of these five journeys. Notably all three journeys are below the 900 km / 270 min estimates described as the maximum distance high-speed trains could compete well with air travel.

In China, travelling by plane between Beijing and Shanghai (1077 km by plane, 1318 km by train) could save you over one hour in travel time compared to the train (285 min by plane, 348 min by train).

There is no difference in time (225 min) between each mode of transport on the Madrid to Barcelona route (483 km by plane, 621 km by train) suggesting the optimum distance for high-speed train travel versus plane might be slightly less than 900km / 270 min.

Of course these are very crude assumptions as my adjustments do not take into account accurate door-to-door journey time for each city which can vary enormously.

Did you know? You’ll save the most time taking the Eurostar from London to Paris saving 50 minutes compared to flying.

Average Speeds

Journey Average Speeds

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It is interesting to compare average speed to top speed of the train serving the route.

The Beijing РShanghai route average speed for the journey is only 25 km/h slower than the top speed (275 km/h vs. 300 km/h). The trains are operating close to their allowed safe maximum throughout the route (all 1077 km!).

On other routes the difference between average and maximum is¬†greater. The Eurostar Paris – London route is the second best for speed efficiency (300 km/h vs. 256 km/h). Compare that to the Paris to Lyon route 300 km/h vs. 187.33 km/h — average being almost 40% slower.

Journey Cost

Train and Plane Journey Cost Jun 2016

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I didn’t realise just how expensive riding the bullet train was in Japan. A fare between Tokyo and Osaka will cost you at best, $124 USD. The cheapest airfare between the two cities is 63% cheaper (about $80 USD — $124 – $46) — a difference that would make most leisure travellers think twice. Interestingly it is only the third longest¬†journey of those analysed (463 km by plane / 515 km by train), resulting in a high-cost per km.

For the other four routes there was very little in cost difference between the cheapest tickets. The second greatest ticket cost difference was on the Paris to Lyon route where air travellers could make savings of about $25 USD.

It’s worth noting you’ll also avoid additional charges often imposed by budget carriers on short-haul routes by choosing the train.¬†The train journeys analysed have no additional charges for personal luggage.

Journey Emissions

Train and Plane CO2 Emissions Per Passenger Jun 2016

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According to the Aviation Environmental Federation trains emit 2.5 times less CO2 per passenger than planes (based on optimum fuel efficiency for both modes of transport).

Planes use the most fuel, and produce the most harmful emissions, during takeoff. On short flights, as much as 25 percent of the total fuel consumed is used at this time. The most fuel-efficient route length for airlines is 4,300 km, roughly a flight from Europe to the U.S. East Coast. About 45 percent of all flights in the European Union (and 80% of the routes analysed in this post) cover less than 500 km.

Based on these figures for the journeys analysed it is clear how much more polluting planes are per passenger when compared to trains.

Did you know? Between Beijing and China 100kg more CO2 per passenger will be emitted on plane journeys when compared to a train journey (plane = 188.80 kg/CO2, train = 79.34 kg/CO2).

Summary

Route Plane Distance (km) Train Distance (km) Is train faster? Is train cheaper? Plane cost / time Train time / cost
Beijing-Shanghai 1077 1318 -18.10% 4.94% 0.30 0.23
Madrid-Barcelona 483 621 0.00% 27.78% 0.20 0.16
London-Paris 380 492 28.57% 38.10% 0.26 0.24
Tokyo-Osaka 463 515 12.68% -62.90% 0.19 0.58
Paris-Lyon 392 409 9.95% -31.25% 0.26 0.42

See calculations.

Improvements

Clearly more routes could be used for comparison. 5 routes is too small of a sample size to provide any conclusive findings.

I’d also be interested to obtain passenger load statistics (number of seats occupied for each journey) to improve emissions figures. Although emissions are far less of a concern to consumers, if at all, compared to journey price and time.

