Some months ago I looked at train ticket options to get to Penzance, from where we can get a bus to start our LEJOG walk. I found that as long as I ordered far enough in advance I could get a single ticket for £16, which seemed like a bit of a bargain. I duly made a vague mental note to buy tickets three months in advance.
Alas, buying train tickets was not in the forefront of my mind two weeks ago. It took until today for me to realise that time was pressing on and that transport needed to be arranged.
So, I have this afternoon had a lengthy battle with thetrainline.
As much as I’m grateful for the internet having given the ability to book travel tickets at a time that suits without leaving the comfort of my armchair, thetrainline really does have the ability to vex me.
Only in thetrainline’s world does a single ticket exist that can only be purchased if you also buy the single ticket for the return leg at the same time (is that still the case? It was something that I encountered a few years ago) and only in the world of rail pricing can the same journey be bought cheaper by either splitting the tickets or by buying a ticket for a longer journey than the one you intend to make.
Whereas air travel websites tend to give you not just the result of the exact search you made but also similar options which are cheaper, on thetrainline you have to spend hours searching every reasonable journey you can think of to find one that comes in at a sensible price.
My first search today told me that it would cost us £182 to travel to Penzance: somewhat more than the £32 that should have been available by booking three months in advance and not a price that I was willing to pay (particularly when I could have hired a car one way for £65!)
With even the National Express coach option coming in at more than I was prepared to pay (in fact, still more than the one way car hire), I started being more inventive with my search for cheap train tickets.
To make the same journey but to buy separate tickets (one set of tickets to Bristol and another set from Bristol to Penzance) more than halved the headline price, bringing it down to £90 for the two of us – even though it involved the same journey as the default option!
As a more extreme option, to go via London brought the price down to £52 (Midlands to London: £11 each; from London to Penzance: £15 each). How silly is that?
Search after search gave various options. It took me a while to find the solution, and in the end it was a simple one. By delaying our start date by just a day (leaving LE on Tuesday 15th April rather than Monday 14th), the £16 train tickets are still available.
So another tick on the preparedness checklist: the train tickets are bought.