This hack lets you experience the U.K. by rail for a fraction of the usual cost.
The United Kingdom is covered by a broad network of public transport, including buses, trains, and, of course, London’s famous underground. This means that visitors can easily travel far and wide around the country. But those ticket costs can quickly add up if you don’t know about the tricks that so many Brits are familiar with. One that I discovered on a recent trip is the little-known hack of fare-splitting.
Railways in Britain
Until 1995, all railways throughout the U.K. were part of British Rail. Then the government decided to break up the railways and sell parts of the network to different private companies. Now, each region’s trains are under different ownership, so don’t get confused if you’re on GWR (Great Western Railways) for one segment and Virgin for another.
One result of the breakup was that rail fares suddenly became as unpredictable as airfares. Prices between two destinations can fluctuate wildly, depending on the time and day of travel. For higher-demand routes, you can expect to pay higher fees. Luckily, as apps and hacks have become more widespread, so have ways of finding the best possible fare.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
What Is Fare-splitting?
Fare-splitting, also known as ticket splitting, is a method of finding the cheapest train fare by using an app to wade through the many idiosyncrasies of the current rail fare system. On many routes, it can often prove to be cheaper to buy several tickets for different legs of the journey as opposed to one ticket for the entire trip. While most of us don’t have the time or ability to scroll through every possible combination of stops, apps make the process easy, coming up with money-saving fares in seconds.
Here’s an example:
Recently, I was traveling from Bath to Ramsgate, down on the Kent coast. If I bought a ticket on the day using National Rail, I could expect to pay anything from £68 to £110, depending on the time of day. Instead, using TrainTickets.com, my fare was just £37.67. I collected my tickets from the ticket booth and was soon on my merry way. One ticket took me from Bath to St. Pancras, while the second ticket took me the rest of the way to Ramsgate. It was the same route and the same trains as the full fee would have involved. I simply paid much less.
The savings can really add up on longer trips. If I wanted to travel from Ramsgate to Aberdeen, the standard fare is £212. Looking at TrainTickets.com, I can travel at the same time for a much more wallet-friendly £90.20. A small booking fee is typically added, but this is usually only a pound or two. The money I save can be enough for a night’s accommodation or a few nice meals out. Instead of receiving one ticket, I receive three to signify the number of legs that the journey has been broken into.
Is It Legal?
Fare-splitting is completely legal as long as you follow the assigned route and any times specified when you buy your ticket. Hopping on a different train may land you a nasty fine since you would be traveling without a valid ticket.
So How Do I Get These Bargain Fares?
There are now several fare-splitting apps available, and a quick Google search pulls up a list of names: TrainTickets.com, TrainSplit.com, and SplitmyFare.co.uk are just a few. It may even be worth your while to check fares on a few different sites to save a few extra pounds. Simply plug in your preferred dates of travel, and you’ll see a list of the possible trains, allowing you to choose the cheapest or the time that best suits you. Once purchased, you can collect your tickets from the ticket booth of any railway station.
As with any type of travel ticket be sure to check in advance what the cancellation policy is. Some services will allow you to obtain a full refund if you are rebooking a different ticket instead. Others may charge an administration fee if you request a refund, and others still may be non-refundable.
One Last Tip
To save even more on fares, you can combine fare-splitting with a railcard. There are many different railcards available, based on age, region, and other factors. A popular one for overseas visitors is the Two Together Railcard. For an annual fee of £30, you and your travel partner can save one-third off train fares when you travel together.