Comfort is also a big consideration for travellers. Being able to obtain quantative data-points on passenger comfort would add another variable to base a conclusion on.

tl;dr

  • Trains are faster for journeys up to 620km (track distance).¬†You’ll save the most time taking the Eurostar from London to Paris saving 50 minutes compared to flying.
  • Costs are very sensitive to locale (not distance) for train travel, less so for air travel.¬†In some geographies, for example Tokyo to Osaka (515km by train), you can save over $80 USD when taking the train. Whereas taking the Eurostar from London to Paris you’ll pay $16 USD more for the privilidge. Though these figures do not take into account additional baggage charges often imposed on air travellers.

Acknowledgements

  • Axlegeeks,¬†who provide lots of interesting statistics¬†about aircraft — I used crusing ground¬†speeds.
  • Wikipedia for a wealth of¬†data on high-speed train travel.
  • Skyscanner, where I collected¬†plane journey data from.
  • Seat61, a site¬†that¬†provided train journey data.
  • and finally…¬†The Aviation Environmental Federation for emissions data.

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The Duty-Free Market Is Growing, Discounts Not So Much

The global duty-free market is expected to reach £47.7 billion by 2019 according to some reports.

As a child I remember my father bringing back bags of duty-free from business trips to America — a tradition I have failed to uphold. In fact I can’t remember the last thing I bought at a duty-free shop, only the hours spent wandering around seemingly indifferent shops¬†the world over.

With the growth of ecommerce, surely duty-free shops have lost their competitive advantage of price. But with the market growing, perhaps not.

Are savings still to be had at duty-free shops in Europe?

Methodology

I first identified two sources for duty-free purchases — airport duty-free shops and inflight duty-free shops.

Many airlines publish inflight magazines with price lists for products available onboard. I found 5 budget airlines that operate from European airports that publish such magazines: Ryanair, WizzAir, Easyjet, Thomas Cook, Flybe and 2 premium carriers: British Airways and Qatar. The infight magazines used were dated within the first quarter of 2016 (Jan – Mar).

I drew up an itemised list of all perfumes (113 in total) and prices (Male and Female) from these magazines. Perfumes were chosen as a product for comparison because they are a standard offering to compare across all retail channels.

My initial assumption was that, each class of carrier (budget and premium) would each carry an almost identical inventory of perfumes. In fact, all airlines carry an almost unique range of perfumes available for purchase onboard.

Out of the 113 perfumes I analysed sold by these airlines, only 1 was sold by both premium and budget airlines¬†— Marc Jacobs Daisy Dream 50ml (Female).¬†21 perfumes were sold across multiple airlines¬†in the same class. 92 were available on only one airline.

Full list.

The largest¬†duty-free shop operator in UK airports is World Duty Free. Their website publishes prices available in aiports. I used prices availbale in London Heathrow Terminal 2 for perfumes found in the in-flight magazines — but prices seem fairly static UK wide, it is only range of products that differs.

In addition, I also collected prices of these perfumes from Amazon UK for comparison. Prices from Amazon include delivery fees, if applicable (I did not consider Amazon Prime as a delivery option). I used Amazon for its range of products and its ecommerce market share in the UK.

Analysis

Amazon – airline prices

Histogram of Amazon less ave airline price all classes GBP Mar 2016

Download chart.

Onboard 46 perfumes are cheaper at an airlines duty-free store (average price on all classes) than Amazon (67 that are more expensive).

Overall perfume prices are on average £3.54 GBP cheaper on Amazon compared to buying onboard at an airlines duty-free store.

68 of the 111 perfumes have very little price difference (between -£10 GBP and £10 GBP). At each end of the distribution 2 perfumes are over £35 GBP cheaper on Amazon, 2 are £20 GBP more cheaper on airlines..

Splitting out by carrier type, budget carriers have more perfumes that are cheaper onboard (34) than expensive (22). Conversely, of the 58 perfumes carried on premium carriers, 12 are cheaper onboard compared to 46 that are more expensive.

