Cut the cost of... rail travel
Business Traveller offers tried-and-tested tips on getting more for your money. This month: rail travel
Standard class Saver tickets, often branded “off-peak returns”, are the simplest way to cut rail costs and enjoy the benefits of “walk-on” flexibility. Time your appointments to avoid peak periods and travel for a fraction of the normal price. A London Paddington to Bristol off-peak return costs £65 compared with the full fare of £179.
Book in advance
Advance tickets are an easy way to cut costs over long-distance routes provided you can book ahead (up to 6pm the day before departure) and are prepared to accept inflexibility. As with the budget airlines, the price you pay will depend on when you book and travel. Advance tickets are available on longer journeys, at most times and with all train companies for both first and standard class travel.
Buy a monthly ticket
If you travel regularly – say, more than four times a month – between two cities, then consider buying a monthly season ticket. They provide complete flexibility to travel when you like, as often as you like. Take London Euston to Manchester – a monthly season ticket costs £2,005 for first and £1,222 for standard class. These prices might seem expensive but consider that just one fully flexible first class return will set you back £423, while even standard class is a hefty £296. A further bonus is that Virgin Trains, the incumbent TOC (train operating company), throws in free food and drink when you travel first class.
Go open access
Should your travels take you between London and certain destinations in Yorkshire and the north-east then opt for what’s termed an “open access” train firm. Unlike the leading TOCs, the open access boys pay no government franchise fees so pass back the savings in the form of lower fares. Hull Trains and Grand Central are the two firms serving a range of destinations in these regions. A peak standard class London King’s Cross to Doncaster return with Hull Trains costs £75 compared with East Coast’s price of £187.
Try another route
If you travel between London and Birmingham at peak times, do not overlook Chiltern Railways. This niche TOC departs Marylebone and arrives at Moor Street, whereas the main TOC, Virgin Trains, takes the conventional Euston-New Street routing. Chiltern charges a mere £25 for a day return (there are no peak-time restrictions) from Marylebone, whereas the same ticket with Virgin from Euston costs £158. Granted, Virgin operates more frequently and its trains take roughly 20 minutes less – but are these benefits worth £133?
When you have a lot of travelling planned throughout the UK, it’s a good idea to invest in an All Line Rover. The TOCs do not openly promote this bargain ticket so you must specifically request it. There are some morning peak-hour restrictions in the London area but otherwise you can travel as much as you like and as far as you like, within a 14-day period with almost every train firm. Tickets cost £1,040 for first and £680 in standard class, and railcard discounts apply.
Passengers taking the train between London Paddington and Heathrow airport can cut costs by taking the slower Heathrow Connect service. It costs £9 one-way compared with £19 on Heathrow Express (with journey times of 30 and 20 minutes respectively).
Take the low road
Book East Coast’s Scottish Executive ticket by 1800 before the day of travel when travelling between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh. A return fare of £229 provides first class seating, free meals and drinks. You can use virtually all trains throughout the day and make a huge saving on equivalent airline prices for last-minute travel. No wonder East Coast has, for the first time in many years, persuaded passengers to defect from the “high road”. It’s also cheaper than a flexible standard class ticket, which costs £241.50.
Split your tickets
“Split ticketing” enables you to reduce the cost of a through journey. It mainly works for cross-country trips and you will have to experiment to discover any potential savings. For example, for a journey between Southampton and Edinburgh, you may find it cheaper to purchase one ticket for Southampton-London Waterloo with a separate ticket for London King’s Cross-Edinburgh. Much depends on the class of travel and the ticket restrictions you may have to meet (if any). Split ticketing is allowed within the National Rail Conditions of Carriage provided the train calls at the stations you buy the ticket for.
Get a railcard
If you are 60 or over then invest in a Senior Railcard. It provides a one-third discount on almost all first and standard class tickets, including discounted rates. There are some peak-time restrictions in the London area, otherwise you can travel at any time. It costs £28 for one year or £65 for three years. Use the Railcard to buy one high-value ticket and you will recoup the cost many times over.
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