I’m heading home to Durham for Christmas. Once the train arrives at York, I’ll stand up and move two rows back. And that’s £15 saved. In the words of Alan Partridge, “Back of the net!”
It’s a technique known as split-ticketing. It’s not particularly new; but at the same time, it’s not the easiest trick to learn if you’re not tech-savvy. That’s why there’s been little pressure to revolutionise the system. And we can be fairly certain that train companies won’t be advertising it anytime soon.
Train ticket pricing in the UK is baffling and frustrating. Not only can we end up paying virtually the same for a single journey as for a return, but we can also be penalised for booking a journey directly from A to B.
Penalised seems an odd way of putting it; that is, until we consider that we’re often able to save money if we book separate tickets for legs of the same journey – including the very same train.
How do you go about it? Well, there are various apps available to help you do this, though none of them are particularly comprehensive at this stage (which isn’t surprising, given the vast network they need to cover).
Tickety Split, available through MoneySavingExpert, is one such app. Unfortunately, it only covers walk-on fares, which offers less chance of being able to save – though the savings could be much greater.
It’s learning the trick that’s important – especially with fares set to rise by a minimum of 3.1% from January.
Split-Ticketing: Step by Step
What you need to do is find the calling points along your route, and then see if two (or more) separate tickets between these calling points comes up cheaper than the straightforward single.
We’ll run through an example here, using the East Midlands Trains booking engine (which doesn’t charge booking fees).
A standard off-peak single from Leicester to Durham costs £89.50. Ouch! That’s Christmas cancelled before it’s even begun.
Mercifully, I can save over half by booking an Advance Purchase ticket, at £42.50. (These are released up to 12 weeks in advance, and are a useful way of saving on your journey, if you’re able to plan ahead).
But could I save even more? Let’s find out.
Step 1: Identify possible splitting points for your journey.
From Leicester to Durham, a potential split could take place at Sheffield, which is the final point at which I could change from East Midlands Trains to Crosscountry. Another option is Doncaster. Another is York.
My gut feeling is that York is a good splitting point to try. There are four train companies that operate services between York and Durham (Crosscountry, East Coast, First Transpennine and Grand Central [to Sunderland]), so it stands to reason that there could be cheaper options for that stretch of the journey.
Step 2: Plan the first leg of your journey.
Here, I’m looking to leave Leicester at lunch-time. I enter details from Leicester to York, and see what comes up.
The striking thing here is the cost between Leicester and York.
That leg constitutes around 70% of the journey, but it’s only 40% of the cost of the Advance Purchase ticket from Leicester to Durham, and just 20% of the cost of the standard Off-Peak single.
So, now I know that I’ll be arriving into York at 14:39, and that any onwards route is likely to produce a good saving over the cost of booking a direct ticket.
So, it’s worth moving on to the third step.
Step 3: Plan the second leg of your journey.
As suspected, there are a selection of routes and prices from York, any of which combined with the first ‘split’ would result in a cheaper journey than the straightforward tickets.
The first (and cheapest) route, at just £9.50, leaves 8 minutes after the first ‘leg’ ends. But the arrival time is the same as the straightforward ticket that costs £42.50 (or £89.50).
So, might it be the same train I’m already travelling on? A quick glance at the timetable confirms that the train I’m due to take from Derby from 13:11 also leaves York at 14:47.
So there we have it: the cheapest option just happens to be splitting my ticket into two legs on the very same train I’ll already be travelling on.
I’ll have to shift two rows at York, it transpires – hardly the greatest inconvenience, and one I’ll gladly face to save £15. The journey has cost just £27.50, and Christmas is back on again.
The Awkward Conclusion
That split-ticketing works at all exposes the complete lack of logic behind our rail ticket pricing mechanism.
And those who are used to booking tickets over the counter in train stations or at self-service machines are more-or-less completely excluded from this kind of workaround.
But it goes without saying that for longer and more expensive routes, the savings to be made using this method are likely to be far more substantial than this.
So next time you have a lengthy or painfully expensive rail journey to make, try to find a few extra minutes and see if split-ticketing could help you make a healthy saving.
|Leicester to Durham|
|Saving||£15.50 – £62.50|
The Risk of Split-Ticketing
The advantage of a ‘straightforward’ ticket is that companies are obliged to get you from your origin to your destination. If you miss a connection due to a delay, the ‘direct’ ticket should still be accepted on a later service. But if this happens and you’ve split your tickets, you may not be protected and some may no longer be valid.
Example: if the journey from Leicester to Derby is delayed and I miss the connection up to Durham, the ‘direct’ ticket to York would entitle me to take the next train to that destination. But the split from York to Durham is a separate and unrelated ticket, and would only be valid on the service I’d missed. I’d need to pay up for that leg again. It’s a calculated risk if connections are involved, so don’t leave yourself short.