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Britrail Pass

For our trip in June/July we have decided to go with a 15 day flexipass. I notice that there are several different companies that you can purchase from (RailEurope, ACP Rail International are examples). First question: Does it make a lot of difference which we buy from? and Does each company have their own trains that run? I would think that would get rather confusing making sure you get on the train representing the company that you bought your pass from. Also, How does it work with bringing luggage on the trains? Any extra cost, anything you are not allowed to bring?

Thanks

Posted by
8889 posts

RailEurope, ACP Rail International . . . . Does each company have their own trains that run?

No, neither company runs any trains. They are resellers, selling the pass. The trains themselves are run by a number of companies called "TOC" (=Train Operating Company). Your pass will be valid on the trains run by these TOC's.
This map shows rail lines and the TOC for each line: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/nationalrailoperatorsmap43.pdf
It does not show all stations, just the main ones, and it does not show some lines around the big cities (areas shown in grey), again not enough room.
For the most part you can ignore which TOC you are travelling on, the trains will just be a different colour.

How does it work with bringing luggage on the trains? Any extra cost, anything you are not allowed to bring?

You can bring whatever luggage you like on a train, the "but" is you carry all your own luggage. It is 100% "Hand Luggage", if you can't schlep it, don't bring it. There is nobody to help you with your luggage, neither at the station or on the train.

If you are new to train travel in the UK, read this webpage: https://www.seat61.com/UK-train-travel.htm

Posted by
9 posts

Hi -

With regards to purchasing the flexi-pass -
The companies which sell the flexi-pass do not have anything to do with which train on which you can travel. They are just selling the pass(es). From my experience, all the train lines honor the BritRail Pass. And that includes the Heathrow Express. Just make sure you purchase the Pass which includes all the places you will be visiting.

I purchased my flexi-pass from Rick Steves last fall:

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/britain-rail-passes

Totally satisfied.

As I am going over again in April, I did some price checking. And the best prices are:

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/britain-rail-passes

re: Luggage on the train - I used the Rick Steves method of packing, so all I had was my carry-on luggage. Typically at the end of each rail car is a luggage rack where you can put your luggage. And on some trains there is an overhead rack which may or may not be big enough for your carry-on bag.

Tip: On some trains it will be the conductor that signs off on your BritRail Pass. On other trains there will be a turnstile before you get on the platform. That turnstile requires a purchased ticket to open. Just find the Railroad Attendant in the turnstile area (dark blue uniform) and show him/her your BritRail Pass. He/She will wave his magic pass at the reader and you are in. Easy Peasy. All of the railroad folks I met were very friendly, and very helpful. It isn't as if you will be the first tourist they have seen.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
28826 posts

Don't expect all rail staff to have a dark blue uniform. There are 23 Train Operating Companies (TOCs) which operate the trains around the country, and they all paint the trains differently, paint the stations differently (even if there are multiple operators serving a station one will designated the operator of the station other than a very few operated directly by the company maintaining the network) and clothe their employees in different and distinctive uniforms. The colours are everything from bright pink to very dark blue and very dark green, and everything in between.

If you were looking at a dark blue uniform you may have been looking at, depending on when and where, either First Great Western, Virgin (during their blue period), or Great Western Railway.

Posted by
35 posts

The trips we are planning are Salisbury/Stonehenge, bath, Stratford upon avon, Canterbury, cambridge, york/whitby (this will be a 3 day trip and planning on renting a car in york and driving to whitby. ), Hever castle, maybe Windsor castle

We also talked about renting a car for each of the day trips but I am thinking that parking will be expensive and make it not worth it.

When I have tried checking on individual train tickets they seem pretty pricey to me. Maybe I am looking in the wrong places?

Posted by
11294 posts

"When I have tried checking on individual train tickets they seem pretty pricey to me. Maybe I am looking in the wrong places?"

More likely the wrong dates than the wrong places.

The right place to look at fares for trains in Britain is http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/. This will find then direct you to the correct company to book the ticket through. Some tickets will be sent to you as a PDF you can print; some can be loaded on an app on your phone; and some must be picked up at a station.

UK trains at full fare are indeed very expensive. So, if you are not wanting to make any advance purchases of tickets, you will probably do better with a train pass.

