Is it still possible to save on train fares?

12 May 2009

http://img10.imageshack.us/img10/5529/trainportrait6612834661.jpgShort answer: Yes, but thetrainline.com is evidently not the way to do it.

Most UK railcard prices are going up by up to 50% on May 17, which is Sunday. In fact, the only railcard that isn't increasing in price is the one for disabled people. So, I guess if you're disabled, you're lucky. Or something.

Some of you may try to save by booking your railcards through thetrainline.com, but the number of complaints directed at the website have grown  three times since a private equity firm called Exponent in 2006 bought it from Richard Branson's Virgin Group for £163m. Exponent also owns the Times Educational Supplement, a bed specialist, Radley bags and Virgin Mobitix, so who better to run a website for purchasing train tickets right?

HotUKDeals and other forums have been ranting about the thetrainline.com for months now, with commenters' negative experiences with the booking site far outweighing the positive ones. Complaints are mostly about fees, and about the near-impossibility of getting a refund, even if it appears obvious that trainline violated its own terms of service. Passenger Focus, an independent rail consumer group, has been tracking succesful appeals against Trainline in 2007 and have identified an increase from 95 to 143 the next tax year.

According to consumer group Which? and various commenters on the HUKD thread, you will almost always do better booking directly through the train operators themselves. In fact, there are some that offer discounts for booking online, such as National Express (just beware of their new evil reservation charges) Which? has a whole section on its website devoted to tips on how to get the best train fares.

In conclusion, your best bet for coping with the increase in railcard prices would be to (1) check out the Which? web page about saving on peak and off-peak train fares and (2) check out the train operators themselves, because often that's how you get the best fares. There are also alternatives to consider, such as obtaining railcards like Gordon Freeman or taking the bus. What are your thoughts?

[PenaltyFareAppeal via HotUKDeals]


12 comments

  • Hmm...
    It's official - thetrainline.com is a load of crap. It took me 30 mins to book a simple return to Euston yesterday, with the site losing my journey details and just plain getting them wrong every 5 mins. And charge me a £1 to book on line??? When I'm SAVING you having to employ someone to take my booking over the phone??? And £2.50 for a credit card purchase??? You can stick your site.
  • Nobby
    (just beware of their new evil reservation charges) If you are booking online, chances are you are booking an advance ticket and so won't get a reservation charge.
  • The B.
    Yep, the trainline is utter turd, I booked 3 tickets with them from London to Manchester, it kept telling me the cheapest option was to go for a groupsaver at £55 a ticket, I ended up booking 2 and 1 for £11 (every time I tried 3 it would change the booking). Then when I asked to change the seats so they were next to each other I was told that that would be a £10 per ticket rebooking fee, but here's the good bit, even though the tickets hadn't been issued yet I had to go to Euston, pick them up and then send them by post to Glasgow so they could issue the refund, what's the point of on-line booking?
  • jsoap
    If you have the time, try booking "split tickets", where you split a journey into smaller trips that end up cheaper than one ticket for the complete journey. Defies logic. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-train-tickets#t2
  • Ian S.
    To really save money on the longer journeys, focus on split ticketing. You don't have to play with thetrainline and save much more.
  • Jill
    thetrainline.com is just a fascia on top of the basic booking system that all train booking sites use. Fares should therefore be the same no matter where you book them, so I don't see why you would choose that site over the likes of firstgreatwestern and nationalexpress who don't charge fees and send the tickets with no P&P costs.
  • Jill
    And which railcard is increasing by 50%? I couldn't see any, yet alone most, and my 16-25 railcard is increasing £2 to £26...
  • Jill
    Unless you are referring to the minimum ticket price of £8 increasing to £12 if you travel before 10am weekdays? By no means "most" tickets.
  • Will
    Yep, thetrainline is utter cack. But then again, the normal National Rail Online Journey Planner is pretty crap too - overly confusing interface, and barely ever gives the same price twice. Some of the train companies have started making their own journey planners (rather than the standard TrainLine style). London Midland (http://www.londonmidland.com/) has quite a good one - the interface is initially weird, but really useful as it lets you easily see which trains at which times of day have the best prices. Another tip: book a few weeks in advance and get single advance tickets for each leg of the journey, instead of return tickets. With advance tickets, you have to get on the exact train at the exact time, but you can get tickets far cheaper than your normal return tickets.
  • Sophia M.
    i always use a website called www.splitfare.co.uk to search for tickets. it searches split tickets for your journey and i always find cheaper tickets on there.
  • Midland|FRS r.
    certainly like your website however you have to test the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very troublesome to tell the truth then again I will definitely come back again.
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