GOING UP TO LONDON
Here are your options for going up to London for the day by train.
Advance single tickets are the cheapest if you are prepared to commit yourself to going and coming back on specific off peak trains. There are discounts for railcard holders. They are only valid on Southern trains. Book as far as possible in advance to get the best prices. But be aware that advance tickets are not released until about 8-12 weeks before the date of departure. If you try to book too early they may not be shown. Book on line on the southern web site
Off peak Daysave tickets are often the best option if you don’t mind both going out and coming back outside the commuter rush hours. You can also buy them from the Southern web site Kids go for £2 No railcard discounts. The tickets cannot be used on the tube or on other company’s trains.
All daysave tickets booked on the Southern web site must be booked 3 days in advance.
You can also buy off peak day save tickets from the tourist office at a £1 surcharge. In winter the tourist office is not open on Sundays and is only open 10-2 on Saturdays.
Groupsave The tickets are designed to deal with the fact that, if there are 3 or 4 of you, it may often be very much cheaper to go in the car rather than the train.So groupsave tickets offer reductions on people travelling together. However now the discount is only one third of the fare for one person. This applies for any group of between 3 and 9 You can book groupsave tickets on the southern web site.You cannot get any railcard discounts with group save tickets. Be warned that you all have to travel together all the time. If one person drops out that makes both their and the rest of the group’s tickets invalid. I even got into trouble once at Lewes because two people went out of one exit and two went out of the other. However, the people in your group all have railcards there is often no advantage in using these tickets.
Day returns to Victoria are available There is a super off peak peak ticket available outside the morning and evening rush hours. The price rises if you want to come back in the evening rush Railcard or groupsave discounts are available a The higher price ticket is available for a departure on or after 8.48 am Monday to Friday. A super off peak ticket is cheaper than an ordinary single so if you are making a single journey and cannot get an advance ticket you might want to buy this. They are available from the machines at Victoria
One day travelcards are useful if you want to travel on the tubes, buses or other companies surface lines in London and do not have an Oyster card. The price rises if you want to come back in the evening rush . Railcard or groupsave discounts are available. The higher price ticket is available for a departure on or after 8.48 am Monday to Friday
Going up to London in the morning peak on Mondays to Fridays is more difficult. If you do this three days a week or more get a season ticket.
Otherwise lateral thinking may be called for to avoid paying the outrageously expensive ordinary return.
Splitting tickets so that only part of your journey is in peak times may be helpful. For example I’ve often bought an off peak ticket from Haywards Heath and an ordinary return from Lewes to Haywards Heath if I want to get a cheaper ticket leaving on a train just before the cheaper tickets kick in. You can buy tickets from Haywards Heath on line or from Lewes ticket office.
Consider buying a peak single for your journey to London and then a cheaper off peak single for your return if you will be travelling off peak (or even a daysave ticket).
Or, if you can plan in advance, buy an advance ticket to somewhere on the other side of London, such as Swindon, Peterborough or Coventry. The ticket price will often be lower than an ordinary single, even if you travel on a peak Southern train. The return can be cheaper too. You do not have to go to these places. You can stop in London. But you can use the tube to go to Paddington, Euston or Kings Cross (as appropriate.
Failing this, go to Aldershot.
The anytime day return from Lewes to Aldershot is £27.80 and it is valid via Clapham Junction. Buy a ticket from Clapham junction to your final destination (A return to Victoria is £6.) Railcard and groupsave reductions are available. You may want to buy these tickets on line. What you are doing is perfectly legal, but I have had some problems convincing staff that the conditions of carriage allow it. You do not have to get off of the train at Clapham junction.
TRAVELLING IN THE SOUTH EAST, APART FROM LONDON
This section looks at journeys in the Network South East rail card area, which covers most of the south east, Dorset, East Anglia and some of the Midlands. See map here If the whole of your journey is within this area then there are comparatively few advance tickets available. Usually the price is the same if you book on the day. Prices are quite high but you can get 1/3 off most tickets if you have a railcard. In fact it is probably only worth getting a Network Railcard if you often do quite long journeys within this area, unless you travel a lot at weekends.
TRAVELLING TO THE REST OF THE COUNTRY
There are a number of rules to follow to get the best fares:
1) Always use the web site of the company that you will be travelling with for most of your journey. They will always have the cheapest prices and may have special offers not advertised elsewhere.
