Ebookers Bonus+ Closes. Will be replaced by Expedia One Key

An email from Ebookers has landed in my inbox this morning, advising that the Bonus+ loyalty program is shutting down in September. It will be replaced by an all-new program called ‘One Key’ managed by Expedia, the parent company of Ebookers.

For semi-budget travellers like us, the closure of Ebookers Bonus+ is a shame. It wasn’t the best program, but it did allow us to earn some loyalty benefits without having to be loyal to a specific hotel chain.

Ebookers Bonus+ Closes – what now?

Reading between the lines, the Ebookers website itself will probably shut down in September too, with all products and services being rolled into the Expedia brand. At the switchover, your existing Bonus+ benefits and earnings will also be merged into the One Key program.

One Key looks like poor value

It is very, very rare that a loyalty program improves over time. Which is a shame because the Bonus+ benefits were actually pretty decent, particularly at the Platinum level:

A screenshot of the current Bonus+ benefits taken before Ebookers Bonus+ closes

Perhaps better still, earning status was relatively easy. Every member automatically qualifies for Silver status at sign-up. Stay 4+ nights to earn Gold, or 12+ to hit the heady heights of Platinum.

Unsurprisingly, we managed to hold Platinum status for several years. And the annual DragonPass airport lounge passes were a genuinely handy benefit.

The One Key loyalty program is significantly less generous (in my opinion):

A screen shot of the One Key loyalty program tiers and the benefits for each

At the very highest tier, you have the opportunity to earn an additional 1% cash back – and that’s about it. Earning status is also harder, not least because there’s a new, unnecessary Blue tier to navigate first:

A picture of the earnings thresholds required to reach each One Key loyalty program tier

What is a ‘trip element’?

The Bonus+ program was beautifully simple – for every night stayed, you earned one credit towards the next tier. One Key introduces the concept of ‘trip elements’ to further obfuscate how difficult it will be to reach Platinum status.

The idea is that you are rewarded for each service you purchase through Expedia. So you earn a credit for each night in a hotel or each day you hire a car etc. According to the official example, two nights in a hotel and three day’s care hire would count as five credits, allowing you to achieve Silver status in just one trip.

Bumping the Platinum tier threshold to 30 credits has made it much harder (and more expensive) to reach goal.

It’s also worth noting that membership tiers are not permanent. You will have to meet the credit threshold every year to maintain status. Much like regular hotel programs such as Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors.

Are there any upsides to One Key?

One Key will become the new loyalty program for all of Expedia’s brands. This means you can earn status on qualifying spend at Expedia, Hotels.com and Vrbo, allowing you to consolidate your travel loyalty memberships a little.

And in theory, by making Platinum status harder to achieve, fewer people will. Aside from perceived exclusivity, there is a very slim chance that the properties you visit will provide better perks.

What happens to my left-over Bonus+ credit?

When the One Key handover completes, Expedia promise that any left-over credit will migrate automatically. They also confirm that your existing Bonus+ membership tier will migrated to the corresponding One Key tier. But given the credit thresholds, there will be plenty of Platinum members who find themselves bumped down to Gold (or lower) overnight.

Ebookers Bonus+ closes – and so does my loyalty

The benefits of Bonus+ weren’t earth-shattering – but they were better than most of the hotel aggregator websites. By making it harder (and more expensive) to reach higher tiers, I don’t think we will bother in future. I certainly will not go out of my way to choose Expedia over Booking.com for instance.

As Ebookers Bonus+ closes I will no longer be tempted to gravitate towards loyalty program benefits over raw costs. I will always lean towards the cheapest prices for comparable hotel rooms in future.

Goodbye Bonus+, we will miss you.


Please note that although we may earn a referral fee or bonus points on some of these services, we never recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.

Another Amex Center Parcs Discount Code

UPDATE 17/05/2024: An email newsletter landed in my inbox today with a genuine Center Parcs discount code: SAVE50

The code is valid for ‘all spring and early summer breaks when you book before midnight on 21st May‘.

Looking at the Amex T&Cs, it would appear you can “stack” the Amex rebate with the Center Parcs discount code to give a £125 total discount on your next forest lodge holiday…


The UK’s favourite middle class holiday camp is offering another Center Parcs discount code to American Express cardholders. This is highly unusual in the run-up to the summer holidays.

A picture of the Woburn park which we visited without a Center Parcs discount code
A Center Parcs discount code could allow you to enjoy a view like this at the Woburn park

As always, the discount is not earth-shattering. Amex card holders will receive a £75 ‘statement credit’ when they spend over £1000 on a Center Parcs break. That’s the equivalent of a 7.5% discount.

