I’ve read plenty of articles about saving money on train journeys and thought this wouldn’t apply to me or that the savings would be minimal.
I recently had cause to visit Bristol for the day on business. A quick check of trains on the National Rail site revealed that I’d be travelling on a Cross Country train. I had to arrive in Bristol before 11am which meant a peak-time departure.
A quick search on Cross Country trains alongside the Trainline site offered me a ticket for £158 (or slightly less if I booked two singles). There are several routes to Bristol – all came in at the same price but the journey time varied from under three hours to nearly four hours depending on the date chosen.
I wondered if it might be possible to get a split ticket – and a quick google search revealed the site https://www.splitticketing.com/
The user interface for split ticketing is bare-bones and a little clunky. Clicking the wrong option (like leave after/arrive before) would show no routes available. Banging in the times and clicking on the proceed button brings up the individual legs of the journey. This site charges you an admin fee based on your saving – and I wasn’t keen on booking specific trains, I like the flexibility to catch a later (or earlier) train if I’m working and don’t know what time I might leave a meeting.
Using the information from the split ticketing site I decided to book my own tickets, hoping I could book individual day-return tickets. Unfortunately, neither the TrainLine website nor CrossCountry Trains would display day-returns when I put in the times of the individual trains but the East Midlands Trains site did (I’ve no idea why since they all appear to use the same software and interface)
I ended up buying three sets of tickets. I split my trip into three journeys, each with a seat reservation where available and for a total cost of £71.10 (selecting the cheapest tickets offered to me for each leg of the journey) and saving me £87
The upsides to buying this way are simple, you save money. If I’d bought the ticket I was offered first I’d have paid more than double the cost of split tickets! I also felt a bit mean not booking through Split Tickets but I didn’t want the ticket options they offered (and as I was claiming my travel back I felt their ‘fee’ could be hard to justify on an expenses claim form!)
The downsides were several. Searching for the same journey on different dates brings up different journey times and ticket splits, so you can’t always be sure you are being given the cheapest route (The route I took should be available every weekday but searching for other dates routed me through Wales adding an hour to the journey and changing the ticket split).
Because I booked three separate journeys, I had three booking reference numbers and had to go to the ticket machine and repeat the collection procedure three times. This resulted in fourteen tickets being printed – the photo at the top of this posts shows the ones I had left at the end of the day. Before my journey, I sorted them in order ready for checking on the train.
I had booked onto a busy route and on the way back my seat reservation was different for each leg of the journey. The train was packed and I sat watching people evicting each other from reserved seats so be aware that you might have to move mid-journey which can be a problem if you are carrying heavy luggage.
Booking a split ticket means that the train has to stop at the stations where you’ve split your ticket. To reserve seats on these trains yourself, you need to know the exact time of the stop where you break your journey so you can reserve your seat on the onward part of the journey after the break. This adds a significant amount of time and effort to the booking process (if you are travelling on a quieter route you can skip this step and save yourself a good deal of grief!)
Would I do this again? Yes to save over £80, and watching people showing the train manager their tickets, I wasn’t the only one to split my journey to save money.
What this does show is what a shambles the whole ticket booking system is for travel by train. When we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and use public transport, it shouldn’t be so hard to get a cheap train ticket.
Yesterday I repeated the technique. Again I had to book my own tickets because the ticket split site did not offer the chance to make sure every ticket was a day ticket (handy for flexibility) By splitting my ticket I saved £60 this time off a quoted direct ticket price of £128. Again I had a handful of tickets (which the bemused ticket inspector clipped all at once) but I didn’t want to risk my phone battery running out with e-tickets