With the cost of public transport increasing; passengers  turn to loopholes  to cut the cost of rail travel. One way doing this is "Split Ticketing" and we are going to talk about why it happens and how we can take advantage.

Please be aware that I will only discuss legitimate methods of getting cheaper train tickets. I can not condone breaching a rail tickets terms and conditions. This is just one of many methods in which you can cut the cost of rail travel in the UK and I have heard of examples of passengers saving as much as 40%, using the same trains at the same times.

A Brief Background to Rail Tickets

Prior to the mid 1980's rail travel was managed and operated by British Rail and as such there was one company selling tickets for one train operation UK wide. When the British Rail network was deregulated sections of the railway were franchised to many of the UK’s bus companies as well as European organisations.

In order to attract custom within their area, some train operators have kept increases to off-peak tickets wholly in their area lower than those where a passenger has to change trains or operators. This means that in many examples of train journeys; train tickets can be cheaper by buying two or more separate tickets.

What Exactly Is Split Ticketing?

The idea of split ticketing is that you buy tickets for separate potions of your journey which usually have a rough correlation with the main train operator of the area or distinguishing between local and inter-city passenger flows.

An Example of Split Ticketing

This is a real example from using services using First Great Western services between Bristol Temple Meads and London Paddington. This example is correct as at 19 April 2012 and shows two fares which for those that are unfamiliar with rail travel in the UK; is using walk-up tickets valid any time of day and on any train in standard class seating.

The difference between a standard class single from Bristol to London is £89, but the cheap way to buy rail tickets is from Bristol to Didcot and from Didcot to London costs a total of £53.40 as shown above. 

The #1 Rule of Splitting Train Tickets

The Association of Train Operating Companies will confirm that split ticketing is completely legitimate and legal; the National Conditions of Carriage will confirm that split ticketing is completely legitimate and legal....... but there is ONE proviso;

the place that you have split your tickets MUST be somewhere that the train stops

In our example above for Bristol to London, this means that to get your cheap rail ticket you must travel on the First Great Western train that stops at Didcot Parkway. Specifically in this example it is not too complicated as many trains do this, on others its possible to change at Swindon to make your cheap rail ticket valid. If your train does not call at that station, then you are travelling outside the terms and conditions of the ticket and the penalties can include:
  • Buying a complete new ticket
  • A penalty fare (twice the price of a standard single ticket)
  • Prosecution 

How to Find Your Split Ticket

There is no surefire way to find your perfect split cheap rail ticket. It will always depend on how much time you want to put in and whether the savings prove the time being put in. Firstly you want to find the cheapest way to buy your cheap rail ticket. As much as I want to justify the existence of ticket offices on the UK rail network, they are not ideal when you want to make complicated travel arrangements and it's not unknown for them to refuse to help you buy your cheap train tickets.

Step 1 = RedSpottedHanky.com

I use the RedSpottedHanky website . The website interface is easy to use and clear to navigate and you actually get loyalty points which can be redeemed against future travel (ideal for business travellers!) at the rate of 1%.

You can use the website to pre-purchase your tickets up to 2 hours before travel and it is as simple as taking your payment card and reference number to the automated ticket machines before you travel. Last year I spent £3000 through the company!

Warning: During this week I have actually been made aware of at least 2 non-affiliated ticket agents that are NOT authorised by rail companies to sell tickets. If you do not use RedSpottedHanky, there are plenty of reputable providers online including most of the Train Operating Companies themselves.

Step 2 = Check You Trains Stopping Places

If you have chosen what range of trains you want to use your cheap train ticket on; you need to check where they stop at. For our cheap train ticket between Bristol and London, we will use this example:

Train Destination Board - Bristol Paddington

Step 3 = Check For Cheap Train Tickets

If we wanted to take all day checking the ticket prices for this journey, a cheap train ticket might be found by buying singles for Bristol to Bath, Bath to Chippenham,  Chippenham to Swindon... and so on. Buying each ticket for every stop is not actually the cheapest rail ticket for the journey; but Swindon or Reading would be reasonable places to check.

Step 4 = Purchase Your Cheap Train Ticket Combination

By now we know what ticket we want, knowing what train we want and can go ahead and buy our tickets as cheap as possible. If you want to travel on a different train, make sure you have not bought an advance ticket as these are specific to a single departure, if you buy a cheap off-peak rail ticket then do not travel in the peak; but many trips do have a cheap ticket option and for more ideas on how to cut your train travel, check out my other article on cheap rail travel.

Step 5= Collect Your Cheap Rail Tickets

If you have purchased your cheap train tickets online and selected to collect your rail tickets at the station then you can do this either just before you travel, or weeks in advance; it really does not matter. All you need are the payment card that you have used to purchase and the unique reference number that the online ticket site have provided you with. 

When you get to the machine thre should be a touch screen button for "Collect Prepaid Tickets" and it wil prompt you to follow the on screen instructions. Be safe in the knowledge that your card will not be charged a second time; this simply proves a level of security to prove your identity.

Step 6 = Enjoy Your Journey


Disclaimer: darren-w-gray works for Network Rail and has previously worked for a Train Operating Company. All information is given in good faith and has no bias in favour of any train operator. All information shown here is public domain and is not in breach of confidentiality.