Amazon - airline prices GBP Mar 2016

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The best airline for discounted perfume is Ryanair with average savings of about £5.36 GBP. Compare that with the worst, Qatar, where you are likely to pay £11.97 GBP more for perfume onboard. All premium carriers considered, British Airways and Qatar, are both more expensive than Amazon, on average.

Amazon РWorld Duty Free prices

Histogram of Amazon - World Duty Free Price GBP Mar 2016

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Again, Amazon comes out slightly better for price when compared to World Duty Free shops. 22 perfumes are cheaper to purchase at World Duty Free shops versus 39 that are more expensive.

Amazon – average all duty-free retailers prices

Histogram of Amazon - All Duty Free Price GBP Mar 2016

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When considering the average price of perfumes across all duty-free outlets (airlines and shops) 47 are cheaper on duty-free, 66 are cheaper on Amazon.

Clearly if your flying on one airline you won’t have the luxury of being able to compare prices, but duty-free does still offer a number¬†discounts — something I was not expecting. Savings are still relativly small though, with the average

Duty-free rank Perfume Size (ml) Gender AMZ – Ave. Duty-free Price GBP Mar16
1 Gucci Oud Intense 90 Male £22.10
2 Ajmal Aurum 75 Female £20.00
3 Jimmy Choo Illicit 60 Female £19.40
4 Acqua di Parma Colonia Oud 100 Male £19.37
5 Mont Blanc Lady Emblem 50 Female £18.75
6 Lacoste Love Of Pink 90 Female £17.52
7 Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Extreme 50 Male £16.94
8 Gucci Guilty Studs 50 Female £15.50
9 Dolce & Gabanna L’imperatrice No. 3 100 Female ¬£10.36
10 Taylor Swift Wonderstruck Enchanted 50 Female £9.62

Full list.

The 3 best perfumes to buy at duty-free retailers are: 1) Gucci Oud Intense 90ml РMale (savings of: £22.10 GBP), 2) Ajmal Aurum 75ml РFemale (£20.00 GBP), 3) Jimmy Choo Illicit 60ml РFemale (£19.40 GBP).

World Duty Free prices – Airlines

Histogram of World Duty Free - Ave Airline Price GBP Mar 2016

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There is also a normal distribution of price differences between the two duty-free channels, airlines and airport shops. In summary, 24 perfumes are cheaper at World Duty Free stores when compared to the average price you’d pay onboard a plane. 2 perfumes have no price difference, whereas 35 are more expensive at World Duty Free stores.

Improvements

Overall this¬†is a fairly trivial analysis. One of the biggest issues with this analysis is Amazon’s product pricing which can change many times per day. Given this is our single source for non-duty free pricing, daily variations may be skewed.¬†The addition of more retailers would add more stability to price calculations.

tl;dr

  • Perfume¬†prices are typically¬†more expensive at duty-free retailers¬†when compared to buying on Amazon.
  • Most savings are less than ¬£10 GBP between duty-free retailers and Amazon.
  • The 3 best perfumes to buy at duty-free retailers are: 1) Gucci Oud Intense 90ml – Male (savings of: ¬£22.10 GBP), 2) Ajmal Aurum 75ml – Female (¬£20.00 GBP), 3)¬†Jimmy Choo Illicit 60ml – Female (¬£19.40 GBP).

Acknowledgements

  • All the retailers¬†used in this post for publishing thier products for sale online.
  • And finally… XE.com for exchange rates.

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Airports That Are Unreasonably Far From City Centres

On a journey home from the airport last year I shared a cab with a fellow passenger heading in the same direction. In the awkward small talk between two strangers he asked if I had heard of London Oxford Airport (OXF). “Oxford, in the UK?”, I asked in clarification. “Yes”, he chuckled.

For those not familiar with UK geography, Oxford is over 100km outside of London. A bold, if a little questionable, effort by the airports marketing team.

