First of all, I decided to check the prices shown online at The Train Line, a price comparison website specifically for train fares. They claim that they can save you up to 43% by booking in advance, and claim that their search engines cover every train line in the country. The following explains my strategy and reasoning, whilst analysing my initial research outcome.
Selected Rail Fares:
The train journey's I am going to compare are my daily commute to college from Doncaster to Leeds. And a journey from Doncaster to Bristol Temple Meads. I buy this ticket 4 or 5 times a year when visiting family for a week, and the prices are usually quite high due to the change at either Birmingham or Sheffield.
To maintain continuity and for fair results, I have decided to compare prices for the same, day and time for both journey's. The journey used will be the one I travel on a daily basis, for Leeds the 8.12am London King's Cross train departing from Doncaster, and the 4.14pm return train. I will use times as close as possible for the Doncaster to Bristol fare.
The days set will be:
3 Days in advance for Monday 3rd December, returning on the 7th
1 Week in advance for Monday 10th December, returning on the 14th
1 Month in advance for Monday 31st December, returning on the 4th January 2013
Rail Cards; Any benefit?
I also want to use a rail card promotion online, to see how that could possibly effect the price of my ticket. I have chosen the 16-25 rail card, delivered by national rail, promoting a 1/3 off rail fares with a valid card. Perfect for students such as myself, but how much does it benefit me?
What do I want to find out from this research?
- Which is the cheapest fare possible when booking in advance to Leeds/Bristol from Doncaster at the set days and times?
- Does having a rail card reduce the price by a considerable amount, matching the 1/3 off rail fares claim.
- Is it cheaper to book in advance?
- Does time of day matter in regards to obtaining a cheaper ticket travelling at off-peak times?
- Doncaster to Leeds:
Here you can see the search engines used on the Train Line website. I filled in the details as necessary for the dates shown above, at the same time as said, with and without rail cards. Above you can see how I have filled out the specific details. The screen shot on the left shows details for Mon 3rd, 3 days in advance and for Mon 10th, 7 days in advance. The same was then carried out for a month in advance also, however not seen here.
The price shown for Monday 3rd, 10th and 31st of October showed no variation with results for a return ticket than the price I would pay at the station on a daily basis. This doesn't save me booking in advance for this particular journey.
- Doncaster to Leeds with Rail Card:
I then added the additional option of a rail card into the search engine for all the dates and repeated the process. Above are the results for a 16-25 rail card, which is the one I currently have, as do the majority of students nationally. By using the card online to check for cheaper tickets would save me £1.80 per day. This however is not the 1/3 off as mentioned by National Rail, and I cannot purchase a ticket with a rail card on the train, it has to be bought at the station itself, beforehand, which I very rarely do due to time. However this would save me £9 per week, or £36 per month. So as a commuter I would save money long-term, but if I was buying a ticket in advance for a one-off journey I wouldn't benefit further as the standard fare appears to remain the same, regardless of the day off the week.
However; I wanted to see if the time of day effects the costs of a return ticket to Leeds, with and without the rail card. I tried to find the cheapest ticket possible for the 10th of December, booking in advance also.
The results can be seen above. If you have a rail card and want to travel after the peak time, you can buy your ticket for £9.10 saving £4.70 off a fare at 8.12am without a rail card, and £2.70 if you buy your ticket beforehand in the morning at peak times. But we can pay up to nearly £5 more than the cheapest fare, for exactly the same journey, the same service and running times. There are no additional perks for paying more money at 'peak times' when masses of commuters are using train services on a daily basis, such as myself, aren't benefiting at all. In essence we are the ones spending more money on tickets because it varies the price for the time of day, than if you're booking a one off journey in advance with a rail card.
- Doncaster to Bristol Templemeads:
I repeated the process for Doncaster to Bristol Templemeads, a journey I often take. It's a much longer journey, involving a change at either Birmingham or Sheffield. The long commute and a change normally makes my ticket quite expensive, however I am hoping I can benefit from a rail card, and find a cheaper fare as prices can go up to £90 for a return ticket.
Below you can see the prices and times for a return ticket from Doncaster to Bristol Templemeads. The time I have chosen to focus on is 8am, so I am directing the research for the Bristol fares based on the 7:55am train. A single for this journey without a rail card is £88 and an off-peak return ticket is £87.70. It's hard to determine why a return ticket is cheaper than a single, and with this particular search being 3 days in advance.
The screen shot below show the prices for the same journey at the same time a month in advance. The cost of a return ticket is the same as 3 days in advance. The single fare however from Doncaster to Bristol is £26.50, saving £61.50.
- Doncaster to Bristol Temple Meads with Rail Card:
I wanted to see if a rail card affects the cost of a ticket. A return ticket will cost you £57.90 opposed to £87.70 saving you £29.80 travelling the same journey on the 31st Dec. A single ticket however is £17.50, saving you £70.50 booking a month in advance with a rail card, opposed to 3 days or a week in advance with or without one.
NO RAIL CARD WITH RAIL CARD
FARE (£) FARE (£)
PEAK/OFF PEAK PEAK/OFF PEAK
DON > LEEDS 13.80 / 13.80 12.00 / 9.10
DON > BRISTOL 87.70 / 87.70 57.90 / 57.90
VARIANCE NO VARIANCE 1.80 (LEEDS)
Above is a summary of results. Days and advance times have not been added.
This table is to show how much a standard ticket is on average at peak/off peak times, with and without a rail card, and the variance if any.
- The only price variation according to time is the Doncaster to Leeds journey, where the commuter would save £1.80 travelling at off-peak times.
- The rail card makes a difference of up to £4.70 for the DON>LEEDS journey, and £28.90 for the DON>BRISTOL journey. It appears that saving roughly 1/3 of the fare has been met for the train journey to Bristol. However if buying a peak Leeds return this isn't necessarily the case.
- Time, day and booking in advance does not appear to make a difference to fare if you do not have a rail card.
- Time of day can make a difference to your fares if you buy singles opposed to return tickets, or if you have a rail card.
It appears that there are many loop holes and terms and conditions with train tickets, which allow so many different ticket combinations are available. It is possible to pay for a return ticket which is more expensive than paying for two singles, and occasionally a return can be cheaper than a single, saving the buyer money even if you don't need both tickets.