The Center Parcs discount code is available to the first 10,000 American Express card holders who activate the deal from the online account portal. The holiday booking transaction should be detected automatically, no discount code is actually required. The £75 credit will appear on your next statement. If not, Amex customer support are generally very good at making things right.

And don’t forget, you’ll earn at least 925 American Express Reward Points for your booking (one per pound spent). Reward Points are extremely useful because they can be traded for other loyalty points, such as Avios or Virgin Red points.

This particular offer is probably only of interest if you are already planning a trip to one of the Center Parcs parks. But as the famous supermarket slogan says, ‘every little helps‘. Just make sure you complete and pay for your booking before the offer ends on July 13th.

If you don’t yet have an American Express card, you can use our custom referral link to receive a 22,000 Membership Rewards bonus (equivalent to 22,000 Avios).

Aurora Borealis – Sometimes you get lucky

We have seen the Aurora Borealis a couple of times over the past few years, usually somewhere up near the Arctic Circle. Last night we were lucky enough to catch sight of the Northern Lights from our own back yard in Eastern England.

And it was spectacular.

A picture of the Aurora Borealis looking north west
Looking north west
A picture of the Aurora Borealis looking north east
Looking north east

Obviously, it is incredibly rare to see the Aurora Borealis this far south. Even more so to see this level of colour and detail. As always, Norway and Iceland offer a far greater chance of seeing the phenomenon in real life, but sometimes even the UK gets lucky.

If you happen to be in the UK, you can monitor Aurora activity with the AuroraWatch UK app. It’s free and will even alert you to heightened activity (when you are most likely to see it).

Fingers crossed we get to see the Aurora again in July as we head to Greenland and Iceland.

*Note: Neither of these photos of the Northern Lights has been altered in any way. They were captured on an iPhone 14 with the low-light Night Vision mode enabled.

Introducing DI Carson

Our travel options are still quite limited so time must be filled in other ways. In my case, that’s through writing which has led to the creation of DI Carson.

A picture of the cover of the DI Carson novel, Misadvertised

DI Carson is the ‘star’ of my latest novel Misadvertised, a gritty crime thriller set in London. Here’s what you need to know:

‘Yes’. A perfectly harmless message. Except for when it is written in the blood of an innocent man.

In the heart-pounding thriller Misadvertised, DI Carson is thrust into a grisly murder case that sends shockwaves through London. When a young man is found brutally murdered, his head severed with an axe, DI Carson and his fledgling murder squad are faced with a chilling mystery: no evidence, no motives, and no suspects, except for the cryptic messages left behind by a madman.

Struggling to rebuild his life after two years undercover and a strained marriage, DI Carson must rally his new team of detectives as they dive into the dark underbelly of London’s most notorious neighbourhoods. From the neon-lit streets of Soho to the dank sewers of Camden, every lead brings them closer to a deranged killer who shows no mercy.

As the body count rises and pressure mounts from all sides, Carson must navigate through the skepticism of his colleagues, the demands of his superiors, and the relentless scrutiny of the media. Can he piece together the twisted puzzle before more lives are claimed?

Misadvertised is a gripping tale of redemption, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of justice that will captivate fans of Alex Smith, K.T. Galloway, and JD Kirk alike.

Sounds interesting? Misadvertised ships on April 27th. Pre-order your copy now.

The Illusionist escape room, Escape Basildon

Unusually we managed to catch both boys at home and in a good mood, so we arranged another family trip – The Illusionist escape room hosted by Escape Basildon. Because of the relatively short notice, we had to book by phone (not a problem) and pay over the phone (big problem).

The escape room itself is located close to the pedestrianised city centre of Basildon opposite one of the more run-down looking buildings. Once inside however, the shop itself is fine, looking very much like any of the other games arenas we have visited over the years. 

After a shortened introduction and safety briefing, we were led into the room and given an analogue countdown clock and the background story: 

The curtains close, the cheering stops, yet you still await the appearance of the Illusionist. Having volunteered to take part in the grand finale it turns out there is a more sinister edge to the Magicians final trick. In order to escape you will need to defeat the magical challenges ahead!

Then we were set loose. 

It took us a little while to get into gear but once the first few puzzles were solved, we found our groove. There are quite a few padlocks in this particular game, some easier than others. On the few occasions we did get stuck, it was usually down to miscommunication rather than the difficulty of the puzzle itself. 

Experienced gamers will recognise many of the puzzle principles used in The Illusionist. But we still had fun and enjoyed the challenge, escaping from the room in just 45 minutes. The theming and condition of the room is also pretty good.

