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Website for UK rail bookings?

What is the best way to purchase point to point train tickets for the UK? There seems to be a myriad of websites and some
information is a bit confusing.
I will be in the UK in March for about two weeks and would like to start putting an itinerary in place.
Which website is the best for making bookings? I am aware that it may be still too early to book tickets.

Posted by
2074 posts

Although RS list Transportation separately, it is best to go to the country concerned as many of the experts on a particular country - such as Brits - only check out that country to help foreigners. So, if you have further queries, I would go to England / Wales / Scotland.

As has been said, www.nationalrail.co.uk is the best website for British rail travel. The cheapest Advance fares for specific trains get loaded to the system about 11 weeks ahead. For shorter distances, it does not make any difference (usually) so pay on the day. When you select a train, the National Rail website will direct you through to the Train Company who you will be using for most of the trip (usually). You will also se something about Railcards in a drop down menu on the National Rail website. You can go ahead & pre-book on the assumption that you already have a Railcard - which you can purchase on arrival. More info here but watch for certain rules - such as not being allowed before 9.30am on weekdays for some of the Railcards:>https://www.railcard.co.uk

You can collect all the tickets from a fast ticket machine but be sure to bring the same debit card on which the booking(s) were made - and I would also print out the Booking Reference number. If you go to any station (preferably at a quiet time), staff should do this for you. It is also OK to purchase all your tickets via any of the Train Companies websites - even if not using that company. However, in the event of compensation being due as a result of a delayed journey, it is easier to get this when only dealing with the company on which you travelled. On some journeys, you can split the tickets to lower the fares. Check out > https://new.trainsplit.com

Map of the system >http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/static/images/structure/css/nationalrailnetworkmap.pdf

Posted by
3810 posts

Any research into UK train travel (or anywhere else in Europe) should begin at this site, always:

www.seat61.com

All the connections and websites, strategies for shopping for bargains, advice on passes -- essential!

Posted by
13875 posts

If you want to keep it simple, use the National Rail website Carol gave you. It will send you to the correct train company for the actual booking. For the cheapest Advance tickets (non-changeable and non-refundable), look 11-12 weeks ahead of the travel date. Tickets may be released earlier, but they will be full price, not the discounted Advance fares.

Posted by
91 posts

Thanks, everyone for your replies. I haven't looked at the seat61 website but I will do so. Finding out about UK train travel looks more straightforward than getting my head around purchasing European train tickets.

I only have 15 days in the UK. But as I have been a couple of times before, and for what I am planning to do, that amount of time will probably be ok. I am arriving in London, staying there for a few days and then plan to travel to Glasgow. I looked at the National Rail website to get an idea on fare prices. As the date, I am planning to travel to Glasgow is not available as a bookable date I just inputted an earlier date and up came the figure of 126 GBP. I am not sure if this an advance fare or not but it seems high.

In one of the replies, James mentions the use of railcards which it seems, even though I will only travelling by trains a few times, like it would prove worthwhile. And there is the concept of train splitting which as I understand it divides a journey up into smaller chunks and delivers a cheaper fare almost like magic. And it seems theoretically you can even stay on the same train for the entire journey. One of the websites on trainsplitting I found is incomprehensible and the other (posted in one of the replies) looks more user-friendly.

If anyone has split their long train journeys into segments I would appreciate finding out how to do so.

Posted by
22593 posts

I don't know exactly what the Advance fare to Glasgow will be, but it will be nowhere near 126 GBP.

Unless you qualify for a senior railcard or a youth railcard, I would not assume that a pass will save you money on inter-city travel if you are willing to commit to non-refundable/non-changeable tickets when they become available for your travel dates. Quite the contrary.

As I understand it, the ticket-splitting business is helpful on only some journeys; it's not something you'll need to do for every trip.

Posted by
11294 posts

An important clarification. Advance fares, with a capital A, are not just any ticket bought in advance. They are the highly discounted, non-refundable tickets, which go on sale about 11 weeks before travel (give or take). You must take the exact train you are ticketed on, but in exchange you can save a fortune.

