Two split-ticketing tools to help you find cheaper train tickets

‘Split ticketing’ has been a niche topic in rail circles for some years – you can save a lot of money on your train travel by using it correctly.

What ‘split ticketing’ means is that, instead of buying a rail ticket from A to C (with the train stopping at B on the way) you can save money by buying a ticket from A to B and B to C.

It works best when you are travelling on the edge of peak periods.  If all trains from Kings Cross are peak until 9.30, for example, a ticket on the 9.28 to Edinburgh would be at a peak price.  If you split-ticket the journey, you could instead buy a ticket on 9.28 from Kings Cross to Peterborough and then a ticket from Peterborough to Edinburgh – which, by the time you reached Peterborough, would be classed as off-peak.  Note that you remain on the same train at all times.

The problem with split ticketing is that it was very difficult to do the analysis.  You need a lot of data to run all of the combinations.  An early website which tried to do this failed, if I remember rightly, because it was charged per quote for access to the central pricing system.

Something seems to have changed in the way that third party companies are charged for the data, because there has been renewed interest in this sector in the last year.

TrainSplit

TicketySplit is run by moneysavingexpert.com.  When it launched it could only handle ‘same day’ pricing but the tool has now been expanded and now covers advance tickets.  You are limited to five searches per day and it can only deal with trips involving one split.

As an example, I looked at Exeter St Davids to Sheffield on the 9.24 on February 2nd.  This is a £112.90 ticket in standard class.  The tool recommended that I split the trip at Bristol Temple Meads, paying £8.90 for Exeter to Bristol and £78 from Bristol to Sheffield.  The saving is £26.

If you want to book via TicketySplit, you need to use The Trainline and pay their fees.  Nothing stops you writing down the details and buying directly from another site of course.

TrainSplit is the new kid on the block, supported by train booking site Raileasy.  This site has improved substantially since I last looked at it.  It is now better than TicketySplit because it can handle multiple splits.

TrainSplit has an interesting revenue model.  If you book via their site, your order is processed by Raileasy who charge no card fees and no booking fees.  There is a £1.50 postage fee if you choose not to collect your tickets at a station.  However, TrainSplit adds an extra fee based on 10% of the saving found.

When I ran the same test on TrainSplit, it found a £60.40 combination.  That is a lot cheaper than the £86.90 combination found by TicketySplit.  With the 10% ‘saving’ charge, the total was £65.65.

The reason TrainSplit was cheaper is that it looks for multiple splits – TicketySplit restricts itself to one.  The ticket they were selling me from Exeter to Sheffield was actually FIVE tickets:

  • Exeter to Bristol
  • Bristol to Cheltenham
  • Cheltenham to Birmingham
  • Birmingham to Derby
  • Derby to Sheffield

Remember that you stay on the same train at all times despite having five tickets!

Both of these tools are worth checking next time you book a long distance train ticket.  You could make a considerable saving.

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Comments

  1. Nick Burch says:

    The train does need to stop at every point where you change tickets to be valid. The website should be checking that for you, but it may mean slightly reduced options if there are multiple routes, especially in disruption. Getting a single seat reservation for the whole way can be hard, and it’s a pain if you’re on a busy train and have to shuffle seats every hour. Claiming Delay Repay across multiple tickets isn’t easy either, if you suffer delays… Still, even with that, it’s normally worth doing!

    • However, the train does not need to stop if you are using any combination of season tickets (which includes London travelcards in some circumstances).

      If the trains are not busy you can usually sit where you like, unless the guard says you must sit in your reserved seat. (But there is no way to tell in advance if a train will be busy unless you are a regular.)

      The rules say that split tickets are valid for a whole journey and thus for delay repay, but yes you will likely have to put up a fight

      • Martin Smith says:

        The rule on splitting with season tickets recently changed with the introduction of the new National Rail Conditions of Travel. It is now only at the splits directly adjoining the season where the train does not need to call, rather than the whole string of splits as was previously

  2. SydneySwan says:

    I would put any journey of significance through trainsplit.com to see what it comes up with. One example 10.24 Newcastle to Preston one way on March 6. Trainsplit.com = 17.00 + 4.69 (share of saving) total 21.69. Same journey on redspottedhanky.com = 63.90. Both journeys involved a physical change of train in Carlisle.I booked this journey a couple of weeks ago when the trainsplit.com price was even lower at 15.00 + share of saving.

    • Also worth bearing in mind is splitting oyster / contactless journeys to Gatwick at East Croydon.

      For this to work you do need to actually get off the train at East Croydon, touch out with payment card A, touch in again with payment card B and board the next train to Gatwick. (on both occasions I’ve actually ended up boarding the same train).
      Have a play with https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/fares/single-fare-finder

      It can be particularly useful if you have to start near the end of peak as mentioned above.

