The art of “ticket splitting” — saving money by splitting up your journey by buying several tickets instead of one — has been around since the 1970s. But now the technique has gone mainstream after a website called “TrainSplit.com” was picked up by The Sunday Times. It uses legitimate data to save customers money across the UK train network — and people are excited.
TrainSplit makes something troublesome and complex easy, which is why it’s suddenly proving so popular. Before, only a handful of people really knew about splitting tickets into legs to save money, but now everyone’s getting on board and making use of the savings.
The site works by breaking up fares into multiple stages. It divides one single, large journey cost into smaller routes (short trips are often cheaper) and separates tickets accordingly. People don’t have to get off their train or change, however, but simply make sure their train travels through each station noted on the split route. In terms of booking, it’s much the same as any other train website. You just put in your “from/to” details and when you want to go. It just looks a little basic and dated.
These tickets are valid on exactly the same trains and you don’t have to get off the train where you change from one ticket to another. The only thing that you must check is that the train stops at every station where you split tickets. So in this case, your train would have to stop at Derby and Sheffield. You would not be able to use any train that didn’t. TrainSplit.com automates the search for these split tickets by looking through the entire fares database until it finds the cheapest options it can for both Advance and Flexible tickets as well and First and Standard Class. Sometimes this can take a while, so please bear with the site if it seems slow at first.
TrainSplit gives an example on its site: It writes that an off-peak journey between Birmingham and Leeds, for instance, would cost £58.10. But by buying tickets from Birmingham to Derby, Derby to Sheffield, and then Sheffield to Leeds, you can pay just £37.90 — a saving of £20.20. There are a host of other examples where people have saved money doing ticket splitting. The website’s Twitter feed is awash with listings of happy passengers, all of whom have managed to save anything from £10 to £50-plus through the process.
The Sunday Times spoke to the group behind the website. Mike Richardson, Paul Kelly, Nick Brown, and George Sikking — self confessed “train buffs” — met on a travel forum and decided to together to create an algorithm that would compile complicated fares into a user-friendly system online. They say their search engine is so successful that 42% of the UK’s train fares can be bought more cheaply. Both Richardson and Sikking, a computer programmer and IT manager respectively, are licensed ticket retailers and put the website together about 18 months ago.
Despite the licences, it all sounds a bit suspect — but it isn’t. Splitting tickets is completely legitimate and valid. The reason it’s not practised by more people is because organising so many different journeys can take time and effort; often, in fact, people are simply unaware of what to do.
In fact, the website actually uses national train data issued by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which encourages national usage of the country’s network. A spokesman from RDG told Business Insider that it regularly issues market/passenger data to industry retailers and that the company behind the website has a licence to operate its service in the same way as any other site, such as the popular Trainline.com.
A spokesperson for the RDG, representing operators and Network Rail, told us via email:
“Split ticketing has existed since the 1970s and it has always been the case that if passengers ask to buy a split ticket, that is what they will be sold. However it is very often a more complicated way of buying and using tickets, whereas train companies are working to make things as straightforward as possible for passengers. The industry remains committed to offering passengers good value fares that are easy to use, because we know that is what they want. Discounting by train companies has helped journey numbers double since the 1990s. Around half of passenger revenue now comes from discounted tickets, up from just over a third in 2002-3 and is helping operators to pay around £2 billion a year back to government to enable investment in further improving Europe’s safest and fastest growing railway.”
You might be wondering whether train companies are annoyed at potentially losing out on money through this system. It appears they are, despite the RDG suggesting otherwise. The Sunday Times notes that one transport expert predicted train companies could miss out on millions of pounds over time as passengers find out about how easy it is to land cheaper tickets. He said “train companies are relying on ignorance” — but not for much longer, it appears.
A spokesman for First Great Western, one of the country’s largest train companies, told Business Insider UK that he was not particularly concerned about the website. He also suggested passengers can save more if they book in advance or use a discount card, such as the 16-25 Railcard.