It would appear Oxford is not alone. See: Paris Vatry (XCR)¬†– 161km to Paris, Oslo Torp (TRF) – 119km to Oslo, or¬†Munich West (FMM) – 115km to Munich, as examples. Arguably none of these are considered their cities “main” airport, however.

Such extreme journeys got me thinking; where are the shortest and longest transfer distances from airports to the cities they serve?

Methodology

To obtain a list of cities for analysis I used¬†Euromonitors’ “Top 100 City Destinations Ranking“. I chose such a list¬†because passengers will expect good infrastructure from heavily travelled destinations and many will be places readers¬†have, or are intending to, visit.

Using EuroMonitors list of cities I then found the closest major airport using a Google search. If there are multiple main airports in a city, airports with the highest yearly passenger volume were selected.

I then used the reported co-ordinates of the geographical centre of each city using a WorldMaps dataset. Similarly, I used the geographical centre of a cities corresponding airport from the OpenFlights dataset to calculate the shortest route by distance on Google Maps using a car from airport to city.

Regional Distribution of Euromonitor Top 100 Cities 2014

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It is important to note we are only considering the Top 100 tourist destinations as reported by Euromonitor. This does add some bias to the analysis with 70% of the cities considered located in Europe and Asia Pacific.

Analysis

All airports by distance to their cities

km to City Centre by Road Euromonitor Top 100 2014

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km to City Centre by Road Euromonitor 100

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km to City Centre by Road Euromonitor Top 100 2014 histogram

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Did you know? The large majority of Top 100 cities are served by airports within 50km by road to their closest main airport.

Based on the shortest road journey by distance (not time) you will need to travel a median distance of 20km from a main airport to its city (50 of the 100 cities are within 20km of their main airports).

Not all¬†cities¬†on this top 100 list had their own¬†airport.¬†The two cities with the longest connection between airport and city — Andorra la Vella, Andorra (TLS) (194km) and Edirne, Turkey (BOJ) (177km) — are both served by airports¬†from other cities. These two destinations received¬†2.4MM, and 3.1MM tourists respectively, with visitors¬†having to endure connections of around 3-4 hours by car (assuming a 50km/h average speed)!

Best airports by distance to their cities

km to centre (road) rank City Main Airport km to centre (road)
1 Jeju CJU 2.5
2 Heraklion HER 2.9
3 Mexico City MEX 5.3
4 Lisbon LIS 5.9
5 Mumbai BOM 6.5
5 Punta Cana PUJ 6.5
7 Ho Chi Minh City SGN 7.4
7 Nice NCE 7.4
9 Sofia SOF 7.5
10 Florence FLR 8.5

Full table.

Did you know? The airports closest to the main cities they serve are: 3. MEX (5.3 km to Mexico City), 2. HER (2.9km to Heraklion), 1. CJU (2.5km to Jeju).

Worst airports by distance to their cities

km to centre (road) rank City Main Airport km to centre (road)
91 Seoul ICN 48.8
92 Milan MXP 50.3
93 Jerusalem TLV 54.2
94 Kuala Lumpur KUL 66.4
95 Halong HPH 69.8
96 Artvin BUS 77.4
97 Mugla DLM 94.4
98 Makkah JED 103
99 Edirne BOJ 177
100 Andorra la Vella TLS 194

Full table.

Did you know? The airports furthest away from the main cities they serve are: 3. JED (103km to Mekkah), 2. BOJ (177km to Edirne), TLS (194km to Andorra la Vella).

Best regions for airports by distance to their cities

Min, max, median km from main airport to city by region Euromonitor Top 100 Cities 2014

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The median distance from a main airport to the city its serves for each world region is less than 40km. If a short car journey is important, a destination in Australia and New Zealand, Central and South America, or Africa would be a good choice (median distance = 15km from main airport to city).

