Friday, July 25, 2008

Buying rail tickets the bureaucrat way

I start this piece from a first class seat on a Virgin Pendolino en route to Glasgow Central. The breakfast was free, as was lunch plus two quite decent glasses of wine. Did I mention the free copy of The Times? My fare? £63. Not bad, eh?

Buying rail tickets is fun, at least if you can combine patience with a sense of experimentation. Quite often, rail companies, like airlines, have a curious sense of humour and, if you share it, you can save yourself money.

Last week, Ros and I went to Lancaster. The best standard fare available was about £70 each. A bit pricey for being crammed in like sardines, so how about via Manchester? Same fare. What if I break the journey into bits? Hmmm... £53 first class to Manchester, £9 from there to Lancaster.

The week before, Bath to Stowmarket, £29 each standard class... £29 each first class. A bit of a no-brainer, really.

Amazingly, it seems that many people overlook offers on first class which, given some of the perks you get (free food and drink, plus lounge access on Virgin, for example), is just weird.

Buying tickets for journeys using the services of multiple rail companies can be made much cheaper by breaking the journey at the connection point. On Sunday, Ros and I will be travelling back to London from Crewe. I was offered £53 each for standard class tickets via Banbury. Break it down and it becomes £25.50 each first class to Banbury and £10.50 each from there to Wembley Stadium. Don't you just love it?

The Trainline is really good for finding fares, although not so good for buying them. They charge you for sending tickets, they even charge you for picking your tickets up from a ticket machine. The individual rail companies don't... yet. Also, National Express East Coast offer a 10% on-line only discount, well worth having.

Travelling from London to Manchester or vice versa on a weekday? Check out Virgin Train's e-ticketing experiment, with fares for as little as £3 one way on offer. There's a box on their home page but they don't exactly push the deal that hard.

Of course, the earlier you get there, the better the deals. Some of the rail companies will alert you when cheap fares for your intended journey become available, a very useful service indeed.

I hope that this public information announcement has been of use to you. You can always contribute a proportion of any savings to Ros's campaign for Party President...


Steph Ashley said...

I have a feeling in my water that Ros's campaign doesn't need my money... but to address your post:

I once dated a lovely young man who had an unhealthy fascination with trains (not in the warm flask and the bobble hat way, you understand, in the network management way), so I already know all this. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to see someone else who knows it, too. That said, do not expect comfort if you're taking a train when you come to Pembrokeshire, whatever ticket-juggling feats you come up with. You're in for a good couple of hours of sardine fun west of Swansea because that's all there is. This may be one occasion where green credentials and personal comfort are most difficult to pick between... ;)

Jennie said...

What, a button on my blog isn't ENOUGH?