South West Trains have just started their summer promotion, £16 day returns from anywhere to anywhere on the SWT network. Which will bring all sorts of happiness to people who travel on the network regularly. And to those who would normally consider themselves priced out of travelling by train. For just £16 (£3 for kids 5-15) you can buy an off-peak day return from and to anywhere on the SWT network. Terms and conditions do, of course, apply.
Train prices get a bad rap. Especially in December, just before the annual January price rises. The increases are often given an good few column inches in the national press with a general theme of outrage accompanied by an array of cherry picked sample fares (the most expensive they can find) which are then compared to more cherry picked fares (the cheapest they can find) from Europe.
You can imagine the glee of trainspotting journalists a couple of years back when the first ever £1,000 plus ticket was churned up by the pricing system – a first class return from Newquay in south west England up to the Kyle of Lochalsh in Scotland. A round trip of more than 1,700 miles. Not that anyone has ever, or would ever, buy this particular ticket.
It’s true to say that train fares have increased dramatically since the privatisation of the rail network in the mid 1990s, and there really can be some eye-wateringly expensive tickets. I’ve sold a few £6,000+ season tickets and plenty of walk up tickets in the hundreds of pounds. But one should note that rail companies in Britain have a more varied spread of fares across peak, off peak and advance tickets than is often the case in Europe.
There are some very pricey fares in the UK and there are some very cheap fares. If you do your homework, are prepared to be flexible and can plan ahead then there are ways to get around the rail network very cheaply. Buying a £30 railcard will get you 30% off your fares and booking ahead of time for longer journeys can turn a £100 ticket into a £20 ticket with a bit of luck. For example, buy now for August and you could get from Bournemouth to Liverpool and back for less than £40, compared to the standard off peak fare of more than £120.
Another favourite tactic of the seasoned train traveller is to split their ticket. For example, instead of booking one ticket from the south coast up to Birmingham, you can save a lot of your hard earned cash by buying two tickets – from the coast to Banbury and then from Banbury to Birmingham.
A lesser known method of getting a cheaper ticket is to book a ticket to a station further down the line than your actual destination. This works when you’re travelling across two train networks which have different pricing strategies. The journey will be priced by the company you make the majority of the journey with. Book further down the line with the cheaper network to make sure they price the trip.
There are other ways to reduce the cost of train travel. Slightly nefarious ways. You could forge a ticket, for example. Or you can try and take advantage of potential loopholes in the system. But this only saves you money on the proviso that you don’t get caught. If, likely when, you do get nabbed, your fare reduction plan will end up being far more costly than just paying the proper fare in the first place. So perhaps you’d be better off with the number one tried and tested fare evasion tactic, favoured particularly by the drug addicts and reprobates of society. Just don’t buy any sort of ticket at all and be prepared to jump over a wall if challenged. But it’s best to not be that type of person…