A picture of the family inside The Illusionist escape room in Basildon
As you can see, we had 15 minutes left on the clock

With four people playing, the room did feel a bit cramped at times. With six (max capacity) I can see fellow players becoming a hindrance – especially if one of you is less mobile than the others. There is no crawling, climbing or uneven floors in this room, which makes it relatively accessible.

Back in the Escape Basildon foyer, there are plenty of comfortable seats and a collection of 80s style arcade games. There is also a milkshake bar selling Shakeaway style drinks which is pretty cool.

There are two other rooms to play at Escape Basildon (a horror room and a wizard-themed room) which we may come back and play at some point in the future.

Did we escape? Yes
Did we have fun? Yes
Mobility rating: 4.5 out of 5 (the whole game operates in one room on one level)
Price: £88.00
Would we recommend? Yes
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Other important stats for The Illusionist escape room:

Number of players: 4
Time limit: 60 minutes
Time remaining: 15 minutes
Number of clues: 0
Live actors: No
Escape Basildon difficulty rating: 4 out of 5

It’s worth noting that there is no parking at the Escape Basildon escape rooms, although there are plenty of car parks nearby. After 6pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays, it costs just £0.75 to park. There is no free parking for Blue Badge holders.

Twilight Manor escape room, Cluetopia Ipswich

What’s the best way to celebrate Mother’s Day? Chocolates? Breakfast in bed? Flowers? Meal out? No. It’s a trip to Twilight Manor.

As Linda’s recovery from her hip replacement operation continues apace, we decided to have a family day out to try a new escape room – Twilight Manor. Hosted by Cluetopia, this is a ‘haunted house’ style room housed in an old building down near Ipswich Marina.

From the blurb:

You managed to buy Twilight Manor at a fraction of its true cost. You knew it needed some work. However, you didn’t know it was HAUNTED! A local urban legend states the only way to rid the house of its unwanted guests is to find the ancient Talisman, hidden somewhere deep within the manor. No one who has entered has survived longer than an hour. Can you find the Talisman and rid the Manor of its nasty spirits?

Obviously I can’t say much about the specifics, but this is a quite large, multi-room affair. There is a good mix of simple and difficult puzzles and many of them require good teamwork and timing to solve.

The theming itself isn’t too bad and the room is clean and well-maintained. The horror theme means that you will encounter some blood and body parts, but they are relatively tame compared to what you encounter on the European mainland!

Twilight Manor is reputed to be one of the hardest rooms at Cluetopia Ipswich so less experienced teams may want to take a fourth member (you can have up to eight).

There are also a few ‘scary’ moments but I was so focused on the puzzles I missed them all!

Did we escape? Yes
Did we have fun? Yes
Mobility rating: 2.5 out of 5 (there are a few stairs in this multi-room game)
Price: £72.00
Would we recommend? Yes
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Linda and I have done a few rooms at another Cluetopia location (Clacton on Sea) and enjoyed them both. The games masters are always very friendly and helpful and take great pride in doing a good job for the players.

Other important Twilight Manor stats
Number of players: 3
Time limit: 60 minutes
Time remaining: 3 minutes
Number of clues: 1
Live actors: No
Cluetopia difficulty rating: 4 out of 5

It’s also worth noting that there is no parking at the Cluetopia escape rooms, although there are two car parks nearby. Just be warned that it’s not cheap (£3.20 for two hours).

National Express to Southampton Cruise Terminal Guide

Everything you need to know about catching a National Express Coach to Southampton Cruise Terminal.

Can I catch a coach to Southampton Cruise Terminal?

No, not directly. National Express coaches stop at the bus station in Southampton town centre.

How far is Southampton Coach Station from the cruise terminal?

It is possible to walk to all five cruise terminals, but you must consider the distances involved before setting off:

  • Mayflower Cruise Terminal – 1.4 miles
  • Horizon Cruise Terminal – 0.7 miles
  • City Cruise Terminal – 0.7 miles
  • Ocean Cruise Terminal – 1.2 miles
  • QE II Terminal – 1.9 miles

A taxi transfer to the docks is probably the smarter choice when dealing with large suitcases (see below).

Which is the nearest hotel to Southampton Coach Station?

Both the Premier Inn and the Moxy are a short walk away.

And no, you don’t have to walk around the second roundabout shown in the map above, saving some time and distance.

Can I get a taxi from Southampton National Express Coach Station?

Without pre-booking, probably not. There is a taxi rank just out the front of the coach station (see map below) but there is rarely a queue of waiting vehicles. 