      Obviously this is for Southern and Thameslink and impossible using Gatwick Express

      • Michael Jennings says:

        There’s no need to use a different payment card. Touching out and then back in again with the same card is enough for it to count as two different journeys from a fare perspective. (This is not the case at all stations – there are arcane rules concerning out of station interchanges – but it is at East Croydon),

  3. You do stay on the same train however not always the same seat. I regularly split a jourenet from Reading to Birming Han in First Class and can never get the same seat. But if pain but UK trains aside being horrifically expensive, are so far behind continental operators. German trains provide seat map and allow you to choose specific seats.

    • I travel VTEC quite often and you can choose your own seats on a seat map

      • +1 @Genghis and as for horrifically expensive, I disagree. If you are travelling for leisure or have flexibility with times there can be some very good fares. I appreciate that peak time travel and London centric travel is a different matter…

        I wonder if German train are really that good.. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/11/why-german-trains-dont-run-on-time-any-more

        • RussellH says:

          Having given up my Deutsche Bahn Agency at the end of 2013 I am now somewhat out of touch with the German fares system. Nevertheless, it was just as easy as it is here to find horrendously expensive InterCity fares. On the other hand, for non InterCity routes there were (still are as far as I know) some exceedingly good value tickets available, especially at weekends.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        So does Virgin West Coast

  4. I’ve done this several times. Mostly on virgin trains to and from Glasgow. I’ve always been a located the same seat by the split system.

    Only once it didn’t and I phone up and they changed the seats so I was on the same seat.

    Saving hundreds of pounds.

  5. It is also worth checking the train operator’s own website. They often have special offers including web only fares.

    • There seems to be a widespread misunderstanding in the UK about train ticket prices.

      Prices are set nationally, either by the DfT, or the individual train companies, and there is impartial retailing which means that all retailers must offer all tickets. In practice, ticket office staff are not always particularly informed about finding the best value tickets, since as Raffles says it is a bit of a “niche topic”.

      As you say, train operators additionally can have special offers for their own trains on their own websites.

      Any ticket combinations that are found using “split ticketing tools” will also be bookable on every other website, therefore, if you use a train where you can choose your seat instead of having one assigned such as VTEC, VTWC or XC, you will be able to retain the same seat for the whole time you are on that train.

  6. Graham Walsh says:
    • the real harry1 says:

      I don’t think 14 tickets for a multiple split journey is that exceptional, I got my wife a booking last year Paddington-Cornwall & it was similar, I was holding up the queue at the ticket machine @ station for about 10 mins while they printed :)

      • Many of those “tickets” appear to be seat reservations, and it is for two people, return. From the picture on twitter, I think the split is Northallerton, Newcastle, York, Sheffield, Derby, Birmingham, Banbury, Oxford. Seven tickets each way.

        • True; it used to really annoy me (as a computer systems designer) that they issue two expensively printed tickets when all of the information could be put on one.

          • Advance tickets come with the ticket and reservation printed all on the same ticket and have been for a while IIRC. However, the font is so small that I can hardly read it with my glasses on, nor can most of the train guards.. I resort to taking a photo with my phone and using the zoom. Probably some really annoying computer systems designer’s idea :-)

          • RussellH says:

            The last couple of times I have had tickets printed with both destination and train reservation printed on the one APTIS (credit card) type ticket, in very faint print. I suspect that many ticket inspectors will have neither the time nor the inclination to check that you are travelling on the train you are supposed to be on.

            If the TOCs really want this to work, they will need to issue magnifying glasses to all ticket inspectors.:-)

            Time was, of course, when Virgin at least used to issue ATB2 format for web [purchases. Enough space there to make everything very clear.

          • This shows how long it is since I travelled by train (in UK) / went to work?

          • the real harry1 says:

            @ RussellH

            More than a couple of times I had the GWR ticket (1 shot) & the trains were running late, the Cross Country train to the same destination came in, I said to the ticket guy on board, hi, we’re all running late & I’m going to miss my meeting, is it OK if I hop on with you? – and always got the old ‘sure, no problem [my lover]’ – we’re dead nice down here & it don’t cost them anything, does it? Just be pleasant and ask noicely

          • The annoying thing is trying to juggle 4 different bits of card – outbound & return travel vouchers plus associated seat reservations – while the ticket collector says “no, the *other* other bit”. Or trying to split 8 bits between 2 people so that they each have the correct pieces.

  7. Something most people don’t know is that you can split an annual season ticket!

    I used to commute from Reading – Chertsey which involved taking the slow Waterloo train from Reading to Virginia Water before changing to get to Chertsey. Every Waterloo train stopped at Sunningdale, and it worked out 10% cheaper to have a separate season ticket from Reading to Sunningdale and then Sunningdale to Chertsey. The ticket office staff were happy to sell me two separate tickets and had evidently seen it done before. It may be unique to South West Trains though.

    You can pull up the annual season ticket prices easily on the National Rail website to assess whether this will benefit you or not. Obviously worth checking the timetable to make every train stops at your “splitting” station.

