Here are five tricks to get cheaper rail tickets in Britain

Get your life on track. Image: Dave Strom/Flickr/creative commons.

British rail commuters are being told they are likely to face fare hikes. Price increases aside, the rules around tickets are complex and date back to the 1980s, which means there’s a bewildering array of tickets available: anytime, saver, super saver, season, advanced, first class, second class, child, adult, privilege, two together – to name a few.

A simple matrix gives over 200 ticket types for all destinations. Add in a second operator or specific requirements, and the choice can easily be over 250. People are pretty much left to interpret all this for themselves, and make the decision that’s right for them.

With 20 years of experience in the rail sector, working for train operating companies, Network Rail and in non-government organisations, together with a keen focus on customer service through our research at the University of Huddersfield Business School, we thought it would be worth sharing some tips on how to navigate train tickets. So we have come up with some simple rules of thumb, which can help you get better prices on your train tickets.

1. Book in advance

The further in advance you buy a ticket (online), the cheaper it will be. For instance, a standard class single, Milton Keynes to Glasgow Central, leaving in the morning would cost £22 (only valid on the 10.13am train on September 12, 2018, booked July 2018). By contrast, an off-peak ticket – which can be bought in advance or on the day – would cost £64.05, while an anytime ticket would cost £155.50.

It’s important to know that, for the most part, all train websites sell the same tickets at the same regulated price. For advanced fares (bought before travelling) the train company that covers the majority of the journey you are travelling may offer a cheaper ticket price not available on other sites, so its worth checking who the main operator is and visiting their website or budget spin offs.

For example, Milton Keynes to Southport (Merseyside) will require you to use two operators, probably Virgin Trains and Mersey Rail. In the case Virgin Trains is likely to offer the cheapest advanced tickets for this route.

2. Late starts and split ticketing

Most journeys starting before 9.30am will face a peak time premium, so always start your journey after that time if possible. If you have to start before 9.30am, look at buying two tickets; the first covering you for the part of the trip that you take before 9.30am and the second for afterwards. This is called “split ticketing”.

Take your time. Image: David McKelvey/Flickr/creative commons.

For example, Cheltenham Spa to Edinburgh Waverley on a Saturday costs £154 direct – that’s £59.40 more than splitting the ticket at Manchester Piccadilly. Two tickets – one covering Cheltenham Spa to Manchester, and the other Manchester to Edinburgh – will cost £94.60.

And providing your train is routed via Manchester, you don’t even have to get off the train. You can figure out and book your route yourself, or there are some websites that can do it for you.

3. Saving with singles and returns

Anytime returns, setting out before 9.30am, often cost twice as much as a single. Meanwhile, tickets valid after 9.30am often have a return price that’s less than £1 more than the single. So, it’s often cheaper to buy a single and a return, if you think you might travel the same route again.

Return journeys are typically valid for a month, so consider using them for other journeys. For example, an off-peak single from Huddersfield to Birmingham is £58.60, while an off-peak return is £59.60. If I’m travelling before 9.30am, I might buy a single for Huddersfield to Birmingham, and a return for Birmingham to Huddersfield.

This is because the two singles will cost £137.60, but I could pay £140.30 for a single and an anytime return. Then, if I happen to have a night out in Manchester (or anywhere else on the Huddersfield to Birmingham route) I can use the return to get there, potentially saving some of the cost of the fare.

4. Check the operator

Always check if there’s more than one operator running a route, and if they have specific tickets. For instance, the London to Birmingham journey is served by three operators, which offer a direct service, all with a different journey duration and price.

For a departure before 9am, a ticket with Virgin will cost £176.50 and the journey will last 80 minutes, London North Western Railway (Formerly London Midland) will cost £29.50 and last 130 minutes, and Chiltern will charge £30.50 for a journey lasting 120 minutes.

5. Take a break

All tickets are valid via any reasonable route, unless specifically stated on the ticket. This means that you’re allowed to break your journey, by getting off at a stop along the way (as long as you still respect restrictions, such as off-peak travel). This means you can do some quite remarkable journeys on strange tickets.


The rule is rather arcane and not well understood. Because of the challenges this can cause, the railways simply state that “a route needs to be reasonable” – without making clear what that entails. Basically, you must be able to justify your route and never double back on any section of track. If challenged, you must explain the route you are taking, in accordance with the rule.

The ConversationAs an example, Swindon and Birmingham might reasonably be visited on a ticket to Manchester, or even Edinburgh, from London. The fact you can break your journey means you could schedule a meeting or visit friends at any or all of these cities. In some cases, you may not even make your end destination... but bear in mind the ticket is only valid for one calendar day.

Marcus Mayers, Visiting Research Fellow, University of Huddersfield and David Bamford, Professor of Operations Management, University of Huddersfield.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The media scumbag’s route of choice: A personal history of London’s C2 bus

A C2 bus at Parliament Hill. Image: David Howard/Wikimedia Commons.

