Friday, 18 March 2011

How to get cheap train tickets. (With a quick aside about queuing)

 I hate being ripped off. Don’t we all?  Personally I think it goes against the spirit of Britishness. By this I mean the characteristic that sums us up as a nation, and that is a sense of what is right and fair. This, my lovely readers, is why we love to queue. We do not queue for the sheer pleasure of joining an orderly line. No, we queue because it is right and proper that the first person is served first, and then each in turn in their right and proper sequence.

Queuing: We love it really

Fairness is an underlying theme of British life. We think everyone should be given their fair chance – why else are we so obsessed with the under-dog? Even our speech is littered with phrases proclaiming fairness, ‘to be fair’, ‘in all fairness’, fair enough’, ‘firm but fair’, ‘fair and square’, and my favourite, which must be incredibly confusing to foreigners, ‘that’s not cricket!’

Being ripped off is in direct opposition to fairness, and it is with this that I take umbrage.  And the latest industry that has tried to rip me off, and each day is ripping off the ‘Great and Fair British Public,’ is the train industry.

Train ticket pricing is a farce.

I have long known this but was reminded of it yesterday whilst trying to book a spot of UK train travel. The trip in question is some 6 weeks away, travelling from Colchester to Market Harborough, but of course there was not a single cheap advance ticket left. Boy do those tickets disappear fast. The cheapest fair I could find was £62.

Now the good news is that I can now indulge in another British pass-time, which is proudly boasting about a saving. Shopping is a skill, and I take pride in doing it well, which I understand to mean doing it with a concern for thrift.

Brits would never speak of having spent x on an item, for fear of being vulgar, but would proudly tell of having saved x on it. You are categorically allowed (moreover encouraged) to take pride in finding a bargain.

I got my tickets, for that exact same journey, on the same trains no less, for £22. Ordinarily I would be annoyed about the £1 booking fee included in this price, but for today only, I’m letting it slide.

So how did I do it?

A little known tactic called split fares.

This is a money saving gem, and is how I got my ticket at a £40 reduction. Instead of buying tickets for the whole journey, buying tickets for its constituent parts separately can bizarrely slash the price – even though you're travelling on exactly the same train.

Time commitment is around 10 minutes to search the journeys, but the savings can be vast. This tip comes highly recommended and recently tested by Money Saving Madam.

Of course in the ideal world of money saving, you always know where you’re heading to in plenty of time, so the obvious tip is to plan ahead. But advance tickets soon fly off the shelves on the internet superhighway, so you have to get in quickly after the date of release. To be one step ahead of the game you can sign up for an alert telling you when the cheapy tickets are available for your exact journey. This will put you first in the queue, and is frankly, a wonder. Ticket alert wonder!

Finally, for a train fare that cannot be beaten, and is a frank ‘two fingers’ to the industry, you should always check if Megatrain serves the route you are travelling. This is the poundland of train tickets, but the good news is that there is nothing produced in China or made of polyester here. This company sells off tickets on regular trains (Virgin/Stagecoach) at a fraction of the normal price. Fares range from 50p to around £7, and recently they had a sale where fares were free with just the booking fee of 50p to pay.

As someone who has purchased a £5 return on a journey that has previously cost me £106, it certainly gives you a warm feeling of smug saving satisfaction.

So, thus endeth today’s lesson.

I will continue congratulating myself on my bargain tickets and try to use the phrase ‘that's not cricket’ at least 3 times in conversation today.

And you? Well you should go forth, save on train travel, and remember – whatever price you pay, you should, if possible, claim that it somehow constituted a saving.


  1. If you decide to reproduce at any point, the other good tip is to get a Friends and Family railcard. Normally kids under 5 travel free so people don't bother, but if you get the railcard and buy a kid ticket you and kid BOTH get a 1/3 off - which if (for example) you're going to London, will more than save the cost of the card (about £20) and the cost of the child ticket. Also means you get a seat for your bairn, which if you are traveling with a baby + carseat is damn handy.

    Unfortunately, the good work that this saving entails can be undone by losing the return portion of the adult ticket, which I have now done twice. One I found it and reclaimed the money, once I did not. It was painful. £70+ worth of painful.

  2. Sod trains, the coach is the king of budget travel! Megabus, Greyhound and National Express are all extremely affordable (if your bum can survive the torturous seats).