Secondary ‘airports’

Many budget airlines also use secondary airports, London Luton (LUT) or London Oxford Airport (OXF) around London for example. Secondary airports offer airlines lower operational costs compared to more central, main, airports thus ensuring they can maintain the cheapest fare. Consequently they are typically even further away from the city increasing travel times to and from the airport.

Improvements

To get a wider view I downloaded a dataset from OpenFlights listing 8108 airports and their latitude and longitude. I cross reference the cities listed in this dataset for each airport with cities listed in the WorldMaps dataset used earlier. 2231 cities matched between the two datasets.

I then looked at the point-to-point (as the crow flies) distance between two co-ordinates (city and airport) using a Haversine calculation for these 2231 cities and airports. Obviously the resulting distance from this calculation will be much less than actual road distance.

From these 2231 cities and airports I¬†get a median point-to-point distance¬†of¬†just over 7.1km from airport to city — about 13km less than the median distance by road for the Top 100 cities.

There are a number of different factors that could explain for this, in addition to the difference in calculation. Smaller cities often have more centrally located airports because of low building density, for example.

tl;dr

  • 3 airports are over 100km by car from the cities they serve: 3.¬†JED (103km to Mekkah), 2. BOJ (177km to Edirne), TLS (194km to Andorra la Vella).
  • If you’re visiting a top 100 destination, the median¬†distance from a cities main airport to the city centre is about 20km.
  • A¬†destination in Australia and New Zealand, Central and South America, or Africa would be a good choice if a short journey to and from the airport is important (median distance =¬†15km¬†from main airport to city).

Acknowledgements

Get the Data

Passport Power Rank 2016

If you have a visa or visa-free access to enter a country your journey through a border is often much easier.

As the modern world becomes ever more interconnected one would expect an increase of visa-free travel relationships between countries. But with the seemingly growing list of conflicts such freedoms can vary significantly depending on nationality.

So which country has the most powerful passport for visa-free travel?

Methodology

Each year Henley & Partners¬†publishes a “Visa Restriction Index”,¬†a global ranking of countries according to the travel freedom that their citizens enjoy.

Points are awarded to countries for the number of destinations that offer visa-free travel to their citizens. e-Visas are treated the same as visas on arrival. Where the conditions for obtaining an e-visa are straightforward (fee, return ticket, hotel reservation), a visa-free point was assigned.

Analysis

Best and worst passports for travel

Country visa free count 2016 map

Full-size map.

Visa-free Rank Country Visa-free Destinations for Citizens
1 Germany 177
2 Sweden 176
3 Italy 175
3 France 175
3 Spain 175
3 Finland 175
3 United Kingdom 175
8 United States 174
8 Denmark 174
8 Belgium 174
8 Netherlands 174

Visa-free Rank Country Visa-free Destinations for Citizens
188 Palestine, State of 37
188 Sudan 37
188 Eritrea 37
188 Nepal 37
188 Ethiopia 37
188 Iran, Islamic Republic of 37
194 Libya 36
195 Syrian Arab Republic 32
196 Somalia 31
197 Iraq 30
198 Pakistan 29
199 Afghanistan 25

Full list.

Citizens in Western countries enjoy the most freedoms to travel. The top 10 countries by number of visa-free destinations for passport holders consists mostly of European nations.

No European countries in the bottom 10 list of countries for visa-free travel, however. Sadly, many Middle Eastern and African countries that have suffered war and poor international relationships make up most of this list.

Did you know? Citizens of North Korea can travel to 42 countries without a visa (should they be granted permission to travel). Surprisingly, 20 other countries have fewer visa-free destinations than North Korea.

Year-on-year changes

Total of Visa Free Relationships by Year

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Visa-free travel between countries has increased from 18,003 in 2013 to 19,072 in 2016, with a slight dip between 2014 and 2015.

2016 - 2013 Change in Visa Free Destinations for Citizens by Country

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Of 199 countries between 2013 – 2016, 25 countries saw places their citizens can visit without a visa decrease, 13 had no change, and 161 saw an increase.