You could call an Uber or book a West Quay Cars taxi by calling +44 (0)2380 999 999.

Can I catch a regular bus to the cruise terminal at Southampton?

No. None of the cruise terminals is served directly by a public bus route. Even if you do manage to struggle onboard with your suitcases, you will still have to walk quite some distance from the nearest bus stop to your ship.

What facilities are there at Southampton Coach Station?

You will find toilets and a small shop at the Coach Station – if it is open. There is a roof to shelter under if the weather is bad. There is also a small coffee shop, payphone and an automated ticket machine.

Is there a toilet at Southampton Coach Station?

Yes. But it is only accessible when the bus station is open. And if it is like the toilet at Victoria Coach Station, wear a mask – the stench is probably quite bad.

When is the coach station open?

The current opening hours are:

Monday – Thursday: 08:00 – 17:30 (8:00am – 5:30pm)

Friday: 06:45 – 17:30 (6:45am – 5:30pm)

Saturday – Sunday: 07:15 – 17:30 (7:15am – 5:30pm)

Note that coaches do arrive and depart outside these hours, but you will not be able to access any of the facilities inside the station – including the toilets. So if you need to go, use the toilet on the coach before disembarking.

Can I buy National Express tickets at the bus station?

Yes, there is an automated ticket machine – but you can only use it when Southampton Coach Station is open. Buying tickets online may be a smarter move though – that way you can guarantee your seat on the coach to London.

National Express also accept telephone bookings – but they will apply an additional £3 booking fee for doing so.

Is the coach station accessible?

Access from street to coach is completely step-free. But you will need to climb several steps once you are on the bus.

Is there a left luggage office at Southampton Bus Station?

No. And there are no luggage storage options at the nearby railway station either.

Instead you will need to consider using a service like CitySpareSpace to book baggage storage – prices start at £7 per bag. The nearest option appears to be the Maynards Store, a six minute walk away. We’ve not used this service, so cannot provide a personal recommendation.

UK hotels tend to store luggage free of charge which may be a better option if you are staying in Southampton overnight.

What about coaches from London Heathrow Airport to Southampton?

National Express operate several coaches daily between Southampton and London Heathrow Airport. The bus is a viable transfer option if you are doing a fly-cruise trip.

And National Express coaches from Gatwick to Southampton?

Travelling between Gatwick Airport and Southampton Cruise Terminal is a two-leg trip. Ironically you must first catch a bus to Heathrow Airport, then change to reach your final destination. The same is true if you are hoping to connect with London Stansted Airport.

Probably not the best option if you’re already tired and jet-lagged.

Can you travel by coach to Southampton on the same day you sail?

If your cruise leaves in the afternoon or evening, you could arrive in Southampton in the morning. Just remember that coaches are subject to the same traffic conditions as cars, so if there is a traffic jam anywhere along the route, it will affect arrival times.

And don’t forget – you must also factor in the time required to get from the coach station to your cruise terminal too.

What is the phone number for the National Express Southampton Coach Station?

You cannot call the Southampton bus station direct. However, you can contact customer services for more information on 08717 81 81 81. Calls cost an eye-watering 13p per minute however.

BONUS TIP: You can avoid sky high call charges by using the local-rate number instead: +44 (0)371 781 8181

Is there anything else I should know?

  • Southampton Central railway station is a short walk away, as is the Westquay Shopping Centre
  • There are three coach bays – make sure you board the correct bus if travelling away from the cruise terminal.
  • Speak to the agent at the gate if you have mobility issues. They may be able to board you first, saving a lot of the hassle and discomfort of boarding with the other passengers.

Read our review of the London to Southampton National Express journey.

Would we recommend catching National Express to Southampton Cruise Terminal?

Yes, absolutely. There are several reasons to consider catching a coach to Southampton: 

  • National Express coach tickets are much cheaper than port parking. 
  • You don’t have to worry about where to leave your car on a one-way cruise.
  • Coach travel is also much cheaper than train travel.
  • Speed limits, one-way systems and traffic are all someone else’s problem – much more relaxing than driving yourself!

Do you have another question? Leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to find an answer.

The Warsaw Gambit – Have You Read It Yet?

Journey into Darkness is a travel blog. However, I am also a professional writer – I even have to work on the road sometimes. But that’s just part of having the best job in the world.

In between family life, customer projects and this blog, I have also managed to complete my first ever novel, The Warsaw Gambit.

It only took 45 years.

From the blurb:

Russia has invaded Ukraine. Europe is in chaos. NATO refuses to get involved. 

