Train ticket fares have been inflated by a staggering 3.8 percent since March 1, making what was an already expensive mode of transport even more costly for passengers in England, Scotland and Wales. While the Government’s “Great British Rail Sale” incentive offers short-term relief from extortionate rail fares, the enticing discounts will soon come to an end. Express.co.uk spoke to Ian Griffin, founder and CEO of Seatfrog, who shared his top tips to make sure you get the cheapest, flexible fares on all of your future rail journeys.
Why are train tickets so expensive?
Over the past 30 years, train fares purchased at the time of travel have increased by more than double the rate of inflation in the UK.
The staggering rise in prices means some of the most popular rail routes are now 50 percent more expensive than travelling by plane, making rail journeys an unfavourable mode of transport for millions of struggling Brits.
While the rail sale is one way for the Government to encourage more passengers to use national rail services, Ian Griffin, founder and CEO of Seatfrog believes that there is much more that needs to be done to improve the fundamentals of train travel in the UK.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr Griffin said: “Buying a ticket should be really quick and at the best price possible, and the journey should be something people really enjoy.
“But if you look at transport focused data, it shows that 53 percent of people in the UK are unhappy with rail services, and it all comes down to the journey.”
Delays, lack of seating, and inflexible tickets are all standard complaints for rail passengers – but they can be even more frustrating when you’re left out of pocket, and unsatisfied with the service you have received.
While there is no single solution to making post-lockdown rail travel “cheap” across the board, improving small elements of the system could have a huge impact on the Government’s plans to make train travel the best option for both commuters, and leisure travellers.
How to get cheap train tickets beyond the rail sale
Finding the cheapest rail fare for your journey has been made easier with digital apps and price comparison websites, but there are many lesser-known ways to cut costs while purchasing train tickets.
Buy a carnet of tickets
Mr Griffin said: “There’s a good thing that exists in rail called a carnet, and not a lot of people know about it because it can only be purchased offline.”
Carnets must be purchased from the ticket office, through the train company at the station – but it is very easy to do once you’re there.
Mr Griffin explained: “You buy a book of five or 10 tickets and then you use them whenever you like during a three month period – which works out so much cheaper than purchasing single fares.”
Kids under the age of six travel for free
While air travel is often cheaper for longer journeys across the UK, Ian explained it is worth comparing the cost if you’re making the journey with young passengers.
Children under the age of six benefit from free train travel, so once you factor in luggage expenses and the journey to the airport, it is often more cost-effective to make use of national rail services.
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Invest in a railcard
Railcards are one of the most obvious ways to access automatic discounts on train fares, but they are often overlooked by many travellers.
There are currently nine types of railcards available, including everything from senior and couples discounts to family and friends – all of which cost just £20 to £30 for one year.
Using a railcard will slash one-third of the price off your tickets, which means the card practically pays for itself in just a few journeys.
Buy your ticket from one station before or after your planned route
Mr Griffin said: “One of the things that people just don’t realise is that it is often cheaper to extend your journey – even if you’re travelling from a specific station.
“Sometimes getting a ticket from a station a few stops before or after your actual route can work out cheaper.”
Make use of split tickets
Split tickets can be done automatically on websites such as Trainline and Split My Fare, offering potential savings of up to 90 percent on longer journeys.
Mr Griffin said: “You can get four or five tickets for one journey, which is super confusing, but it can often save you at least 50 percent of the price of a standard journey.”
Use Seatfrog to make advance tickets more flexible
Booking your train ticket in advance is almost always guaranteed to save you money, but it can leave you with little flexibility in terms of your timings and route.
Ian said: “At the moment, 1.2 billion tickets sold in the UK can’t be changed – and if you want to change, you have to buy a whole new ticket or pay a massive fee.
“At Seatfrog we’ve totally changed that, so you can add your ticket to the app using the Trainswap feature, and change to a more flexible fare for just a small fee.”
The fee you pay on Seatfrog is based on demand – so if it’s a really busy train, it would be slightly higher – but you can often change tickets through the app for as little as five pounds.
What needs to change to make rail travel cheaper?
Making simple changes to your journey such as seat upgrades and ticket swaps can all be done on the Seatfrog app, which has gained more than 800,000 users since 2018, and has helped Brits save more than £27 million on their rail fares so far.
Mr Griffin said: “I definitely think there needs to be more flexibility in pricing for everybody, but then on the other side of the fence, we’ve just gone through a huge pandemic which hit travel bigger than any other category.
“You can make prices cheaper, but ultimately the taxpayers are going to foot the bill.”
While the rail sale is certainly a step in the right direction to encourage more leisure travel on British railways, there is still a huge disparity between pushing trains as a ‘greener’ mode of transport, and the affordability of actually making the journey.
Mr Griffin added: “I don’t think it’s just about ticket prices. It’s about making sure that people can jump into First Class for a massive discount.
“It’s about making sure that if the Government wants to get more people taking the train for leisure, make that super cheap – just take all the friction and stress out of travelling so that people actually want to take trains.”