Last year I travelled from Liverpool to London and bought the tickets the same day. They were quite expensive, and would apparently have been much cheaper if I had bought them a day or two before.

Now, I will visit Brighton, and travel there from Gatwick airport. Does the same apply here?

The reason I ask this is because it is quite a short route (30 - 40 minutes), and the type of travel seems like a more regular airport transfer than the Liverpool - London trip.

I did do some research, trainline says:

Buying in advance can help you save up to 43% vs. a walk-up fare on the day of travel. Buy tickets below with Trainline – the UK’s largest independent ticket retailer.

This doesn't really say that these tickets in particular will be more expensive.

The Gatwick airport homepage doesn't have any information about pricing at all, and no advice that tickets should be purchased beforehand.

So what can I expect? Will my tickets be more expensive if I purchase them after my arrival at the airport?

  • 4
    Note Trainline charges booking fees, plus credit card fees, and fees for postage. So you may end up paying more for the same ticket. There are other train companies that will sell you tickets without extra fees. You can avoid postage costs by picking up the tickets at the station.
    – vclaw
    Feb 5, 2017 at 22:23
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    If you're taking this journey in the near future (early 2017) the train operator for this stretch of track (Southern/Govia Thameslink) is the least punctual operator in the country by 10 basis points, has the highest cancellation rate, there are rolling strikes (in arbitration) and there's a planned class action lawsuit by commuters. It's not been successful recently, so keep some time spare so you don't have to panic.
    – Ben
    Feb 5, 2017 at 22:45
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    The largest savings to be made with advanced fares are if you can book in the period just after the tickets for a particular journey are released 90 days the travel date. This is due to the way dynamic pricing works the cheapest tickets soon sell out though, leaving only the more expensive ones later on. The amount of discount also varies depending on how far you travel, a short journey between two close stations will have little discount where as a long journey will have more.
    – Sarriesfan
    Feb 5, 2017 at 23:39
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    don't use trainline, it's an unofficial site trying to make money from you by reselling. use nationalrail.co.uk which is the official site. Even better, use the sites for the operating company of the jouney you want, which may have special offers not available eslsewhere. in your case the operator is southern Feb 6, 2017 at 0:27
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    Pick the booking website of your choice. Select a ticket for later this afternoon and note the price. Clear your selections then select a ticket for your intended date of travel and note the price. That will give you a good idea of the penalty for same-day booking. There may be some variation due to seasonal, special event, or day-of-week pricing, but it should give you a decent indication.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 6, 2017 at 16:06

3 Answers 3


I think the "Buying in advance ..." blurb on Thetrainline's timetable search is one they display on all their result pages; I get it for all other station pairs I've tried, even short ones such as Duddeston to Aston (2-3 minutes on a suburban train) where there are most assuredly no advance fares to get.

The best way to find out whether there are advance fares to get is to go to a travel planner (such as nationalrail.co.uk) and search for the trip you're contemplating and see which prices come up.

If the prices you find are labeled anytime or off-peak, they're just the walk-up fares.

On the other hand, if they're advance prices, they're ones you can only get by booking a seat on a specific train in advance. The National Rail journey planner allows you to click on "other tickets" to find out what a walk-up ticket will cost.

For Gatwick to Brighton it appears that cheaper advance fares (£5 opposed to £10.20 walk-up) are available on some Southern services (about one per hour).

Thameslink (who run most of the trains on this relation) offer a £8.50 Thamelink-only "anytime" fare which is not bound to a specific departure. I'm not clear on whether the ticket machines at Gatwick will issue it or you need to go to the manned ticket counter.

Gatwick Express only has the £10.20 walk-up fare.

  • 6
    At Gatwick rail station there are also staffed ticket booths. And although they are run by one train company, they are legally obligated to sell tickets for all the different operators. But you will need to be specific, and say I want a 'Thameslink ticket. And then you must must travel on the correct operators service, or there will be a pricey penalty fare to pay. Feb 5, 2017 at 23:18
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    @gerrit while correct in practice, surprisingly Southern do actually price a standard-class Advance fare more expensive than an anytime, Any Permitted single on this route. I suspect it'll be quite tricky to persuade any of the websites/ticket offices to sell you it, though! brfares.com/…
    – Muzer
    Feb 6, 2017 at 13:33
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    @HenningMakholm Indeed; if the first two fare buckets are sold out or otherwise unavailable I suspect it would technically be possible to buy that more expensive fare. Whether or not you could do it in practice (and why you would want to!) is another question...
    – Muzer
    Feb 6, 2017 at 16:27
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    @AndrewLeach I don't think there's actually a consensus on that, just some overly keen people on Railforums combined with train operators just looking for quick wins and not lengthy legal battles. I'd still never use the ticket like that myself.
    – Muzer
    Feb 8, 2017 at 9:41
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    @AndrewLeach Neither of those sources back your assertion that this means that tickets marked "Thameslink Only" can be used on another operator. NRCoT: "Some Tickets, particularly advance Tickets, require you to travel on a specific train service or services, or the services of a particular Train Company or Companies. We will make these conditions clear to you when you purchase your Ticket.". Services branded Thameslink would qualify as "a specific train service or services" in my books.
    – Muzer
    Feb 8, 2017 at 10:02

Last time I travelled from Gatwick was a couple of years ago, but I remember that tickets purchased at Gatwick right before travelling were the same price as I saw online a couple of days in advance. I did some research now...

