Capitalism is awesome

WoSblog is planning a two-person weekday trip to London soon. A simple enough undertaking, right? But of course it isn’t. Ever since the UK’s railways were privatised by lovable Mrs Thatcher, it’s a well-documented fact that (a) we have the most expensive rail network on Earth, and (b) trying to find out the best and cheapest way to travel between any two points is an insane labyrinthine nightmare of routes, operators, countless different ticket types and “magic stations” – places in the middle of your journey where for no obvious reason you can mysteriously slash the price of your ticket by pretending to make your journey in multiple stages, even though you never actually get off the train or even change seats.

The most magical station on the Bath-London route is Didcot Parkway. If you buy a return from Bath to Didcot, and a return from Didcot to London, rather than buying a direct return ticket from Bath to London, you can save over 40%. (The direct return fare for WoSblog’s trip is £118 for two people, the “split” return is £70.60 for two, even though you’re staying on the exact same train all the way from Bath to London, and all the way back.)

But it’s not even as simple as that. Let’s look at some of the excitingly different fares we can pay to make the exact same journey on the exact same day. (We’ll pick a date a couple of weeks into the future, since obviously WoSblog isn’t going to tell you the REAL day it’s going to London, in case you come round and burgle its house.) So let’s say you fancy going from Bath to London on Wednesday 28 January, leaving reasonably early in the morning and returning mid-evening.


Cheapest off-peak return, leaving at 10.13am and returning around 8pm: £97.60 (all quoted prices are for two people, remember. It took the best part of three hours to work out all this stuff for WoSblog’s own trip, and I’m buggered if I’m going back through it all now dividing everything by two for single travellers).

Off-peak return leaving slightly earlier, at 9.43am or 9.13am: £118

Or if you don’t want half the day to be gone by the time you arrive there’s an Anytime return, for anything leaving at “peak” hours, eg the 8.13am departure: £308


But let’s try splitting our journey up.

LATER DEPARTURE – Off-peak return Bath-Didcot leaving at 9.43am, then Didcot-London: £30.60 + £40 = £70.60 (40.2% less than the direct price of £118)

EARLIER DEPARTURE – Anytime return Bath-Didcot (leaving 8.13am), then Didcot-London: £84 + £93.40 = £177.40 (42% less than the direct price of £308. Be careful not to split your ticket at Reading instead, though – then it’s £234. And if you’re the sort of crazy maniac who’d try a damn-fool tactic like splitting at Swindon, you’ll be paying £245.)


That’s still a bit strong for the early journey, though. Can we split that one up some more? What if we buy individual returns to every stop on the journey?

Anytime return Bath-Swindon 8.13am (£27), then Swindon-Didcot (£70), then Didcot-Reading (£15.60), then Reading-London (£36) = £148.60, saving a further £30 compared to the one-split-at-Didcot journey – and a total of £160 on the direct journey – despite the fact that in all cases you’re staying on the exact same train the whole way from Bath to London.

(Do make sure you arrive at the station in plenty of time to collect your tickets from the machine, though – for that journey you’re going to have to wait for it to print out a total of 26 tickets including the card receipts.)


All of the above applies differently depending on your time of travel, though. For example, don’t bother splitting at every station if you’re on that later 9.43am train – after all the effort you’ll still pay £69, saving just £1.60 on the one-split fare of £70.60. BUT if you’re getting the 9.13am, then the three-split price is  £79.40, a worthwhile saving compared to £90 for a one-split at Didcot. And so on.

Good luck!


13 Responses to “Capitalism is awesome”

  1. Really surprised no one has set up a web site to automatically work out the cheapest way to get from A-B on a train.

  2. There was nothing until recently, though now there’s However, it only searches by date – you can’t specify time of travel, which as we’ve seen can make a huge difference. It also throws up some odd suggestions, like doing Bath/London via Warminster or Salisbury, which when I tried it on National Rail Enquiries came out at the same price or higher, and with a hugely longer journey time.

  3. Our line’s train company (South West) started having fun with tickets last year. It put out press releases excitingly boasting about the new and exciting “super off-peak” super-duper woooo fare. The only problem: the “super off-peak” fares ended up being identical to the old and clearly rubbish “off peak” fares, which were so annoyed by the whole thing that they shot up in price.

    Net result: I used to be able to get an affordable train from Fleet to London at about 9:30, but now the cheap fares don’t really start until after 11. I suspect sooner or later, there’ll be a window of one train to get a cheap journey.

  4. Thinking about it, the above is wrong. The super off-peak fares were slightly higher than the old off-peak ones, what with train fare price increases at only several times the rate of inflation, which we were suppose to be thankful for.

  5. Cheers for that link, might come in handy.

  6. The old National Express East Coast web site had a great ticket finder, which had a specific button to give you the cheapest options for the journey you wanted, and also made it _relatively_ easy to play about with alternate dates and times, comparing single and return fares, mixing and matching 1st and second, peak and off-peak.

    Amazingly, I found that even other National Express companies wouldn’t allow you to book a fraction of the ticket options that this site gave me.

    Last couple of times I have travelled on business I found that a pair of advance, off-peak 1st-class tickets worked out cheaper than a standard off-peak return.

    Looks like the current management had the sense to retain it, too:

    Only direct tickets, ‘though, not the kind of journey splitting Stu mentions.

  7. sausageandbun Says:

    Aye, although the National Express East Coast site was just a graphical overhaul of the original GNER one.

    Still despite its handiness trains from Grantham to London keep getting dearer.

  8. What is it with Swindon? Swindon to London was twice as expensive as Oxford to London last week, for a journey starting at exactly the same time and with exactly the same duration (let’s hope it was different lines, collision non-fans!)

  9. The main thing to look out for is where you cross county borders. That will usually allow you to get a cheaper fare if you split it just after crossing.

  10. “What is it with Swindon?”

    @CdrJameson—Swindon’s the only place where I’ve been on a train that’s stationary for about 40 minutes, only for it to start moving and be told via an announcement that we’d stopped because “part of the train was on fire”. Make of that what you will.

  11. Oh, I’ll take one for the team: surely CdrJameson does all his travelling by Cobra Mark III?

  12. […] Someone somewhere actually does buy Anytime rail tickets. Sitting down on the train back to Bath from Paddington, WoSblog discovered this lying […]

  13. It were J. Major, not the Thatch who privatised British Rail. Although she would’ve had she fulfilled her (chilling) ambition of a longer premiership.

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