2) Book as far in advance as possible (up to 12 weeks in advance)
3) Be as flexible as you can about your times and avoid peak travel times like rush hours and Friday evenings.
4) Consider splitting your ticket.
Let’s illustrate this by looking at a journey to Manchester from Lewes booked on 3/1/16 going out on Wednesday 3rd March 2016 and coming back the next day. I will assume that you do not have a railcard, but reductions are available on all by the cheapest fares if you have.
The company running express trains from London to the North West is Virgin Trains, so the best deals will be on their web site. Like many companies they quote most of their fares as single tickets. The usual way to travel is to get a southern train to Victoria, the Victoria Line to Euston and a Virgin train from Euston to Manchester.
A single ticket you can use any time from Lewes to Manchester will cost you £202.50 each way, a total return cost of over £400. You can turn up and buy these tickets on the day at the station and you are not tied to a particular train. If you are prepared to avoid trains leaving Euston before about 8.30 in the morning or between 3.30 and 6.30 in the afternoon on the way out or leaving Manchester before 8.55 in the morning you can cut the cost to £42 each way and still buy your ticket on the day and not be tied to a particular train.
But if you are prepared to commit yourself to a specific Virgin train then fares start at £26.50 each waye, depending on the train you chose. The cheapest tickets going out tend to be in the morning and the cheapest coming back are in mid afternoon. Not all off peak trains offer advance fares and some of those that do charge more than £26.50..
Advance tickets are valid on the tube and on Southern trains back to Lewes. These days your ticket will specify a particular Southern Train that you have to travel on..
The later you leave it the less likely you are to be able to get an advance ticket.
Split your ticket
When you read articles in the press about how to get cheap tickets they will usually tell you the real secret is to split your ticket. So if you are going from Bognor to Worlds end you buy one ticket from Bognor to Muddlecome on Slush and another one from Muddlecome to Worlds End.
The main thing Lewisians travelling through London have to decide is whether or not to buy their tickets from Lewes to their final destination or whether it is better to buy tickets from Lewes to London and then tickets from the London terminal to their final destination. One reason for doing this is that there are often more cheap tickets from London than there are from Lewes. For example, on the same days as I chose in the example above Virgin were offering quite a few advance tickets at £11 each way.
Now bear in mind that you have to get to the London terminal. So you need to make a big saving to make this worthwhile and certainly isn’t worth doing if you are travelling to or from Victoria in the rush hour. But it may be worth trying if you can’t find a cheap through ticket.
It may also be worth thinking about booking to the nearest big station to your destination. For example if you were going somewhere in Greater Manchester it may be worth booking to Manchester and then getting another ticket to your destination. You can book these tickets on line or at Lewes Station.
Failing all these I have booked split tickets to other points in the middle of my journey and sat miserably on Peterborough station for half an hour on a cold Sunday night to save £30 on a journey to York, but I’m not sure that was worth it. You need to split your ticket at a point where the train stops and, if you are travelling on an advance ticket, you may have to get off and wait for another train or change your seat. Good places to consider splitting if you want to try this include Swindon, Peterborough, Doncaster, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh if any of these are on your route.
Splitting tickets is entirely legal. Buying a ticket to a station further on and getting off early is not, although a lot of people do it and buy a ticket on line from a local station to their actual destination to get through any ticket barrier.
There is a web site that specialises in split tickets: www.trainsplit.com. This site is associated with the Raileasy ticket site, which makes service charges. You might want to make a note of the results and book elsewhere.
If you can’t commit yourself to particular trains
Your cheapest tickets may be the off peak tickets. But bear in mind that you often know when you are going- it is just coming back that is uncertain. You could buy an advance single ticket and get an off peak single ticket to come back. And it might be worth buying two advance return tickets for the journey back, since the price may be less than the cost of an off peak ticket. This gives you two choices. Providing that you know the day you are coming back you only have to buy two tickets for the part of your journey where you have to specify trains. For example if you are returning from Manchester to Lewes and think that you might not be delayed on your return and so miss the train then just buy a later advance ticket from Manchester to London. Your other ticket is valid from Euston to Lewes on any train that day.