Looking specifically at Gatwick to Brighton tickets, I checked on Southern Railway website, which serves this itinerary. I checked tickets for tomorrow (i.e. less than 24 hours in advance), tickets for the following day (i.e. over 24 hours in advance), and tickets for mid-March (i.e. over 30 days in advance) - and the prices were exactly the same.

I then checked on trainline website for the same dates - and the prices were exactly the same.

What did matter (just a bit) was which train you took. Peak time travel was a little more expensive. Peak time single was £10.20, while off-peak was £8.50. First class was a bit more expensive, but, again, did not depend on how far in advance I checked.

From this research, I believe that the price will be same on the day as in advance.


In general with rail tickets in the UK it is not so much about where you buy them as when you buy them and what restrictions you are prepared to have.

"advance" tickets can be significantly cheaper than "off peak" or "anytime" tickets but they must be bought in advance and they lock you into a specific train. They are also not available on all routes and are limited in number. Sometimes there can be multiple different advance fares for the same train with the cheapest ones selling out first.

"super off peak", "off peak" or "anytime" tickets will be the same price whenever you buy them and they aren't limited in number.

On some origin/destination pairs "super off peak", "off-peak" and "anytime" tickets may be further split by "route". A "route" may be an actual physical route or it may be an operator. Tickets limited to one route or operator can be a bit cheaper than tickets with route "any permitted" but are obviously less flexible.

"advance" tickets are always singles. "off peak", "anytime" and "super off peak" tickets can be either singles or returns. Return tickets can be either limited to the same day (e.g. "off-peak day return") or valid for a longer period (e.g. "off-peak return"). Sometimes, especially with off-peak tickets a return is only marginally more expensive than a single. Unfortunately on many shorter journeys "off-peak return" tickets are not available.

Note also that on routes where both are available "off-peak day return" tickets often have stricter time restrictions than "off-peak return" tickets. I have no idea what the time restrictions of off-peak singles are like.

There are both first class and standard class fares. Generally "off-peak" fares don't exist for first class. First class fares are generally substantially more expensive than standard class though occasionally the cheapest available fare for a journey will be a first class advance fare because all the standard class advance fares have sold out.

If you look carefully on the websites they will usually tell you what exactly they are selling and let you choose tickets other than the cheapest available but they don't like to make it too obvious.

It is difficult to predict whether your plane will be on time or how long it will take to get through immigration and customs. So if you buy an advance ticket you will need to have substantial padding in your schedule. Personally I rarely buy advance tickets because I do not consider the cost saving to be worth the inflexibility and the extra waiting around.

Be careful when buying online, some sites (notably the trainline) will charge extra for "booking fees" or "delivery". These charges will be on top of the price for the ticket itself.

You can find the full list of possible tickets for your station pair at http://www.brfares.com/#!fares?orig=GTW&dest=BTN note that this site includes fares that are not available for the general public in addition to the regular publicly available fares.

It looks like advance tickets do exist but only for "southern" who operate a minority of the services on the route. If you are prepared to book in advance and add a lot of padding to your schedule to make sure you don't miss your train then this will be the cheapest option but I don't think sitting around for an extra hour or so is worth saving a fiver.

Given this is a journey from the airport I will assume you are not planing to return the same day. I'm not sure if you plan to return at all. I will also assume that you intend to travel standard class.

There are no "off peak single" or "off peak return" tickets on this route. There are some "anytime return" tickets but they cost the same as the equivalent pair of "anytime day singles". There are some "off peak day return" tickets but they are only worth buying if you actually intend to return on the same day.

So I would say your best bet is to wait until you get to the station, look at what trains are actually available then buy the most appropriate single ticket based on the train you actually plan to catch.

  • If you plan to catch a "southern" or "gatwick express" train then you want the "anytime day single" route "any permitted". Cost £10.20
  • If you plan to catch a "thameslink" train on a weekday then you want the "anytime day single" route "thameslink only". Cost £8.50
  • If you plan to catch a "thameslink" train on a Saturday, Sunday or Bank holiday then you want the "super offpeak single" route "thameslink only". Cost £6.50
  • 1
    To offer a different data point: I save around £100/month by buying Advance tickets only for a fortnightly trip between Berkshire and Lancashire.
    – gerrit
    Feb 6, 2017 at 10:10
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    Yeah, it does depend on the situation. If you are making a long rail journey and can predict your start time accurately then advance tickets can start to look more worthwhile. Feb 6, 2017 at 11:23

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