Choosing whether to take the train or to fly to a destination can often be a tricky one, decided by a number of options time, cost, baggage, convenience and environmental concern.
As a cost-sensitive buyer, Tom is looking into whether he should fly or grab a train ticket for a couple of up-coming trips…
Bristol to Glasgow (Toms off to a wedding!)
Tom can fly from MuchBetter HQ in Bristol directly to Glasgow, choosing flights which suit his timings (not the cheapest options) for 65.98. This is just the standard fare, with no baggage. Tom will be spending an extra 50 to take his bike with him (theres some great mountain biking in Scotland!) total of 115.98
Its fair to say that there are far more options by train. However, they arent particularly cheap. The cheapest rail tickets Tom can buy this journey for is 82. This is certainly cheaper than the flights IF Tom is taking a bike, but the times arent particularly friendly. Realistically Tom would want to be spending a whopping 155 on a return ticket, if he wants to avoid 7+hr train journeys either leaving or departing at sensible hours.
Take the bike out of the equation and pick the cheapest trains (remember, the flights arent the cheapest he could have bought) and the train is 16.02 more expensive take into account life (bikes and sensible timing) and the train is 39.02 more expensive!Hmm…
So the next trip Tom is looking to book is over to Morzine, in February for a birthday ski trip.
Bristol to Geneva
Once again, Tom will fly from Bristol, this time to Geneva. Taking some luggage (and once again not the cheapest flights) itll cost Tom 155.98 plus the cost of a transfer to resort (35 Euros each way).
Well, weve hit a stumbling block here… Tom is booking his trip during the prime ski booking window, towards the end of September, and its not been possible to search for a train ticket for the dates he wants, because theyve not been released yet. Tickets for the train he wants will probably be released for sale in late November by which time, the flights are likely to have gone up in price.
Not exactly very convenient.
A quick look at European train websites suggests that the train will cost in the region of 120-260, plus the cost of a transfer.
Toms not really sure what to do here wait to see if the train ends up cheaper? Its a bit of a risk…
How come train travel is so expensive?
A quick scan of the internet, such as this article, suggests that the 2 biggest problems is the reduction in government subsidies for train companies and the cost of franchising train routes.
The government is cutting the subsidies for train companies, meaning a lower proportion of the costs are born by general taxation, and more is paid by the traveller. In times of austerity it makes sense to reduce government expenditure on items such as this. Ok, this seems fair; however its going to have a real impact on sustainable travel in the UK if it continues.
There are many who believe that economic recovery should be based on sustainability. If trains are a more sustainable transport method (and really, we all know they are), then the government should be promoting their use. Cheaper train travel means more business-people will use them, more people will jump on a train to visit friends and family, and people may choose to remain in the UK for a holiday, instead of picking up a flight, which is cheaper, to another country. All of these will have a positive effect on the UK economy.
In terms of the franchising of train routes, the government rarely re-negotiates route franchises (rumblings over Virgin Trains loss of the West Coast route continue…) theyre good money spinners and therefore its no wonder that big money often wins out. And how does big money win? By charging more.
The other problem Tom came across was the inefficiency of buying train tickets, especially for the European routes. Late September/October is one of the main ski holiday booking periods and yet it is impossible to buy train tickets, and therefore confidently plan your holiday, until much later in the year. This means you may miss out on early bird specials or have difficulty finding a holiday if you want to holiday in busy periods (such as half-term).
Tom may well have been able to find cheaper trains in the UK too, if he had spent ages splitting the journey into smaller segments and buying them individually. The structure of train ticket pricing is complicated and time-consuming to navigate. What we need is one pricing system without a plethora of different, seemingly innocuous variants. If one were to get all political, perhaps a renationalisation of the train service might be in order… thats another debate though!
Toms top tips for buying train tickets
Split your journey into segments and buy individual tickets for each this can take time to find the perfect mix of tickets, but you can save a lot of money this way (eg instead of buying Bristol to Cambridge, you could try Bristol to London, London to Cambridge it may end up cheaper)
Railcards offer good discounts, if youre eligible for them. You have to pay for the card, but assuming you spend around 100+ per year, you should start to see overall savings
Tom usually uses eastcoast.co.uk to by his train tickets he finds this site offers the easiest way to see various price options
Dont disregard 1st class travel at times it can actually end up cheaper!
Book well in advance – you can buy tickets up to 3 months in advance, there are often only limited numbers of cheap tickets
What are your experiences of flights Vs trains? Are we wrong here to concentrate on the cost of trains? Should we be taxing airlines more? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.