Posts Tagged ‘trains’

Tips On Finding Cheap Rail Tickets

Jan 3rd, 2010

Over the past four years I have been a regular user of the British rail network. During this time I have regularly been frustrated with the pricing, which can vary from guilt inducing cheapness, to exorbitantly pricey, even for exactly the same journey. Finding the cheapest tickets isn’t easy, and it seems that every time I’ve traveled home, or to see a friend I’ve had to use a different technique at reducing the price from something that makes me reconsider my plans, to something more affordable.

The following post was made by me on a message board, but I have reproduced it here in the hope that it may be of use to someone else. It already assumes that the reader is familiar with sites such as thetrainline and knows that advance purchase of tickets can save them a lot of money. Advance tickets are made available at some indeterminate time before travel and will often sell out quickly.

I’m assuming that when checking for advance tickets you are looking at the price for singles, rather than returns? If not you’ll want to do so, as thats where the savings are.

I’ve had a lot of experience trying to book cheap rail tickets, and it seems I’ve used a different method each time. However most of my tips are better suited for considering long distance travel. However, In case they are of use to anyone:

1) is great for travel between major stations, assuming you are flexible about travel times. The also provide coach travel, which might be worth a look. Particularly consider it in concert with the next tip.

2) Split tickets. For reasons that are beyond me, cheap advance tickets aren’t always available for the entire route, even on services with no changes. Try looking at splitting the journey. I’ve always had most luck when splitting at major stations, such as Birmingham. I’m not entirely sure of liability should you miss a connection on a split ticket. You’ll obviously avoid this issue is the two tickets are for the same service, although it’ll require you to change seats. In other cases I’ve got an open return for the second half of the journey, which has been short enough that its not a significant enough cost.

3) Buy from the appropriate website. is great for finding tickets, but once you know who runs the service you need, try looking at the operators website, as they may offer discounts if you buy direct.

4) Keep an eye on prices. Tickets are made available three months before the date of travel, however the cheapest tickets will not be available at this stage. Instead, the train operator seals a cat in a box with a vial of cyanide gas, which will be shattered by a hammer on the decay of a radioactive isotope. On the death of the cat the train operator also releases the cheap tickets. However, as no one can know when the cat dies without opening the box they instead end up resorting to the point at which they know they’ll be able to annoy the greatest number of people possible. Co-incidentally this ends up coinciding with the point of radioactive decay, as physics is shifty like that. To avoid being disappointed, check regularly. The trainline can actually notify you for popular routes. Once the cheap tickets are out the prices will slowly tick up as each price point sells out, however on journeys with multiple routes different operators will make their tickets available at different times due to their use of different cats. I’m not sure how the hell you are supposed to deal with this. I just stop looking at the prices the moment I jump in to buy a ticket and remain in ignorance.

4) Be flexible. Make sure you check every time, and every route, because the cheapest tickets are elusive and like to hide.

5) A tip which is probably not available to you: Buy a Railcard. You’ll save 30% and can regain your investment. But remember, when searching for tickets to also have a look without your railcard. Some tickets are stubborn and are scared of discount cards. This’ll sometimes mean that you need to buy the tickets separately if the return is cheaper with a railcard. Also, while you only get a Young-persons railcard up to the age of 25, you can buy one on the day before your 26th birthday and it’ll be valid for a whole year.

6) Goat sacrifices may help your cause. However the public transport gods are fickle. Prices may go up, as well as down.

Edit: Just thought I’d clarify, that all by talk of the advance tickets being sneaky tricksy buggers was not exaggeration. Often I have sat back distraught, thinking I’ve exhausted all avenues and will have to pay almost £100 to get to see my family. Then, just as I’m about to give up and throw it all in a tiny change in search parameters, such as using a different website (despite the fact they all go through the same system) and then suddenly a ticket appears for a tenth the price, with no obvious rhyme or reason why it didn’t show up before.

Oh, and be wary of clicking ‘back’ once you’ve selected a ticket. I did that once, and it seemed that it allocated the last cheap tickets to me, and failed to release them when I went back to change seating preferences. I then had to wait a tense half an hour while the system sorted itself out, during which it would just produce an error if I tried to select said tickets, even from a different browser. Finally the system reset itself. Seemingly the tickets I was initially going for had sold out in the meantime, but the band B cheap tickets were available for only a couple of pounds more, instead of the £20 more of the standard tickets.

In addition to the recommendations here, I’d also suggest playing with some of the fare finding features over at, it requires a bit of patience, and doesn’t always make it apparent as to exactly when the cheapest tickets are available, but should give you indications as to what prices you can expect for the route.

