Friday, 26 October 2012

Frugal Friday...

Frugal LAST friday to be exact, and a frugal train journey!

I've said on here before, I love travelling by train. In fact, it would be fair to say that for the most part I love travelling, full stop! Planes, boats, cars......trains have something special though, a buzz of excitement, without the tedium that comes to having to sit around in an airport several hours ahead of departure time. A lot of big stations feel a bit "airportish" anyway, don't you think? A friend said that recently, and I can really see what she means!

Anyway, given the chance to travel by train I will always grab it, so when the decision was taken to visit some cheery pals up in Sheffield, the train was always going to be my first port of call. First stop though was to see if it could be done in a budget friendly way. For this trip I headed to the MegaBus site - did you know they did trains as well? Not on all routes, but to quite a lot of big cities - Sheffield being one, Exeter, Liverpool and Birmingham being some of the others. Trick 1 with this site is that it helps to want to travel when other people don't, as the company that operates it works by buying seats from the train operators which would otherwise be unused, then selling them at a price which encourages people to use the train rather than other forms of travel. Costs are kept down by keeping the system ticketless - you simply get sent an email with a reference number, and showing that reference number is what gets you on the train. You can even simply show it on the screen of your phone - clever, hey? There is a booking fee, but this is only 50p per booking. Trick 2 - be flexible, you might want to travel at 8am, but chances are, travelling an hour earlier or later might net you a bargain. The same with dates - if you can adjust your journey to fit when the tickets are, maybe by travelling on a Friday rather than a Saturday, then you will find far better options are available for you. Trick 3 is to Stalk & Pounce! Familiarise yourself with the release dates for the tickets - this site is not like the train operators own, releasing the cheapest tickets a set period ahead of time, so keeping a close eye on the site enables you to pick the best bargains. If you are travelling over a period of time - away for several days, then buy your tickets singly, as otherwise you will miss the cheapest tickets on the outbound journey while waiting for the return one to be released! This time around, the "stalk and pounce" method got me a ticket to Sheffield for £1, with a same-day return costing £5. For that price I travelled on the same train, in the same carriage as other paying many times that amount.

Another option for bargainous train tickets is to use sites like Red Spotted Hanky - these are effectively agencies, dealing with tickets for all the main operators. In the case of RSH they charge no booking fees, have an easy to navigate site, and even reward you with "loyalty points" each time you spend, which can be set off against the cost of future journeys. Again, there are some tricks to getting the best deal: Trick 1 - BUY IN ADVANCE! Yes, I'm shouting - I will again - BUY IN ADVANCE!!! Even if only the day before, buying before you arrive at the station nearly always saves you something. Best of all is to buy when the really cheap tickets are released - usually around 13 weeks ahead. Last year this trick netted us a single ticket from London to Doncaster for just £9.35 These rock-bottom priced tickets go quickly though, so do your research ahead of time, be ready to get online as soon as they are released, and move fast. Trick 2 - Beware of hidden fees - some sites will charge you a booking fee, or to post the tickets out to you (the cheapest option is usually to collect from a station ahead of time) or even to pay by credit card! Although at a first glance one site may look cheapest, be certain it still is once any extras are factored in. Finally, the best of the bunch - Trick 3 - split ticketing. In a nutshell, this means buying more than one ticket, for your journey. So for example, travelling from Sheffield to Milton Keynes, but buying one ticket from sheffield to Birmingham, and a second for Birmingham to Milton Keynes. (That one saves about £14, last time I looked). You don't need to change trains, and usually not even seats, although if reservations are mandatory this may not be the case. You do need to do some research for this though - check where the train you want to travel on is stopping, as your "split" has to be at a "scheduled station stop". Beware also of stops where the train is scheduled to drop off passengers only - these are not that common, but for example applies to some trains from Edinburgh to London, stopping at Peterborough.

Having got my Frugal tickets, I made sure I was prepared to keep costs down as much as possible for the journey itself, too. The time of my train meant leaving home just after 7am, so I packed breakfast - a home made fruit slice and an apple. A bottle of juice brought from home made sure I didn't fall victim to "the trolley", and a handful of magazines passed on to me by a relation meant I didn't get mugged by WH Smiths, either! Finally a book ready for the way home, and the earphones for my phone to make sure I could drown out other people & crying babies, too! One luxury I do allow myself on a train journey is a cup of tea though, particularly on a cold day there is nothing better. A tip though - it is usually cheaper bought on the station platform before boarding, than once you are actually on the train itself!

What are your favourite tips for frugal travel? Is it plane, train or automobile for you, or does the bus win every time? Have you tried split ticketing with great results, or can you never make it work for you?


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