Out of the 25 of the countries that saw visa-free travel reduce, 16 were African. Comparing all African countries, it is the only region to see a decrease between 2013 Р2016 for visa-free travel.

Regional differences

Cumulative total of visa-free destinations by region by year

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Citizens of the 27 EU member states automatically qualify for the largest freedom of movement anywhere in the world. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, cumulatively European citizens enjoy the fewest travel visa requirements to travel worldwide (note, the European region includes 22 non EU nations).

Region Count of countries
Middle East 13
Africa 53
Americas 35
Asia and the Pacific 50
Europe 49

View calculations.

However, the cumulative number of visa-free destinations does not take into account region size. Europe has the largest cumulative count of visa-free destinations, but it also contains the second largest number of countries.

Average adjusted visa-free destinations per country by region year

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Adjusting for countries in each region (cumulative visa free destinations per region / count of countries), European citizens still fare best in 2016, and all years post 2012 for that matter.

This adjustment also highlights¬†the fact large differences in visa restrictions between regions. On average in 2016, African citizens could travel to about 53 countries without a visa. In contrast European citizens could visit 146 destinations without a visa — a massive difference even when you ignore the EU freedom of movement area.

Improvements

Visa-free travel represents only part of the movement of people around the world. Consequently, numbers on all types of entries by country would be very interesting to compare, for example; what countries issue the most business / tourism / long-term visas etc?

tl;dr

  • The passports that have the most¬†visa-free destinations¬†for holders in 2016 from a total of 199 countries: 1. Germany (177), 2. Sweden (176), 3. Italy, France, Finland, UK (175).
  • The passports that have the least visa-free destinations¬†for holders in 2016 from a total of 199 countries: 197. Iraq (30), 198. Pakistan (29), 199. Afghanistan (25).
  • European citizens enjoy the least travel restrictions being allowed to travel, on average, to 146 countries without requiring a visa. Citizens of African nations on the other hand fare the worst, with only 53 countries welcoming them without a visa.

    Acknowledgements

Check If A Hotels WiFi Sucks Before It’s Too Late

Heated pool? Cable TV? Ghosts in the reception hall?

There are lots of factors you can use to rank hotels thanks to online reviews, but for both business and leisure travellers alike WiFi download speed is often one of the most important.

The problem is that many hotels don’t really seem to care about connection quality. Slow WiFi is arguably worse than no WiFi.¬†As long as a hotel can display¬†that little ‚ÄúWiFi Available‚ÄĚ box on the amenities list, they‚Äôre happy. And travellers think they will be too… until they arrive and realise that anything more than checking email is going to be a problem.

Thankfully HotelWiFiTest is continually crowdsourcing data on hotel WiFi speeds so you can be confident you’ll be able to stream the latest TV series from your room.

So which hotels should you avoid?

Methodology

Using a Python script I scraped data from HotelWiFiTest. Data was collected for the following cities: London (384 hotels), New York (321), Bangkok (242), Paris (240), Berlin, Barcelona (196), Singapore (136), and San Francisco (134). In total WiFi data from 1890 hotels was collected.

HotelWiFiTest provides an expected speed in Mbps for each hotel. This indicates the speed you would likely get at a randomly chosen time of the day.

Hotel WiFi Speed Confidence Percentage Distribution May 2016

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The site allocates a confidence score to each result, that is a value showing how thoroughly the WiFi has been tested at the hotel. The confidence value depends on several factors, including the number of speed tests taken, how recently the tests occurred, and the diversity of tests in terms of the time of day, day of the week, and point within the travel season.

Out of the 1890 hotels, the mean confidence score was slightly less than 25%. Only 828 hotels had a confidence score above 25%. More than¬†450 hotels had a confidence score less than 7.5%. For the purpose of this analysis we only considered hotels with a confidence score greater than 30% — 644 hotels in total.