    • Martin Smith says:

      When splitting two season tickets, the train no longer needs to call at the split station due to sloppy wording in the new National Rail Conditions of Travel. I understand that the industry is looking to correct this error soon though.

    • I split my annual season and save nearly £400 or thereabouts annually – Brighton to London but split at East Croydon. Takes some research but eminently possible. And when I purchase it next week it’ll get me halfway to my 2-4-1 within a week of my new AmEx membership year (and possibly build in some protection against Southern’s useless service).

      Win-win-win!

      • You are getting the points, but when I used to buy a season ticket from Swindon to Paddington I used to buy in five week blocks as this avoided paying for holidays, Easter, Christmas/New Year etc. and some weekends. The ticket was £160 per week three years ago so the saving was more than the saving on paying annually.
        It was also useful to me as being freelance I never knew how long I would be making a particular journey. Cashing in a season ticket is extremely painful!

  8. Are you staying in the same seat on the trains with mandatory reservation or you need to jump around the train when another passenger shows up let’s say at Cheltenham with seat reservation for the seat you had from Bristol?

  9. I have used http://split.traintimes.org.uk/ for a couple of years and had great results for free. (donations go to the software author at http://dracos.co.uk/

  10. I just did this for Flitwick to Derby for work. I had to be in Derby for a 9.30am court hearing. I was originally quoted £130 return. I got it for £55. My boss was VERY happy.

  11. I find that sometimes, particularly when booking last minute and fares are sky high, that booking a ticket to somewhere past your destination can also save you money. For example, when I travel London to Manchester at around 17.00 or 18.00 I generally find its cheaper to book a ticket to Lancaster. The important thing is to make sure you select to travel via Manchester, as you don’t want to go on the direct Lancaster train. It then books you on to the Virgin Manchester train, at an off-peak price for some reason, and then provides some local tickets to Lancaster. I’ve saved £60 per trip doing this, and the tickets are off peak so more flexibility than an advance.

    • Sarah be very careful indeed here-if the ticket says ‘Advance’ it’s legally only valid between the points on it, and there have been people in trouble for stopping/starting short. If you’re changing somewhere like Piccadilly you can usually rely on ‘accessing the station facilities’ to get through if stopped (tell them you want a fag) but it’s questionable ground. If it’s an ‘off peak’ or ‘anytime’ ticket then it’s perfectly allowed… there’s far more people on peak Euston-Chester trains with tickets to the first few stops in Wales than Chester, even though they all get off anyway.

      As for ‘moving seat’ reservations, note that the best splits are often on CrossCountry who offer SMS reservations on the day of travel-just text the code for the full journey you’re making that day and you’ll be sent a new reservation for the whole journey, regardless of how many tickets you have. Pretty clever idea.

      • RussellH says:

        There is a big problem with Cross-Country’s on-the-day seat reservations. On the train, the seat you have ‘reserved’ at the last minute is marked as available, and if the train is well filled you will have trouble persuading some people that you have a better right to that seat than they do. Especially if they have paid more than you for a fully flexible ticket.

        This practice by Cross-Country is roundly condemned in the rail press. The technology may be fun, but the implementation is bad, and AFAIK no one else is considering it.

        • On the Voyager trains I’ve done this on it works fine and updates the display-I assume it must have downloaded the details. Not sure how it works on a HST though

          • RussellH says:

            Sorry, but it cannot ‘work fine’. I get on the train at Manchester, travelling to Oxford. I do not have a seat reservation, but I find a free seat.

            An hour later you are able to book an advance ticket with seat reservation for my seat from Coventry to Reading. Why should I have to give up my seat to you?

            If Cross-Country want to do this, they should issue tickets that are endorsed as valid only for a specific train, but **without** a seat reservation. Northern Rail do this on their advance tickets, admittedly on trains that are non reservable. IIRC, this is also how the Germans work all their advance purchase tickets, as seat reservations are almost always charged extra.

  12. Re getting off the train ‘early’ – if you were to become ‘ill’, there is nothing to stop you alighting at any station of your choice. Eg For fresh air….or to seek medical attention…or whatever.

  13. Daniel Nicholson says:

    I’ve not got the time to test more combinations, but are you sure that Trainsplit.com are not putting a sneaky “hidden” £1 service charge in there somewhere?

    For a train I need tomorrow Sheffield – Manchester Airport they are telling me it’s £9.20 (Advance Fare) but on the East Midlands website it’s £8.20.

  14. I accidentally discovered that if I need to book a train from Euston to Liverpool later in the day, that if I started the journey from Norwich, it vastly reduced the price (as presumably commenced at an off-peak time). Might be worth a look for other journeys, even if the first leg of the journey isn’t used!

  15. Oh now look what you’ve set off Rob. Lots of talking about fares on the news today, now Radio 2 is currently discussing split ticketing (it doesn’t make great radio btw)…

  16. Thanks very much for this. Just saved £120.

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