The UK national rail system is bemoaned by most of its citizens for its exorbitant pricing – in fact with the advent of low-cost airlines, it’s sometimes cheaper to fly to your destination than to take the train. But flying on budget airways comes with its own set of inconveniences: getting to the airport takes almost as long as the flight itself, plus there are baggage charges, security regulations, taxis and delays. Trains, on the other hand, leave from a range of centrally-located stations, have no baggage restrictions, cost far less for a first-class ticket should you require a little extra comfort, and if you encounter a delay you can easily find a workaround.
The trade-off is clear – but it doesn’t change the fact that train tickets themselves are expensive. Splitting your ticket is the savvy traveller’s answer. This method can drastically cut down on the total ticket price while still getting you exactly where you want to go.
Say you’re a huge Beatles fan and you want to get from one of our hotels in Lancaster Gate London, to Liverpool – the home of the Fab Four. Obviously you’d rather save your money for souvenirs and tickets to Beatlemania rather than spending it on the train ride to Liverpool and back. So instead of buying a ticket directly from London to Liverpool, you would look at the stations in between and buy several tickets to take you from A (London) to B, B to C, and finally from C to D (Liverpool.) These shorter distances will often add up to less than the original price for the full-length ride. Combine this with off-peak or super off-peak travel times and voila – you’ve saved a tidy bundle of cash to make your holiday that much sweeter.
This approach works with both single and return tickets. The best way to do it is to find one train that stops at every station where you have split your ticket: that way you can buy separate tickets for each leg but you can stay in your seat the whole time. The train has to stop at every station where you’ve split your ticket – this means no express or semi-fast trains. You don’t have to get off the train at every stop, but it must be possible.
If your split ticket requires you to change trains, things get a bit trickier, because the tickets are time-sensitive. If you miss your train, you’ll have to buy another ticket. If one of your trains is delayed and you miss the connecting train, sorry, pal, you’re out of luck: you still have to buy another ticket.
Off-peak and super off-peak times are very handy for travellers who want to save money; the railways slash ticket prices during quiet periods. But delays can trip you up here, too. Say your ticket from B to C was for an off-peak train, but your train from A to B was delayed and when you finally arrive, it’s peak hour. This means your off-peak ticket is no longer valid, so not only do you need to buy another ticket, it’ll be at peak prices.
You do need to do a fair amount of research into trains and stations before booking your tickets if you want to go the split ticket route. Like many cost-cutting measures, it comes with risks that you wouldn’t encounter if you paid the extra for convenience and peace of mind. But then again, adventure is the point of travel, isn’t it? Why bother leaving home if you’re not going to take a few risks? Leave your anxieties at home and see what the world has to offer an open mind.