London’s C2 bus route, which runs from Parliament Hill, by Hampstead Heath, down to Conduit Street, just off Regent Street, is one of the bus routes recently earmarked for the chop. It has oft been noted that, of all the routes recently pencilled in for cancellation after a consultation late last year, it was the one most likely to survive, for the simple reason that it links liberal suburban north London with BBC Broadcasting House and Soho; it’s thus the route most likely to be used by people who can convince someone to let them report on its imminent demise.

So it would come as no surprise that former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger took to the Camden New Journal when the consultation began, arguing that it would be a disservice to the local community to discontinue a route where you can always get a seat – seemingly missing the point that the fact you can always get a seat is not a great sign of the route’s usefulness.

It wasn’t always that way. When I left university in 2000, and moved from accommodation near college to up to a rented shared house in N6, the C2 was my bus. I commuted to Soho for sixteen years: for more than a decade from flats around the Swain’s Lane roundabout, and for five years from Kentish Town. While my place of work bounced around from Golden Square to Lexington Street to Great Marlborough, it was always the most convenient way to get to, and from, work; especially given the difference between bus and tube prices.

So when it comes to the C2 I’ve seen it, I’ve done it, and bought the bus pass. And by bus pass, I mean those little paper ones that still existed at the beginning of this century. Not just before contactless, but before Oyster cards.

More importantly, it was before London buses operated a single zone. There was an outer zone, and an inner zone, with different prices. To travel from one zone to another cost £1.30, meaning an all cash commute was £2.60, whereas a paper bus pass was £2.00. That made it worth your while to divert to an early opening newsagents on your way to the bus stop (GK, in my case), even if you only got two buses a day.

It’s a measure of how greatly London’s buses have improved over the last twenty years, since first brought under control of the mayoralty, that pretty much everything about this anecdotage, including the prices, seems faintly mad. But there’s more: back when I started getting that bus down to Stop N, literally at the very end of the route, the C2 used single decker buses with a single door. It’s an appalling design for use in a crowded city, which meant most of any journey was, for most passengers, spent fighting your way up and down the middle of the bus to find a seat, and then back again to get off; or – and this was more likely – fighting your way up the bus to get into standing space the driver insisted was there, before fighting your way, etc.

Such buses – and in my former life in the English Midlands I went to school on one of these buses every day – are perfectly functional where bus stops are infrequent and buses rarely standing room only. But running through Camden Town at rush hour, they’re wholly unfit for purpose.

A Citypacer. Image: RXUYDC/Wikimedia Commons.

It could have been worse. I didn’t know this at the time, but a few years before the C2 route had been run using Optare City Pacers. Those are, let us be frank, not really buses at all, but minibuses. That’s something the reveals the C2’s origins, as a hopper route to the west end largely intended for the daytime use of Gospel Oak’s pensioners in the years immediately before bus privatisation. (The C11 has a similar origin, taking the same constituency from Archway to England’s Lane.)

Once responsibility for London Buses was moved to the newly established mayoralty, things improved dramatically. Under Ken Livingstone it went double decker in 2005, and 24 hour in 2007. Under Boris Johnson it was extended from its once, and future, terminus of Conduit Street to Victoria Station, swallowing up the cancelled sections of the 8 bus; this extension was quietly disposed of a few years later, once it was clear no one would notice. (I did.)


In those years I must have taken a C2 the best part of ten thousand times; but for all the years when I wouldn’t have been able to live without the C2, times have reduced its utility, and not just for me. I’m now a 214 sort of guy: these days the top chunk of the C2 route is duplicated exactly by that other bus, which starts up in Highgate Village and, once it gets to Swain’s Lane, follows the same path until the fork of Kentish Town Road and Royal College Street, opposite the long defunct South Kentish Town tube station.

From a few hundred metres below that point, at Camden Gardens, stop C, the 88 starts. That duplicates the rest of the C2’s route, with the exception of the run down Albany Street and onto Great Portland, for much of which the C2 is the only bus.

So the C2, old friend that it is, is pretty redundant in the age of the hopper fare, which allows you to change buses without paying a second fare. That’s even more true now the C2’s otherwise un-serviced stops are being giving over to a re-routed 88, which will pick up the C2’s most northern leg, by not finishing at Camden Gardens anymore and instead going all the way to Parliament Hill Fields. Which will be nice for it.

All this, however, ignores the best reason for getting rid of the C2 (or rather for merging it with the 88, which is what’s actually happening): that first character. The letter. Who wants a bus route with a letter in front of it when even half the night buses don’t have the N anymore? It’s relic of the route’s aforementioned origins as a ‘Camdenhopper’.

That C is twenty five years past its own utility. It’s just untidy. City Metric hates that sort of thing. Get rid.