Lonely Planet Writer

The £1000 train ticket - and how to beat it

I’ve been doing some radio interviews on the subject of rail fares in the UK, where travel fans have been getting suitably vexed at the first ever British train fare to exceed £1,000. Pick up that jaw, for it is true: were you to purchase a walk-up, First Class return from Newquay in Cornwall to Kyle of Lochalsh in the north-west Highlands of Scotland you would pay the princely sum of £1,002. That’s €1,121, $1,676 or A$1,809. This insight comes from frail fares expert Barry Doe, who also noted that some unregulated rail fares in the UK have trebled since 1995.

Newquay: note palm trees and surf dude

All this for a 708 mile rail odyssey which will take you from one end of the country to the other. It’s also enough, as some commentators have pointed out, for a round-the-world air ticket visiting four continents or across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 cruise liner.

Journey's end, Kyle of Lochalsh, lighter pockets

But let’s not get carried away waving the 'rip-off Britain' placards and vowing never again to set foot on a train. CrossCountry, the company responsible for ticketing this service, have never sold a ticket to anyone at this price. Even expense account-toting business travellers would usually pay £561 for this fare and £228 in Standard Class. But on the off chance you fancied a very long train trip, I found tickets for as little as £59.50 for each direction of this journey, easily available if you can be flexible on dates and are prepared to travel in Standard Class. That for what is almost the longest possible rail journey in Britain.

It’s a similar story with pretty much any other route in the country: book in advance online and you’ll save bigtime on quoted fares. Bus travel is usually even cheaper.

Here are a few suggestions on how to save some money when booking rail travel in the UK

  • You’ll get the worst fare if you walk up and book. You can book in advance before you arrive and it is a good idea to do so.
  • Tickets tend to go on sale twelve weeks in advance. This is when the cheapest fares should always be available. Booking after this date? Be flexible when you travel and avoid morning and evening peak travel times.
  • Start your search at the train operating company’s website for your train – you can find out which one via National Rail (www.nationalrail.co.uk).
  • If you have to get on a specific train, consider splitting the journey – so if a London to Edinburg fare is too pricey you may well save money by buying one ticket from London to Peterborough or Grantham, then another from there to Scotland.
  • Check out some of the real bargains: bargain berths on Caledonian Sleeper services start at £19, and you get a bed for the night on one of Europe’s great sleeper trains. Some trains sell seats through Megabus which can cost as little as £1 for an inter-city service.

Any got any other train travel tips?

Tom Hall