Great British Rail Sale: How does this ‘half-price’ train tickets offer work?

A train tickets sale claiming to be the biggest nationwide offer of heavily discounted fares begins today, Tuesday 19 April, at 10am – with travel dates available from six days later.

As the government and rail industry seek to increase demand after the slump caused by the pandemic, more than one million tickets are on offer in the “Great British Rail Sale”. But most fare types are not included. So what are the offers to look out for?

These are the key questions and answers.

What’s the deal?

Deeply discounted travel on a range of rail journeys from 25 April to 27 May inclusive. Most tickets will be half price.

Almost all of the available tickets are likely to be Advance fares. These require committing in advance to a specific train.

Just like airline tickets, the price varies depending on demand: between Edinburgh and London on LNER, for example, Advance tickets for Tuesday 3 May range from £27.80 to £72.50. But from information put out by the Department for Transport (DfT) it appears that the discount will apply to specific Advance fares, rather than all of them. The following discounted prices have been quoted by the DfT:

  • Edinburgh-London (LNER): £22
  • Cardiff-London (GWR): £25
  • Manchester-Newcastle (TransPennine Express): £10.30
  • Birmingham New Street-Bristol Temple Meads (CrossCountry): £12.60
  • Wolverhampton-Liverpool (West Midlands Trains): £5.25

Is the discount available for any trip?

Absolutely not. The DfT says: “Great British Rail Sale tickets are not available on all routes, are limited and subject to availability and exclusions.”

Most tickets do not qualify, including Anytime, Off-peak (except in a few cases), Seasons and Flexi-Seasons.

On any date?

Not necessarily. The 25 April-27 May window for travel includes the long weekend of 30 April to 2 May – when London Euston station and the southern end of the West Coast main line will be closed.

More widely, it is likely that high-demand times of day will be excluded from the deal.

Can I make a connecting journey using two operators?

Looking at the way the offer is structured, it appears that connecting journeys will not qualify. For example, normally you can book an Advance ticket from Birmingham to Barrow in Furness using Avanti West Coast as far as Lancaster and a Northern train from there.

Assuming this is not possible with the deal, you would have to book two journeys to save money.

But with the same operator, connections should be possible. The DfT cites a Portsmouth-Penzance ticket for a discounted fare of £22, which is available for travel on GWR via Westbury.

Do railcard discounts apply?

Yes, which will reduce these fares by a further 34 per cent. Between Cardiff and London, for example, the £25 ticket will be cut to £16.50.

Can I book in first class?

No, but individual train operators may have upgrade offers that can be used in connection with a discounted ticket.

How do I book?

The DfT says: “Customers should visit to see what discounts are available for the location they wish to visit.”

Then book through one of these channels:

  • Direct with the operator, which makes things easier if there is a problem with the journey and may qualify for a loyalty bonus, eg LNER Perks
  • Through a different operator (eg buying CrossCountry through South Western Railway) if you have a preferred website
  • Through a third-party retailer such as The Trainline, which charges fees but has the benefit of automatically “splitting tickets” if it will save you money

People with access issues are able to seek help at the ticket office of a staffed railway station.

How quick should I buy?

As soon as you can. One million tickets may sound like a large number, but compared with the usual numbers of rail journeys in a 33-day spell (more than 160 million) it is tiny. Many trains will sell out of cheap tickets very quickly..

The Rail Delivery Group, which is coordinating the offer with the DfT and train operators, says: “The number of Rail Sale tickets offered by each participating Train Company will vary and are limited in number so we’re encouraging people to act quickly because when they’re gone, they’re gone.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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