Hotel Wifi Speed Expected dl Mbps Distribution May 2016

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Of the remaining 644 hotels, 412 had download speeds slower than 10 Mbps.

In addition to HotelWifiTest data I used Akamai’s, “Q4 2015 State of the Internet” report, that contained average¬†internet download speeds by country for comparison.

Hotel room rates used are the cheapest available based on average rates for a standard room on Tripadvisor.

Analysis

Cities with best hotel Wifi Speeds

Rank (Mean d/l speed) City Mean Hotel WiFi Download Speed Mbps Median Hotel WiFi Download Speed Mbps Country Mean Download Speed Mbps Q4 2015 Hotels Tested
1 London 20.88 11.30 13.90 384
2 Barcelona 17.23 11.85 12.10 196
3 Berlin 12.02 6.95 12.90 237
4 New York 11.67 5.60 14.20 321
5 Paris 10.56 4.40 8.90 240
6 Singapore 9.06 6.70 13.90 136
7 Bangkok 8.91 6.50 9.30 242
8 San Francisco 6.88 4.30 14.20 134

See calculations.

London comes out as the best city for hotel download speeds (by mean d/l speed) of those considered with a mean figure of 20.88 Mbps (median of 11.30 Mbps) for the 384 hotels considered.

San Francisco, a city bubbling with some of the latest and greatest internet technologies fares worst with a mean download speed of only 6.88 Mbps. To put that into comparison, the average download speed within the United States is 14.20 Mbps.

Did you know? The country with the fastest average download speed can be found in South Korea — 26.7 Mbps (Akamai Q4 2015).

Best hotels for Wifi download speeds

Rank (Hotel WiFi Speed Expected d/l Mbps) Hotel Name Hotel City Hotel WiFi Speed Expected d/l Mbps Hotel WiFi Speed Confidence Percentage
1 The Mark New York 235.00 59.70%
2 every hotel Piccadilly London 201.00 57.30%
3 Amba Hotel Charing Cross London 178.00 58.50%
4 Thistle Marble Arch London 145.00 53.00%
5 Sofitel London St James London 119.00 58.80%
6 Hotel Costes Paris 112.00 53.90%
7 Ham Yard Hotel London 88.70 60.00%
8 Hotel Crowne Plaza Berlin City Center Berlin 80.50 51.00%
9 Barcelona City Centre Hostal Barcelona 71.30 54.40%
10 San Francisco Marriott Marquis San Francisco 67.10 57.90%

Full table.

Confidence is relatively high for the top 10 hotels, all above 50%. 6 hotels have reported speeds of above 100 Mbps, 4 of which are in London, UK.

The Mark, New York and every hotel Piccadilly, London have estimated download speeds of over 200 Mbps — plenty of bandwidth to stream video (even at 4K resolutions).

Download speeds drop off quickly though¬†—¬†for hotels ranked below 25th¬†speeds are below 50 Mbps.

Worst hotels for download speeds

Rank (Hotel WiFi Speed Expected d/l Mbps) Hotel Name Hotel City Hotel WiFi Speed Expected d/l Mbps Hotel WiFi Speed Confidence Percentage
635 Hotel Observatoire Luxembourg Paris 0.37 37.30%
636 Hotel Xenia London 0.35 31.90%
637 Hotel Paris Louis Blanc Paris 0.32 30.50%
638 Holiday Inn London Kensington Forum London 0.31 41.00%
638 Journeys London King’s Cross Hostel London 0.31 35.50%
640 Park Plaza Wallstreet Berlin Mitte Berlin 0.30 41.60%
641 Novotel London City South London 0.29 33.00%
642 Victor’s Residenz Hotel Berlin Berlin 0.21 30.40%
643 Hotel Air in Berlin Berlin 0.15 33.50%
644 InterCityHotel Berlin Hauptbahnhof Berlin 0.08 36.90%

Full table.

