Is it to my advantage to book train tickets in advance, or can I simply show up at the station and pay a reasonable sum for a ticket? I am in London right now. I would like to go to Paddington Station on Friday morning, buy a ticket that would take me to Oxford, walk around for several hours, then return to the train station in Oxford on Friday afternoon and buy a ticket back to London. Can I just do this at the ticket counter, or will it save me a lot of money to book my tickets in advance? Or are seats on the train in such high demand that I will risk having to spend the night in Oxford? Thank you!
The discounted fares start about 12 weeks prior to the date of travel. There are a limited number of discounted seats. I don't know if there would be any discounted fares still available for travel on Friday. I'm not even sure if Oxford would be on a discounted route (Windsor isn't, for example, but the walk-up fares for that trip are not bad). You can check this website (http://www.rail.co.uk/) to see if there are any discounted fares.
You can also try Megatrain there (through their Megabus, just specify travel by train)
The website for tickets is here: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ It looks like there are 5 or more trains an hour to Oxford throughout the day so I don't think getting a seat is an issue. Advance fares (means that exact train only) are 6-10 pounds while "off peak" (any non-rush hour train) fares run 20-25 pounds and anytime fares run about 30 pounds. I really comes down to money versus convenience. If you are willing to commit to exact trains right now you can probably able to go for <20 pounds total but if you want to take any train you feel like you'll probably pay more than that both ways. If you charge the tickets on-line be sure to bring that same credit card because that's how you identify yourself at the automated ticket machine. I was just in Scotland and I was able to buy "advance" tickets 24 hours before the train at the station but not 'day of' and saved about 20 pounds one way doing so. That is, however, Scotrail so I can't guarantee London runs by exactly the same rules. Hope that helps,
If you decide to buy tickets online from the U.S. before you leave for your trip, be sure to call your credit card company to alert them you will make an international purchase over the Web. If you don't, their fraud protection process may block your card and the transaction will fail. You would then have to contact them to ask that the block be removed.
If you buy tickets on the day don't buy 2 separate singles at London and Oxford as you were suggesting in your scenario - buy a return. A single in either direction after 9.20am costs £23.40. A return costs 10p more. There are up to 5 trains an hour, but some of them stop a dozen times or more enroute. There are in general 2 an hour with minimal stops.
... or the X90, run by the other bus company in Oxford. As if by magic the fare is the same (or will be again in a few days). Both coach services take a declared 100 minutes for the journey, rather longer than the fastest train of around an hour. Nevertheless, the presence of the dense coach services explains the offering of cheap advance rail tickets.
There also is a bus service called the Oxford Tube. A single ticket costs £14. A same day or next day return ticket costs £17.