If you have to travel peak times
Get someone else to pay! Peak fares are designed for people who don’t care how much the ticket costs because they are not paying for it. But remember that what matters is what is peak time for the company that you are travelling the main part of your journey with. Suppose you need to go to Bristol to arrive at 10 and to come back the same day at 5pm. The quickest route is via London Paddington. You will be travelling up to London in the rush hour. But so far as first Great Western, who run the trains from Paddington to Bristol, are concerned, this is off peak, because most people are travelling the other way. So they will sell you an off peak ticket for cheaper than their peak time fares (This is why it can be cheaper to buy a ticket to Swindon than Victoria if you want to travel to London in the rush hour.
It can also be cheaper to buy tickets on trains run by companies who run slower trains or on slower routes. For example, you could do the journey to and from Bristol that I have just described going via Salisbury for £47 return. It takes about a quarter to half an hour longer though. London Midland offer cheaper fares to Liverpool but take 3 hours 20 minutes from London instead of 2- 2 and a half hours on the fast trains. Companies you might try include
- Chiltern trains to Birmingham (specify that you want to go via Banbury)
- London Midland Trains to Birmingham, Stafford, Crewe and Liverpool (specify that you want to go via Northampton)
- Hull trains to Hull, Doncaster and Selby
- Grand Central Trains to York, Northallerton and Sunderland
- Trains operated by various operators running along the coast from Brighton to Portsmouth and on to Bristol
- Trains operated by South West trains to Exeter and Briston from Waterloo or Clapham junction
These routes may be cheaper for advance tickets as well. (However occastionally they may be much more expensive.
If you’ve left it late
Even the evening before you travel there may be advance tickets available. You can pick up tickets at the Lewes station ticket machine. If you can’t find a reasonably priced ticket try one of the alternative routes or companies I’ve suggested above or splitting your journey. You could try looking for first class tickets. Sometimes reasonably priced advance first class tickets are available at less than the standard ordinary fare.
Going to the west country or south Wales
The main company is first Great Western Trains. It will always be quicker and often cheaper to go on their trains via Paddington.
But if you are travelling at peak times, or have left it late, or want a scenic route you can avoid London and travel via Salisbury, travelling either via Southampton or Clapham. Search for trains via Salisbury to see these options.
Note that if you are travelling to central Bristol you need to make sure you are searching for fares to Bristol Temple Meads. If you just search for Bristol then you can end up at Bristol Parkway, which is miles from anywhere
If you are not going west of Exeter you will be covered by the network south east area. See my article on this for further information, including the possibility of splitting your ticket at Southampton or Exeter.
The usual way of going from Lewes to Bristol or South Wales is to get the train up to Victoria and then cross to Paddington and go from there. But it can sometimes be cheaper and as quick to go via Brighton and Salisbury, especially in peak hours. The trick is to book advance tickets on this route from Brighton and then get a separate ticket to Brighton from Lewes. There are through trains from Brighton to Bath and Bristol and these may have cheap fares when the usual route has none. It can be as quick or quicker to Bristol or Bath, although this route is slower to Cardiff and Swansea. The best thing is that you avoid the hassle of having to get through London.
Going north west, west Midlands, Glasgow or to north Wales
The main company is Virgin Trains who run from London Euston. Virgin trains are quick but horrible, designed so that the seats only fit very thin people and with so few windows that many of the “window” seats have no view outside.
Slower but sometimes more pleasant companies include London Midland, Wrexham and Shropshire and Chiltern Trains.
Going to Sheffield, Nottingham, or Leicester
The main company is East Midland Trains, who run from St Pancras, although you can also get to Sheffield via the East Coast Main line.
You can get first capital connect trains direct from Haywards Heath to St Pancras, although you cannot use Southern cheap tickets on these trains.
East Midlands Trains are owned by Stagecoach, who operate a brand called “Megatrain” This brand has its own web site and offers tickets on the very least popular trains on the route at prices lower than advance tickets. These tickets are only available on the Megatrain web site. You won’t find them anywhere else. They do not cover travel from Lewes to St Pancras so you will have to buy other tickets to get there.
Going to Doncaster, Leeds, York, Newcastle Edinburgh and Glasgow
You will travel by the east coast main line, which at the time of writing is operated by Virgin. This is one of the fasted and most comfortable routes, because the modernisation was the last done by British Rail.
You can get first capital connect trains direct from Haywards Heath to St Pancras, which is right next to Kings Cross, although you cannot use Southern cheap tickets on these trains.
Alternatives over part of this route are Grand Central Trains to York or Sunderland and Hull Trains to Doncaster and Hull
But see the section on where to buy your ticket. This can make a difference too.