In other news, I have take todays and yesterdays photos for the twenty ten photo project, however will be waiting until I get my desktop set up again before I upload them.

I invite any further tips in the comments.

Travels with technology

Feb 19th, 2009

Phone, iRiver, DS, Wind; the number of pieces of technology I travel with is a bit silly, or would be if I didn’t forget to pack things. Yesterday I synched my iRiver, downloaded a couple of podcasts, and got it charged up. I then left it on my desk. Even more annoying I also left my headphones, meaning I can’t even use my laptop to listen to music or play any games which require sound; not unless I want to be murdered by my fellow passengers anyway.
I also have the annoyance that Virgin don’t seem to have wised up to the fact that it is 2008, and so my search for wireless networks yields nothing. I’ll be on this particular train for four hours, so would have been willing to pay a small amount as well. Instead I’ve resorted to composing blog entries in word, and tweeting via text. This should probably worry me, as it does somewhat speak of an internet addiction.
Of course, the time could have been useful. I’m writing a short story at the moment for instance. But it exists on my desktop, and stupid me forgot to sync it across. There is also the ‘On art and games’ entry I’m writing, which again exists on my server. This is one of those times where cloud computing would be fantastic, except I can’t access the cloud.
So how am I posting this? Well the answer it, I cheated. When this actually goes up on my blog I’ll be safely home (or will have died horrifically in a train crash, the following entry being published posthumously). I’ll fiddle the time stamps though, because after all, no one reads the bloody thing anyway, so it’s not like it really matters.

Where does the weekend go?

Feb 15th, 2009

The third part of the ‘On art and Games’ series won’t be appearing this week, but instead will be up once its done. That’s not to say I’ve been ignoring it, but these things can take a while to put together, and I don’t want to fling the whole thing together in a rush. I’ve also reconsidered the idea of it being a fixed series, as its a far larger topic than I had first suspected. Instead, I expect the series will be interleaved in with other posts, and each article will be more or less self contained.


So this leaves a bit of a stream of conciousness affair here instead. If anyone actually is reading this blog regularly, you’ll have noticed the ‘this weeks tweets’ post which appeared this Wednesday. As you may have gathered, this is an automated weekly affair and ties in with my use of Twitter. You might also have noticed the ‘lifestream’ tab, a page which summarises my activity across the web, perfect for all you stalker types.

Time and Tide

The title of this blog post refers to the weekend’s tendency to disappear. I had intended to get some food shopping done, but suddenly it was six and I hadn’t got to the supermarket. I was in the lab though, before ayone thinks I was in bed. Odly enough this is probably actually a good thing, as I had forgotten than I was heading home later this week for my Mum’s birthday. I had planned a whole week of food.

The Great Train Ticket Gamble1

Oddly, talking of going home I had a great time playing the ‘find the cheapest train ticket’ game. It turns out that the answer was Megatrain from Edinburgh to Birmingham, and then a standard return from Birmingham to Kemble. I could have actually done it cheaper with an offpeak return, but that would have left 15 minutes to change trains in Birmingham, which is a bit tight if one of my connections suffers a delay. I’m still slightly confused at what happened to one of the tickets offered to me between Birmingham and Kemble, as it seemed to change price. This isn’t unusual for ‘advanced’ tickets, but only standard tickets were availible at that point.

And Now for Something Completely Different

This was originally going to go in On Art anf Games [Part3] but never really fitted. So I’ll stick it here instead, where is still doesn’t fit but at least its surroundings are similarly muddled.

I have always felt the term genre is mis-applied when used to describe computer games. In other media, genre describes the theme and style of a piece, whereas when applied to games it is more often used to describe the mechanism. In rare cases, particularly with some more arty indie games concerned with dissecting gaming mechanics, this may be appropriate, but in most cases it isn’t. I think part of the problem is that game-play mechanics are often far more central to games than any vague themes the game may explore; in many games it would be ridiculous to even attempt to identify any ‘themes,’ particularly in the early days when these terms were coined. However, it would be ridiculous to describe a film genre as ‘animated’ or ‘black and white,’ it is still more difficult to even identify an equivalent concept for literature, prose and poetry perhaps. While overarching game-play mechanics are important in defining the tone of a game, and are likely to be one of the primary influences in terms of appeal, I feel the term genre has been misapplied.

And now, finally to football is over, sao I can start watching Being Human.

  1. I almost went for the great train robbery, but the price was fairly reasonable in the end []