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Train bookings - advance versus britrail pass

Hi everyone!
I know this topic has been thrashed out a number of times before and I've read many threads on this before, but still id like some specific advice.
I planned my trip quite late (about 2 weeks back) to London in mid june with my wife and 2 kids (10 and 15). I will be there for 10 days. I plan to take day return journeys to Bath, Cambridge, Salisbury and most specially to the Coventry Transport museum (my son wants to see the Thrust SSC).

My queries are:

  1. I checked the individual point-to-point rail fares for these day trips (e.g., the return day trip to Bath from Paddington for the 4 of us, even with the family and friends rail card, was costing 120 GBP). The cost of the 4 days-in-a-month Britrail London plus pass (we chose this because we plan to do only 4 day trips out of London and the rest will be spent in London) for the 4 of us, with the family and friends rail card was 350 USD ( approx. 250 GBP). I think buying the Britrail pass would work out cheaper for us than buying the individual tickets. Am i right in assuming so?

  2. Where can I buy the family and friends rail card?

  3. The limits of the Britrail London Plus pass do not cover Coventry. Should we then buy the Britrail England pass (cost 462 USD, approx 320 GBP) or just get down at Leamington Spa station and buy onward tickets upto Coventry ? Do we even need to get down at Leamington Spa or can we just buy the tickets from LS to Coventry right now online and remain seated in the same train?

  4. Any suggestions on local transport within Bath, Cambridge and Coventry? Should we buy bus passes or tickets? Where can we buy these? I know of the PLUSBUS in Bath bundled with the rail pass. Is this okay? Any other modes of transport in these cities?

Your advice will be most helpful. Thanks

Posted by
2424 posts
  1. It’s rather unusual that a Britrail pass works out better value than Advance tickets. Best check your maths again to make sure

  2. You can buy the F&F railcard at a station. You can buy Advance tickets online indicating you have the pass, but must buy the pass before you travel.

  3. You can buy tickets online from Leamington Spa to Coventry and remain in your seats.

  4. Personally, I wouldn't bother with Plusbus it’s usually not necessary. Bath, Cambridge and Coventry are walkable.

Some useful links

Posted by
31525 posts

question 3 - You cannot remain in your seat at Leamington Spa and get to Coventry from London.

The train from London to Leamington Spa is Chiltern which starts at London Marylebone station on its way to Birmingham Moor Street and Birmingham Snow Hill. You could change at Leamington Spa onto the Cross Country service for one stop to Coventry or the London Northwestern / West Midlands Trains two stop service to Coventry.

The map provided by the Britrail website is reasonably geographically accurate but doesn't show the routes that trains actually take. If you look at the map it all looks homogeneous. But there are over 2 dozen different private companies running trains here and they follow established routes. Use (National Rail Enquiries, who have unbiased schedule and ticket information) to show what stations your train will stop in, and where you have to change, and how much time you have to make the changes.

The reality is that it is much faster to get to Coventry by Virgin Trains or London Northwestern trains from London Euston station than by Chiltern especially with the change at Leamington Spa. With the slower London Northwestern service via Northampton you would reach the limit of your pass at Long Buckby. You'd need a ticket from Long Buckby to Coventry. You would not need to leave the train. Be aware that there is a long stop to change crew at Northampton on most timings. With Virgin Trains the limit of your pass would be at Milton Keynes and you would need a ticket valid on Virgin from Milton Keynes to Coventry. Virgin would only stop the one time on the way to Coventry - it is a very fast service travelling at 125 mph most of the way.

question 4 - PLUSBus is available for Coventry and Cambridge. I don't know of any bundled bus passes with the Brit rail pass.

question 2 - You can get a Family and Friends railcard at any staffed station. But I question your proposal that you can use that railcard to lower the price of your Britrail Pass. The children are already free with pass holding adults and I don't believe (just retired from the British rail system and dealt with tickets daily for 20 years or so) that the F&F card can be used with the pass. Have you seen that it can be somewhere? Where, please?

Question 1 - I don't know. I can get all of you to Bath for about £35 on a Saturday in June, but your question is too nonspecific for me to give a clearer answer - for that I'd need more precision such a day of the week and date and time you want to travel - right now I just have mid-June.

Posted by
15107 posts

It would help to know the exact dates.

I checked London to Bath Spa for 2adults and 2children with Friends and Family Railcard for a random date in mid-June ( June 13) and found Advance tickets for £60.90 total for the roundtrip ( from Waterloo, not Paddington).

The one issue with Advance tickets is that they are only good on the specific trains you choose, so there is no flexibility.

Posted by
13 posts

Hi Nigel,
Great advice and coming from an expert like yourself, Im glad you told me this important difference for travel to Coventry. Please help us with our train bookings as follows:
We plan to travel to Bath Spa on 14th June and return on the same day. Prefer early train to go and evening 6 pm to return.
We plan to travel to Coventry on 16th June and return on same day evening. Can we club it with Stratford-upon-Avon to have a dekko at the Bard's house?
Also, our other day return trip would be to Cambridge on 20th June.
Please guide. Thanks

Posted by
13 posts

Hi Lola,
Thanks for the info. Can you please tell me which website did you obtain these figures from? I will try and book our train tickets there.

Posted by
3111 posts

I'm curious about "It’s rather unusual that a Britrail pass works out better value than Advance tickets." Isn't the advantage of the Britrail pass the flexibility? I'd rather pay a little more (or even a moderate amount more) if the pass lets me decide any time which train I want to take to which destination.

Or has the Britrail pass changed since I last used one (many years ago) such that it no longer offers great flexibility?

Posted by
5250 posts

The Britrail passes certainly can work out cheaper than regular tickets in specific circumstances, free children, and traveling at peak times which would normally require Anytime tickets being two possibilities.

The route to Bath via Salisbury has only a handful of direct trains a day and takes longer than the main line. It is a good option if Salisbury is visited enroute but maybe not for a day trip maximising time in Bath.

Posted by
15107 posts

For booking trains in the UK I always start here:

Enter the date and times, 2 adults, 2 children with Friends and Family Railcard, and "return" and it will show a list of trains and prices for the outbound and inbound journey for a day trip. When you pick the ones you want, the website will send you to the correct train company for the actual booking.

Different days in June will have different prices, so you may not find that £60 fare on other days. And remember that if you buy Advance tickets ( with a capital A), these are for a specific train ( like an airline ticket). You can only use the ticket on the trains you have picked; there is no flexibility.

Also note that trains to Bath leave from both Paddington and Waterloo stations. They may be different train companies ( I did not check that). Nigel could advise you if one is preferable to the other.

Some destinations from London will have a "day return" fare for Off-Peak travel, which may be a better value than Advance tickets and is flexible.

Posted by
31525 posts

Thanks for shout out, Lola, but I think that Marco knows as much as I do about that part of the world - maybe more. The Waterloo line has more industrial unrest at the moment - the interminable efforts by the government to remove Guards from trains - and the same issue seems to be on the back burner at GWR, the company out of Paddington.

GWR have newer rolling stock, a more frequent and faster service. The others charge less and go less frequently and stop more.

Perhaps the clincher is where the passengers are staying in London - which is easier might clinch it for me. Or money. Whichever is more important. Or frequency.