The slowest hotel tested, the¬†InterCityHotel Berlin Hauptbahnhof (rank 644) in Berlin (ranked 3rd), had a download speed of only 0.08 Mbps — only slightly faster than dial up (0.056 Mbps). At this speed checking (a few) emails is about the best you’ll manage.

41 hotels have an expected download speeds slower than 1Mbps that would make even basic use of many sites frustrating (although YouTube recommends a minimum download speed of 0.5 Mbps).

Speed benchmark

10 Fastest Hotels May 2016 vs Country Download Speeds Q4 2015

Download graph.

To put this in comparison, you can see how much faster the hotel connection speeds for the top 10 are compared to the average connection download speed for each hotels respective country. The hotel with the fastest expected speed, The Mark (New York), has a download¬†speed that’s over 220 Mbps faster than the average download¬†speed in the US according to Akamai (Q4 2015)!

10 Slowest Hotels May 2016 vs Country Download Speeds Q4 2015

Download graph.

In contrast, the hotels with the slowest download speeds are in some cases well-over 100 times slower than the hotels with the fastest download speeds (and all significantly slower than their countries average download speeds).

Cost per Mbit

Top 10 Hotels With Fastest Download Speed Cost pMbit May 2016

Download graph.

Top 10 Hotels With Slowest Download Speed Cost pMbit May 2016

Download graph.

If you’re paying hundreds of GBP per night for a room you’d likely be expecting good WiFi speed as part of the service. You might even assume a linear relationship between money spent and download speed.

The average nightly room rate for the top 10 hotels with fastest download speeds is £212 GBP (range £62 Р£331 GBP), and £71.50 (range £16 Р£122 GBP) for the bottom 10 hotels. Although a small sample (only 20 hotels), this does indicate a relationship between hotel room rate and WiFi download speed.

At the hotels with the fastest download speeds the cost per Mbit (expected WiFi speed / average cheapest room rate) ranges between £0.83 Р£4.24 GBP. At the slowest hotels the lowest cost per Mbit is, at best, £16 GBP and, at worst, £122 GBP!

Neighbourhoods

Looking at this on a slightly more macro level, I wanted to know if the neighbourhood of a hotel had any bearing on the speed. For instance; would hotels found in business districts typically offer better download speeds?

London

Hotels with Wifi confidence greater than 30pc heatmap London

Download full map.

New York

Hotels with Wifi confidence greater than 30pc heatmap New York

Download full map

In the city with the largest number of hotels analysed, London (384 hotels), there is a spread of speeds across the capital. Although some of the fastest speeds are to found in the more traditional tourist areas of the West End, Victoria, and Marble Arch.

Similarly in¬†New York (321) the fastest download speeds can be found in areas with hotels geared mainly towards tourists — around Broadway. However, in New York the hotel spread is more dense when compared to London. This is because the layout of Manhattan being more compact than the urban sprawl of London.

Improvements

HotelWifiTest download speed data points are:¬†“the speed you would likely get at a randomly chosen time of the day”.¬†Clearly more detailed data on WiFi speeds would increase the accuracy of any analysis.

It would also be interesting to compare average room rates for all hotels and see how strong the correlation between room rate and hotel WiFi download speed really is.

tl;dr

  • If you want a blazing fast connection go to The Mark, New York, where the expected WiFi download speed is 235 Mbps. You’ll pay for it though. Prices from ¬£332 per/night (TripAdvisor – checked May 2016).
  • London hotels offer the best average WiFi download speed at¬†20.88 Mbps.
  • Generally you’re probably best staying in hotels located within a cities tourism district for the best WiFi download speeds.

Acknowledgements

  • HotelWiFiTest for putting together a great public resource for checking hotel WiFi speeds (you should contribute when you can)
  • Akamai for their brilliant “State of the Internet” quarterly reports (I used Q4 2015 for this post).
  • …and finally¬†TripAdvisor for hotel room rate figures.

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