Getting from A to B as cheaply as possible
For most of my life I have not been in a good financial situation and have had to live hand to mouth. Now circumstances have changed thank goodness but the habits of not spending money when I don’t have to, have remained.
This article is dedicated to all those who have to watch the pennies as we say and the principles apply to anyone traveling anywhere.
I’m taking as an example the various alternatives to get from where I am which is a place (Midsomer) south of Bath and near to Bristol. I have chosen a hypothetical journey from Bath or Bristol to start on Wednesday 17 January return the following week on the 24th January. Figures are given from information applicable as I write on the 4th of January .
Prices may go up and down , rather like hotels or Airlines. I would love to do a survey on an airplane with my fellow passengers to find out who has paid what and I bet you there would be 20 different variations depending on the travel package, the agency and the time of booking. The algorithms notice when people book most frequently, to typically a few weeks before travel when prices are higher. I notice that if you book a long time in advance the prices are cheaper but also if you book at the last moment they are also cheaper so it’s a question of outwitting the machine.
Plane? Car? Bus? Train?
Looking at all examples, there are no planes from Bristol Airport to London due to the shortness of distance, there remains traveling by car, train or bus.
The cost of petrol will of course depend on the make and model of car you are driving. My Volvo 2.5 liter is very thirsty at low speed but is built for motorways so I can get there and back for about 50 pounds. However, that is not the point.
The government in its wisdom have applied various charges, one of which is the congestion charge which costs £15 and applies between 7:00 a.m. and 6pm Monday to Friday and 12 pm to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, some days and bank holidays. There is an uplift for late payment. You avoid this charge by traveling outside the given hours.
The second charge is the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) which was introduced in April 2019 to discourage drivers of high polluting vehicles from using roads in Central London. The area has been expanded to cover the London Boroughs. You will need to check to see if your car is a compliant which can be done through the government’s website.
I am on trainline.com and find I can go from Bath, my preferred station, on the 07:13 to 08.29 for a standard rate of £84.30 but for some strange reason if I want to go first class the cost is £35. If I wanted to return the following Wednesday by the 16:00 arriving 17:19 that would cost me £19.
If I want to travel from Bristol and take the 08:00 arriving 09.34 that will cost me £42.50 standard class and again amazingly £38 for first class. If however I took the 08:06 arriving 09.44 it will cost me £65.50 second class and £118 first class. The return journey for most times is £20 standard or £38 first class
If anyone can give me any rhyme or reason the logic behind these figures then please let me know. It looks to me like the whole thing is well overdue for reform. I know that in Germany, there is a straight charge per mile irrespective of the time of day and this would make the whole thing more simple.
As if the whole thing were not complicated enough, there is what is called ticket splitting where you divide your journey into two and will hopefully save some money. On such a simple non-stop service the scope is somewhat limited and I cannot see any obvious savings.
In Bath which is my nearest point of Departure we have National Express and that’s about it. They enjoy a monopoly in this part of the world and please bear in mind this is not peak time when fares can easily treble. Sometimes they charge a few pounds for the outward fare and inflated charges for the return journey. This survey is therefore outside high days and holidays.
Anyway if I were to book from Bath, the 07.30 bus single journey costs £8.20, the 10:30 bus costs £7.10, If I were to return the following Wednesday at 14:00 the fare would be £7.10
If I want to travel from Bristol this is a completely different ball game. There is a choice of three services. National Express, Megabus and Flixbus. They all leave either from the bus station, or stops five minutes away on foot which are clearly indicated on the booking form. It is clear that the customer benefits from competition.
If I wanted to catch the 09:10 arriving 12.00 I would pay £3.50. Returning the following Wednesday by a wide choice of coaches will also cost £3.50
Catching the 10:00 arriving 12:30 will cost you £3.99. A return trip will cost you the same. Buses run every two hours
Catching the 10:30 arriving 13:25 would cost me £2.49 yes that’s right £2.49. The return journey costs the same. Beware that some journeys end at Hammersmith but most go to Victoria Coach Station.
How to book
Pretty much everything these days is done by booking apps. I didn’t see anyone showing bits of paper so you need to get the relevant app, do it on line, and be prepared to show that ticket to the driver. Please note that an invoice is not the same as a ticket. Showing an invoice will not work.
Note that British Rail offers a great variety of travel cards, I think there are about a dozen of them. They basically give one third off the cost of travel. You will have read about its use on my London account recently. If you are clever with booking at the right time and choosing the right train you could do very well including First Class if you really want to treat yourself.
Nationally Express also offer concession cards but these do not apply to some services such as the cheap ones between Bath and London. Frankly, the possible savings are so trivial but I would just get a ticket anyway. When a single journey is the same as a couple of cups of coffee who really cares?
Don’t forget that by rail you are more likely to arrive in Paddington which is not the world’s most glorious stationed for Interchange . The corridors are often uncomfortably crowded and so the whole experience is less convenient than you might wish for whereas Victoria Station , the nearest one to the coach station is very much more convenient.
You will find Victoria Coach Station crowded with a distinctly international flavour but I quite like it myself. Don’t expect to find a seat if you are going to wait for a bus. All buses leave on the hour or half hour. There is a large indicator board at the entrance which I have found to be very reliable. Yes, Megabus and Flixbus also leave from the same station but you have to walk right down to the end and turn left.
If you’re coming from outside Bristol or Bath, you have to add on the cost of travel which seems to have gone down recently, just a couple of pounds on the bus. We are pensioners so we don’t pay anything plus our time is not so important so we are quite happy to sit on the 172 bus from Radstock to Bristol, or the numerous buses from Radstock to Bath.
It does pay to arrive in good time because the tickets are for a fixed journey and you may find yourself having to pay again if you miss it. NB Buses do leave on time. We normally leave home earlier than we need to, and leave time for a couple of coffee before the journey. We tend to stock up with a takeaway salad and like to do a ‘meal deal’ for the princely sum of £3.50 from Morrisons which is close by Bath Bus Station.
WHEN TO BOOK
If you want to book at the last moment you may find a much higher premium with National Express, especially from Bath. Do not book on the same day unless you can possibly avoid it, £17.50 if would be from Bath. The 12:15 from Bath next day would cost you £10.30
If you wanted to book from Bristol, same day price would still be a reasonable £4.90 for the 14:30. Next day travel would for the 10:30 be £6.90
National Express have the most complicated and confusing system.
Reckon on 2 hours 50 minutes by coach, 1 hour 35 minutes by train
Planes, trains and Automobiles
As a tribute to the late and great John Candy with the film of the same name. Forget planes, use trains if time is of the essence but do careful research to avoid paying ridiculous prices. For me taking a car is a waste of time, expensive and hugely stressful especially if you want to visit a number of places in London.
For us the coach is the only viable option. We have done so many coaches to London I have lost track. Maybe 30 round trips?
In a funny way you see more of the countryside and there is some contact with your fellow passengers. The only problem is that the M4 is very boring and prone to inexplicable traffic jams and I can’t think of anything to make it less so. All coaches have Wi-Fi and some have plugins to keep your device charged.
Folks if there’s anything that I have missed out please let me know. As you see I’m a complete travel nerd and if I can save five pounds I’m happy.
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and a sobering one from TCW ‘Maddening red tape that makes running a charity impossible. Makes Yer think, dunnit?