Faced by overwhelming military might and dwindling support from its allies, Ukraine is about to fall. And the rest of Eastern Europe could be next. 

Then a long-dead Cold War era double agent makes contact with his CIA handler, sharing a secret that could end the war. So why does no one want to act?

Taking the initiative, the Polish government arranges a simple mission with a team of five volunteers. All they have to do is find – and kidnap – the Russian president.

But time is running out…

It’s a thrilling action adventure novel – even Linda enjoyed it.

The Warsaw Gambit is available now exclusively on Amazon. And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can download and read for free.

Order your copy of The Warsaw Gambit here.

And please don’t forget to leave a rating and review – it really helps us indie publishers.

British Airways Executive Club Changes Tier Point Earning Period

An email from British Airways this morning announces a genuinely useful change to the Executive Club frequent flyer program. From 1st April 2025 all club members will operate according to the same tier point earning period dates.

So what?

With British Airways, frequent flyer status is earned by collecting ‘Tier Points’ (not to be confused with Avios). Tier Points are awarded based on the flights flown with British Airways and essentially, the more you spend on your flight, the more points you earn. Flying long haul first class from London to Sydney earns more Tier Points than a short haul economy hop from London to Paris for instance.

If you earn enough Tier Points during your annual collection period, you qualify for frequent flyer status and all the benefits that brings.

Simple enough, right? The only problem is that the Tier Point earning period varies wildly depending on when you joined the BA Executive Club. Currently my earning period begins and ends on the 8th September whereas Linda’s runs until June.

Having failed to complete enough flights during my Tier Point earning period, I have been bumped down to Bronze status. Linda on the other is still sitting pretty in Silver, despite having flown no more times than I – she just got lucky with the timing of our trips, meeting the earnings threshold at a more opportune time than I did.

BA simplifies the Tier Point Earning Period

The news that the Tier Point Earning Period is being standardised is good news for travellers like us. Previously, achieving and retaining status meant carefully calculating when to fly to maximise Tier Point earning potential – and to ensure we got full value from our frequent flyer status. In future we know that our collection periods are the same – and our membership levels.

Usually an email from an airline about changes to the frequent flyer program contains bad news (such as the value of miles being downgraded again). However, this is one change I think will benefit us – especially as the Executive Club will apply ‘Tier Point adjustments’ to address the shortening of the collection window.

You can learn more about the changes in BA’s FAQs.

What is the nearest airport for Sunny Beach?

Which is the nearest airport for Sunny Beach? It’s a common question asked by visitors to the Journey into Darkness blog.

TLDR; it’s Burgas.

Also known as Slynchev Bryag, Sunny Beach is a Magaluf-like resort on the Black Sea in Bulgaria. It is a popular destination for bargain hunters who want to enjoy nice, warm weather without the negative connotations of the Balearics or Costa Brava.

And because Bulgaria has retained the Lev, your holiday money goes a lot further than in other Eurozone destinations.


Top tip: You can read our multi-day review of Sunny Beach and surrounding areas here.


Most package holidays include transfers to Sunny Beach from the airport. But if you’re arranging a budget break, you may have to make your own arrangements. Here’s what you need to know:

Burgas is the closest airport to Sunny Beach

Just 17 miles away, the nearest airport to Sunny Beach is Burgas. A private transfer in a taxi takes about 30 minutes. A resort transfer bus takes a lot longer as it loops around the various hotels, dropping off other holidaymakers.

Airlines serving Burgas include: WizzAir, Jet2, Ryanair, EasyJet, Eurowings, LOT and Smartwings, usually according to seasonal schedules.

Varna is an alternative airport for Sunny Beach

Varna Airport is sometimes billed as an alternative for Sunny Beach but it is much further away (62 miles!). Expect to pay £50 – £120 for a transfer (taxi, minibus etc).

Having not tried Varna Airport, we cannot recommend it.

Airlines serving Varna include: WizzAir, Tui, Turkish and Austrian. Again, seasonal schedules may apply.

Istanbul is closer than Sofia (as the crow flies)

Tempted to fly to the Bulgarian capital and travel cross-country? It takes more than four hours to drive the 250+ miles to the coast. If you are willing to make that kind of journey, you could also consider flying to Istanbul in Turkey…

BONUS: Useless Sunny Beach airport trivia

Technically, Sunny Beach has its own airport, just seven miles outside the town. However, there are no international flights – because it is little more than a grass airstrip in a field.

If you hold a private pilot licence and fancy taking your chances, the ‘airport’ is located here. And if you can read Bulgarian, check out the SunnyBeachAirport.com website. Good luck finding a taxi though!

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