However, Advance tickets (with a capital A) are non-exchangeable, non-refundable tickets that go on sale about 11 weeks before travel. They are MUCH cheaper than regular tickets. So, if you can accept the restrictions, you can use Advance tickets for much less than the cost of a pass. You do have to take the exact train you are ticketed for. And if you are looking too early, the Advance fares won't be posted yet; if you look too late, they can be sold out (locals snap them up on popular routes, since they're such a good deal).

You didn't say if your trips are starting from London, but for instance, London to Bath tickets one way (British say single) for tomorrow morning are from £35.40 to £50.10. Advance tickets on this route for May 2, 2019 are £18 or £21. If you are going round trip (British say return), you can often get a lower fare than two singles.

Posted by
9 posts

Nigel -
re: Color of uniforms - I bow to your knowledge.

But at the end of the day, if you have a BritRail Pass, you want to look for the individual who is assisting people getting through the turnstile by using his/her swipe card. That person may (or may not) sign off on your BritRail Pass. If they don't, don't worry because the conductor will.

Darrell and Kimberly -
re: Ticket Prices - As Harold says, advance purchase tickets are certainly much less expensive, BUT they will be for specific trains at a specific time. Miss that train and you will be out of pocket.

BritRail Passes are anytime tickets, and not just one trip, but rather all day. Last fall I went from Heathrow to London, Bletchley Park, Bath, York, London, Heathrow. My Britrail Pass England (8-day flexi) saved me over $300 (when compared to anytime prices). 'nuf said.

Also, I would suggest you try Tripit to set up your itinerary. I used their free version for my trip last fall. Of course they will want you to get their "Pro" version, but I would play with the free version first. After a week or two, you will receive an offer for about 50% off.

Posted by
20 posts

Always buy direct, on all things, especially hotels.

As for trains, there are a few differences. Some have a space near the doors for you to put your luggage. This is nice, but keep an eye on it at stops that are not yours - I always worry someone is going to nab it. Some don't have designated spaces for luggage, and you will need to pull it into your seat with you, if, God willing, you find a seat for 2 available. Meaning you will need to sit down and then pull your suitcase into the empty second seat area. It is very awkward. When traveling with my daughter, we would sometimes get split up because of this, and this was just with one carry on roller bag each.

To my knowledge there is no limit as to how much you bring, but you are on your own to move it on and off the train, so I wouldn't advise bringing a lot of stuff. Some stations have lifts but many don't, so you will find yourself having to carry luggage up and down stairs to get from one platform to the other. And then, it never fails, they then announce that there has been a platform change, and you will need to drag them back up, and then back down. Haha good times!

Posted by
20 posts

I've always wondered if there was a different place to put them - thank you for clarification, I will try to find the right carriage next time.

Posted by
20 posts

That said, if I find myself on a busy train, I've been known to stand with my suitcase before I took two seats. There really isn't a place to put them, and I'm short so I can never reach the overhead racks. I do worry about theft, and I believe one should always err on the side of caution.

Posted by
28826 posts

A lot of trains in continental Europe have a specific seating area(usually near the doors to facilitate easy boarding) reserved for the handicapped, on long distance trains you can request a seat reserved in that area. (In case you travel abroad this may be useful for you).

The appropriate term is disabled. Handicapped is pejorative. If you use that term in the UK you will get more than tuts. In German the term is behinderte.

Posted by
3088 posts

Let me address the latest comment by the OP.
Darrellandkimberly wrote:

"The trips we are planning are Salisbury/Stonehenge, bath, Stratford upon avon, Canterbury, cambridge, york/whitby (this will be a 3 day trip and planning on renting a car in york and driving to whitby. ), Hever castle, maybe Windsor castle

We also talked about renting a car for each of the day trips but I am thinking that parking will be expensive and make it not worth it."

I will suggest that you do your trips in this order.
Train from London to Bath.
Stay 2 nights.
Train or bus for the short hop to Salisbury.
Stay 2 nights.
Train to Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Stay 2 nights.
Train back down to Oxford--just as interesting as Cambridge.
Stay 1 or 2 nights.
Train or bus back to London. The bus is really cheap--can buy tickets on the day of travel, just walk up to the window and buy.

The schedule above will all be doable by train. It is my preferred way to travel---That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of people on this forum who love to rent cars in England.

Now----before you say you don't need a hotel room at these places, that you already have a place to stay in London and want to do these as day trips........
I will say these are really cool towns that you will enjoy a lot more if you at least stay a night or two.
Each town is good for walking around and enjoying, visiting a pub.

