How can you cut in half the cost of your rail trip to London?

An Intercity train at Ipswich Station heading for London, Stock Image

An Intercity train at Ipswich Station heading for London, Stock Image - Credit: Archant

Rail fares in the UK are notoriously complex – with walk-on fares, advance purchase tickets and a variety of options – and a commission is currently looking at ways of simplifying the system.

Paul Geater saved money on tickets to Kew Gardens to see the sculpture exhibition currently under wa

Paul Geater saved money on tickets to Kew Gardens to see the sculpture exhibition currently under way there. Picture:: Steve Parsons/PA - Credit: PA

That should make things simpler, but will it make tickets cheaper for those people who know their way around the system? Will is still be possible to halve the cost of a day out in London while still retaining the flexibility of a walk-on ticket as I did this week?

Because it is possible to get what still looks like a great deal for a weekend journey if you know how the system works.

We’re heading to Kew Gardens in West London to see the fabulous glass sculptures on show there. A travelcard (allowing a journey to London and Underground, Overground and bus travel in the capital) from Ipswich costs £49 each.

My wife and I have a “Two Together” railcard which gives us a third saving on rail fares which would bring the cost of the trip down to £64.70 (paying for the £30 cost of the card which is valid all year).

You might end up with enough tickets for a game of snap, but you can save money by splitting your jo

You might end up with enough tickets for a game of snap, but you can save money by splitting your journey! Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant


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However with a bit of planning we were able to bring the cost down much more than that! The trip will now cost us £48.40 – less than half the cost of a one-day travelcard quoted on the website.

For a start you can “split” the ticket by buying separate elements from Ipswich to Manningtree and then from Manningtree to London. If you haven’t got a railcard this brings the cost for a trip to London down from £43.50 to £36.90, or for a travelcard down from £49 to £43.40.

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Staff at the Ipswich booking office will normally offer you this if you’re buying a ticket at the weekend, but if they don’t just ask for a Manningtree split (you have to catch a train that stops at Manningtree, but I haven’t yet found a weekend passenger service that doesn’t! You don’t have to get off and back on the train at the station).

The next trick is, where are you going to in London? Do you really want to go to Liverpool Street Station? We’re heading to Kew and there’s a London Overground direct to there from Stratford. It’s 57 minutes for a 13-mile journey, but as the name of the service suggests its all above ground and there’s plenty to see – and it’s a direct route, no further changes.

Tickets to Stratford are much cheaper than those to Liverpool Street. From Manningtree a ticket to Stratford is £25.30 rather than £30.10.

And is a travelcard always the best option? If you’re planning to do a number of journeys to several different zones on the Tube, Overground or bus then it may be the simplest.

If not, the best option is may be to use your contactless credit or debit card – that can usually work out cheaper. Our (57 minute) trip from Stratford to Kew will be £1.50 per person each way, a grand total of £6 between us – much cheaper than us having a travelcard.

So from Ipswich to Kew it’s costing two people £9 from Ipswich to Manningtree, £33.40 from Manningtree to Stratford, and £6 from Stratford to Kew. A grand total of £48.40. That’s less than half the £98 cost of two travelcards from Ipswich.

And there’s an offer on the Greater Anglia webpage for a two for one entrance to Kew if you print out a voucher!

This example is for one particular trip – but there are all kinds of different offers and tricks out there. It is always worth looking for ways of splitting your ticket, particularly at weekends when there are super off-peak day return fares available from stations in Essex.

Taking children can cut the cost of travel – or can make it more expensive because Transport for London has different rules about when children become adults to some other rail companies.

The simple answer is, do your research online before you actually buy your ticket. Don’t buy the obvious and simplest ticket online. And if it’s possible, and if you’re in doubt buy your ticket from the station asking the staff what is the cheapest option – they are really happy to help you out.

The only downside is you do get enough pieces of card in your wallet for a quick game of snap on the train!

And, of course, there are cheaper deals if you book in advance – but we don’t know what time we’ll want to return. Will be tired out by 5.30pm, or will we want to stay and get a meal at Stratford’s Westfield Centre before coming home?

The review of fares currently under way will, no doubt, lead to big changes as they are simplified – and some basic off-peak fares may fall slightly.

But will there be bargains on offer for those who know their way around the system? Only time will tell.

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