For instance, I looked for February 28, 2019 and got the same price you did. But then I looked for February 14, 2019 and found Advance fares as low as £30! If you know your travel dates, keep checking to snag these when they are released.

Posted by
91 posts

@ acraven. As I will only be in the UK for a short time organising an itinerary will be fairly easy as I am only planning to visit cities I have not been to before. And as I will be using airbnb it will be great to able to make definite bookings even though they would not be refundable. I am 60+ plus so would qualify for a senior's railcard. But if advance bookings reduce my fares significantly I will not probably not even need one. Some of my trips will be comparatively short eg London to Brighton so I suspect (but don't definitely know) that advance fares would not even be offered. And while I am staying in Glasgow I will take the train to Edinburgh where I have stayed before. So I think that once again advance pre-purchase may not save anything.

@Harold I followed your example and inputted the earlier date and up came the amount you mentioned. Tried a date in January 2019 and the fares were higher than 30GBP but still significantly lower than the 146 GBP quoted for travelling on Feb 28. Odd I would have thought that the closer to the date you are booking the higher the fare and the opposite: the further from your date of booking the ticket, the cheaper the ticket would be. I'm travelling from approximately mid Mar to early April before I take the Eurostar across the Channel.

Posted by
22593 posts

Regular tickets may go on sale a bit earlier than Advance tickets. It's possible that they haven't put the Advance tickets on sale yet for February 28. I haven't previously looked at UK rail ticket prices more than a few days in advance, so I don't know what's going on with February 28.

Posted by
13875 posts

Harold's price comparisons for February 28 and Feb. 14 for London to Glasgow are typical of what I found. The Feb. 28 price of £126 is full fare; the Advance tickets ( with a capital A) have not been released yet. The £30 fare for Feb. 14 is a true Advance fare. Although Advance fares can be released at the 12-week mark ( which would include Feb. 28), my experience for the northbound trains ( to York or Scotland) was more like 11 weeks.

For March, just keep watching. They will appear and you can benefit. It may or may not be worth getting a Senior Railcard, depending on how much travel you have. The Senior discount operates even on the Advance fares, but they are so low it may not be all that much.

Glasgow to Edinburgh is a commuter train and we found no Advance fares or discounts. But the Senior Railcard would help.

Note that you do not have to have the Senior Railcard in hand when you buy tickets online. You can choose the discount, and then purchase the Senior card when you arrive. You just need to have it to show the conductor when you travel on the discounted ticket.

Posted by
29325 posts

Because a Senior Railcard costs £30 (for a year) and you get 1/3 off most fares with it, it breaks even after you have spent £100 on tickets.

If, by using Advance tickets and planning well ahead your total is under £100 it is not cost effective to buy a Senior Railcard.

If it is considerably over than you will come out ahead.

Posted by
7364 posts

istvandesiderata, yes getting the Advance fares is a bit tricky. You have to time it right. After they are sold out, the fares go back up. So it helps to be monitoring it so you can jump on it, and directly through National Rail site. I was watching it weekly, then daily, for a couple of months. We got fares from London to York, for example (2017) for I think 13 pounds each, versus >80. The National Rail site will refer you to the operating railroad site to buy the tickets, and one good thing is that they will let you pick seats and make reservations for those seats at the same time. No problems when we got there.

Posted by
3583 posts

An important clarification. Advance fares, with a capital A, are not
just any ticket bought in advance. They are the highly discounted,
non-refundable tickets, which go on sale about 11 weeks before travel
(give or take). You must take the exact train you are ticketed on, but
in exchange you can save a fortune.

Just to add to Harold's post. I've gotten the highly discounted advanced fare with an open return on the same day of travel so there can be flexibility on day trips at least on the return trip.

Posted by
91 posts

I've gotten the highly discounted advanced fare with an open return on the same day of travel so there can be flexibility on day trips at least on the return trip.

I won't be retracing my steps or doing a return trip other than a day trip I will take from London to either Brighton or Portsmouth. I have not checked those destinations as to whether it is possible to secure an advance fare or not. Brighton is relatively close to London so I suspect it will not prove difficult to get tickets on the day of travel.