I checked your other threads to see how long you will be in London.
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england/how-much-money-to-put-on-oyster-card
"We will be spending 3 to 4 weeks based in London with around 6 or 7 day trips and one 3 day trip to Whitby before going to Paris for 3 or 4 days. We are staying in London with a family member who has extra oyster cards."

The last sentence explains your desire to do these as day trips.
However...cheap hotels can be found in these locations, B&B's, or hostels.
So it would not be that big of a hit to your budget.
Let me know if you want a website for hostels.

Posted by
3088 posts

Let me comment on this:
"We also talked about renting a car for each of the day trips but I am thinking that parking will be expensive and make it not worth it."

This will be a lot of hassle. I would not rent a car for each of the day trips.

The day trips out of London will be best done by train. The train is much faster than you could do it by car.
The day trips you have named that fit this are:
Windsor Castle
Hampton Court
Hever Castle
Canterbury
Cambridge

Check out the information on Hever Castle's web pages.
They have detailed instructions as to how to go there on a day trip from London.
https://www.hevercastle.co.uk/visit/opening-times-directions/
From their website:

"By Rail:
Trains run from London Victoria and London Bridge (via Oxted or East Croydon) to Edenbridge Town Station, and then take a taxi for three miles to the castle. Relyon Taxis are near the station, telephone 01732 863800. We suggest that you book a taxi in advance.

Hever Station (next on line, unmanned and no taxis) is a one-mile rural walk to the castle. At this time of year the paths are rather muddy so we’d recommend you bring a torch and wellies! (Map of walk from station to castle). As you leave the platform you will also see another map on your left. This will guide you to Hever Castle, but you simply need to look out for red and white wooden posts. There are no regular bus services to Hever Castle."

Posted by
3088 posts

If you still want to do every one of these as day trips, on the cheap, here's a company you should check out: London Walks.

Their day trips out of London are here:
http://www.walks.com/other-tours/day-trips-from-london/
They do different trips on different days. Browse and check it out.

www.walks.com
They do walks around London neighborhoods with a guide. Meet at an appointed spot, pay £8 to £10.
You had another thread asking about interesting neighborhoods.
They'll give you a walking tour; your choice of interesting neighborhoods, just check the schedule.

Posted by
21995 posts

The LondonWalks I've taken in the city have cost me £8 as a senior. The regular rate was £10 as of last September.

I think only the winter schedule is posted on the company website at the moment. It's good through April 30, so I assume at some point in April you'll be able to download the new summer schedule. Look at the top right on the webpage for the link.

Posted by
3088 posts

acraven is right. The schedule changes periodically, so check when you get to London to see the times and days of the walks.

Posted by
28826 posts

I agree with Rebecca - we usually agree - that these can easily be accomplished the way she said. And, yes, wellies or truly waterproof boots or shoes are a requirement for countryside walking unless you are here at a time like last summer - once in a century or more - of dryness and heat.

Posted by
12 posts

D&K, hope you have an amazing trip. We have never been to the UK yet so my two cents (pence?) is probably not even worth that! We are considering many of the same day trips as you have listed. Our choice was to immediately head to York after landing in Gatwick, spend three nights in the north before grabbing trains back to London.

After extensive research, I chose to go with the Flexipass; I priced every journey we wanted to go on and found that the Flexipass was going to add a premium of about 30% compared to point to point tickets that were available (some at considerable discounts; others seemed to be priced near the same as day of tickets). However, being as yet unfamiliar with travelling in Britain, we decided that being flexible and not locked into specific destinations and routes was preferred. This will allow us dumb Yankees to miss a train, get lost, change our plans without having to pay the pretty steep prices of same day purchased travel.

Since we are using London as our base and didn't need to book hotels outside of London, we also aren't locked into our particular destinations or dates. I like the idea of being able to change plans on the fly if something amazing comes up and we just can't miss it.

All of these thoughts included, I'm certain that our next trip when I have a little experience and increased confidence will include all point to point tickets purchased in advance; I love getting a good deal. On our last (and second) trip to Italy, I knew what to expect at train stations and felt confident enough to do the advance tickets. I was really impressed with the deals you could get on tickets if you do the research and look for the fares. I think we traveled from Venice to Rome on the fastest train available in first class for about half the price of a regular ticket.

Best of luck to you! We'll be braving those trains right along with you!
Cheers,