OK, so this is only the latest news story extolling the virtues of “split ticketing”:“Split ticketing” is when, instead of buying a train ticket valid all the way from your starting point to your destination station, you buy individual tickets for each leg of your journey. It’s hard to believe but – incredibly – “split ticketing” usually costs a lot less than buying a through ticket.
However, what the Telegraph, and others, either don’t know, or choose not to tell you, is that you risk paying an unexpected price for this so-called “money saving hack”: either being stranded in the middle of nowhere, or (best case scenario) paying top-dollar for a regular train fare.
Why? Well, by selling you a train ticket, the train company is committing itself to getting you from your starting point to the destination on your ticket.
So if you buy a ticket from, say, Manchester to Aberdeen, the train company is required to get you from Manchester to Aberdeen, regardless of any hiccups the train/s may encounter on the way.
I’ve just looked on nationalrail.co.uk and to do such a journey leaving Manchester at 10.26am this Thursday would cost you £126.00 (ouch!)
If, however, you “split-ticket” and buy individual tickets from Manchester to Edinburgh and Edinburgh to Aberdeen, catching the very same trains as above – the 10.26am from Manchester and the 1.39pm from Edinburgh – it’ll cost you £51.40 to get from Manchester to Edinburgh and £25.70 to get from there to Aberdeen; near enough a whopping 50 quid less.
However, if you do this (v tempting, I know!), if the train from Manchester to Edinburgh is ridiculously late, or even cancelled, the train company only has to get you to Edinburgh to fulfil its side of the contract – which is, of course, to get you to the destination on your ticket. The fact that they have caused you to miss your connection to Aberdeen in not. their. problem.
Nor is it the problem of the company due to take you from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, because they have fulfilled their side of the contract with you, by running the service; it’s you who have broken your contract with them, by not turning up in time to catch it.
OK, so it’s not unknown for kind rail staff to let split ticketers use their ticket on a train other than the one they are booked on. But a) they are in no way obliged to do so especially as b) they could well get in big trouble from their big bosses for letting them do so.
So if you choose to split ticket, don’t bank on there being above a one per cent chance of you being allowed to use your ticket on another service.
Which leaves you with the option of buying a ticket on the spot. Which, when you’ve bought one in advance to save money, completely defeats that particular object.
Or – even worse – you actually miss the last train of the day to your destination, leaving you with the choice/s of a) a night in the railway station – not always possible, especially at smaller stations – or a local hotel/b&b; if you can find one, or b) a taxi, which – even an Uber – could well cost more than an un-split ticket for your entire journey. So much for saving money!
Working in London a few years ago taught me a hard lesson about the pitfalls of split-ticketing, but after seeing all the hype about it recently made me wonder whether the rules had changed of late.
But they haven’t. Because here’s what Virgin Trains (the operators featured in that Telegraph story) told me only last night when I asked about travelling from London to Chorley, which is on the Manchester-Preston-Blackpool North line:
Hi there, we don’t recommend split ticketing for this reason. If you miss your train because of delays but don’t have an individual ticket that says London to Chorley, then an Advance ticket wouldn’t be valid if you missed your booked train.
If you do want to go for split-ticketing, I won’t try to stop you (how can I when I still sometimes use it myself?). After all, there is a fair chance that all legs of the journey run to time and that you make all your connections and you get to your destination on time, in one piece and having saved yourself a pretty penny in the process.
But as there’s also a fair chance that it might not, how can you minimise the risk of something going wrong while maximising your savings (by split ticketing)?
A couple of ideas:
Leave lots of time between trains: try to book on a train that is due to arrive a couple of hours before your connecting train is due to leave (yeah, yeah, I know – killing time in a cafe will eat into your savings, but either take a picnic or, using the example above, how much is a brew and a cake going to cost? Certainly not £50.)
Try your absolute best to make sure that the last train of the day doesn’t feature anywhere on the route. If it does, well, don’t risk it! Or, rather, “not-split” that leg of your journey.
For example, when you’re coming back from Aberdeen, you want to go to the station of Lostock, near Bolton. If you miss the last train from Manchester (or Preston, if they’re sending you down the West Coast line), you’re stuffed. Until something like 6am the following day, anyway.
So if you want to split ticket, do it Aberdeen-Edinburgh and then Edinburgh to Lostock. That way, once you’re on that train from Edinburgh, the train company has to get you to Lostock, even if that means putting you in the CEO’s chauffeur-driven Bentley after the train breaks down just outside Edinburgh…