The Great British Rail Sale is offering more than one million half price train tickets in an effort by the government and rail industry to boost demand following the decline caused by the pandemic. However, the vast majority of fare types are not included. So, what are some of the offers to keep an eye out for?
From the 25th of April to the 27th of May, there will be significant savings on a variety of rail journeys. The majority of the tickets will be half price.
Almost all of the tickets that are currently available are Advance fares. These necessitate making a commitment to ride a specific train in advance.
Similar to airline tickets, the price of train tickets varies depending on demand: for example, normal Advance tickets on the LNER between Edinburgh and London on Tuesday 3 May range from £27.80 to £72.50, depending on the route. However, according to information released by the Department for Transport (DfT), the discount will only be applicable to specific Advance fares, rather than all of them.
On some trains operated by the London North Eastern Railway, one-way tickets from Edinburgh to London are available for £22. The flat rail sale fare between London and Leeds is £15, and the journey takes approximately two hours.
A number of tickets are extremely inexpensive – particularly if you are willing to sacrifice speed for savings. Southern Railway is offering seats for as little as £2.70 between Southampton and London Victoria – despite the fact that this journey takes twice as long as the South Western Railway’s journey to London Waterloo.
- The Department for Transport (DfT) has quoted the following discounted prices:
- TransPennine Express fare from Manchester to Newcastle is £10.30.
- Traveling from Birmingham New Street to Bristol Temple Meads (cross-country) costs £12.65.
- The fare between Wolverhampton and Liverpool (West Midlands Trains) is £5.25.
Cardiff-London Paddington tickets, including peaks, appear to be available for £25 one-way on the Great Western Railway, with Bristol to/from London priced at a flat £18.
Train operator Avanti West Coast, which operates trains between the London Euston station and the West Midlands via the northwest of England and Scotland, has marked discount tickets with a red “rail sale” symbol. Tickets to and from the capital are available for £8 in Birmingham and £26 in Glasgow. Manchester is £23, Liverpool £17, and Liverpool £8.
Great British rail sale: How to bookHalf price Train tickets
The DfT says: “Customers should visit nationalrail.co.uk/railsale to see what discounts are available for the location they wish to visit.”
Then book through one of these channels:
- Direct with the operator, which makes things easier if there is a problem with the journey and may qualify for a loyalty bonus, e.g. LNER Perks.
- Through a different operator (e.g. buying CrossCountry through South Western Railway) if you have a preferred website.
- Through a third-party retailer such as The Trainline, which charges fees but has the benefit of automatically “splitting tickets” if it will save you money.
People with access issues are able to seek help at the ticket office of a staffed railway station.
These are the key questions and answers.
Is the discount available for any journey?
Absolutely not. The DfT says: “Great British Rail Sale tickets are not available on all routes, are limited and subject to availability and exclusions.”
Most tickets do not qualify, including Anytime, Off-peak (except in a few cases), Seasons and Flexi-Seasons.
On any date?
Not necessarily. The 25 April-27 May window for travel includes the long weekend of 30 April to 2 May – when London Euston station and the southern end of the West Coast main line will be closed.
More widely, is likely that high-demand times of day will be excluded from the deal.
Can I make a connecting journey?
Connections should be possible when booking direct on the same operator. The DfT cites a Portsmouth-Penzance ticket for a discounted fare of £22, which is available for travel on GWR via Westbury.
But connecting journeys on different train operators do not qualify. For example, normally you can book an Advance ticket from Birmingham to Barrow in Furness using Avanti West Coast as far as Lancaster and a Northern train from there.
With the deal, you would have to book two journeys to save money. The Trainsplit organisation says: “If your journey involves different train companies you’ll get a ‘No Discounts found’ message.” The website combines fares to find the cheapest deal.
For example, between London and Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire on 16 May it prescribes a first-class LNER ticket from King’s Cross to Doncaster then two separate Northern tickets via Leeds. The fare is £35 but Trainsplit adds a £2.48 fee.
Do railcard discounts apply?
Yes, which will reduce these fares by a further 34 per cent. Between Birmingham and London, for example, the £8 ticket will be cut to £5.30.
Can I book in first class?
Yes, at least on LNER. London to Newcastle is £19.80 in standard and £42.20 in first; an uplift of 110% appears to be the average.In addition, individual train operators may have upgrade offers that can be used in connection with a discounted ticket.
How quick should I buy?
As soon as you can. One million tickets may sound like a large number, but compared with the usual numbers of rail journeys in a 33-day spell (more than 160 million) it is tiny. Many trains will sell out of cheap tickets very quickly.
The Rail Delivery Group, which is coordinating the offer with the DfT and train operators, says: “The number of Rail Sale tickets offered by each participating Train Company will vary and are limited in number so we’re encouraging people to act quickly because when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
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