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That is, is there a way to determine this without doing an actual search for each route on multiple days to see if the price changes?

I am traveling to London and considering several day/overnight trips from the city, and would like to know which rail trips I should try to book ahead of time to save money, and which trips I could book at any time without fear of the cost changing.

I am aware that travel in the AM peak into London and the in the PM peak out of London is often more expensive. However, for some routes, the price seems to vary quite a bit beyond this peak-period distinction, based on when you purchase the ticket.

For example, the cheapest Edinburgh-London train I can find leaving tomorrow is £55, and many trips cost much more. But if I look in mid-June, the same train (at the same time, on the same day of the week) starts at £30 -- obviously better to book early.

In contrast, a single trip from Bletchley to London costs either £19.50 (on trains arriving into London before 10:00) or £15.50 (all other). That's it -- you could book an AM peak trip for late June and it would cost £19.50, or you could book it for tomorrow and it would still cost £19.50, so in this case booking early would have no advantages (cost-wise) for me.

(There is perhaps a more concise way of stating the question -- the UK National Rail ticketing system has me a bit confused so I apologize if I haven't understood something.)

  • There should only be three prices - Advance, Off-Peak and Peak - for a given train. However, there may be tickets that are cheaper/more expensive for the same journey, because of restrictions on the route one can take. – CMaster Mar 29 '17 at 18:55
  • Make a list of trips you'd like to make and do two searches for each one?.. – JonathanReez Mar 29 '17 at 19:09
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    @JonathanReez: I'm aware that this is a possibility (as mentioned in my first sentence, "without doing an actual search for each route on multiple days to see if the price changes.") I was hoping for a less manual way to check this, or any helpful rules of thumb, but I'm prepared that that may not exist. – Hunter Mar 29 '17 at 19:19
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    @CMaster those are indeed the (newest) names for the three categories of ticket, but it still remains the case that there can be a plethora of prices, particularly in Advance. eg if you take an off peak Virgin Trains West Coast train Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, there's a total of (I think) 20 different Standard Class Single prices that could get you a valid ticket... – AakashM Mar 30 '17 at 8:02
  • @CMaster For regular single/return tickets there's also super offpeak. Tourists may also be interested in rovers, rangers, and group tickets, whose restrictions do not always fit into the peak/offpeak distinction that is applied to other tickets. Regular travellers will also have railcard-specific tickets, railcard discounts on the ticket types you mention, season tickets, and travel cards to choose from. There's probably even more options that I don't know about. :) – Calchas Mar 30 '17 at 10:59
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Yes, (almost) all rail fares within Great Britain are available on brfares.com. This provides a straightforward tariff of the fares, including divisions by walk up (available at any time), advance purchase, and capacity control. Information on season tickets, rail card discounts, plus bus tickets, and more obscure tickets types (such as Rovers) are also available.

If you are feeling brave the site also features an "expert" mode which looks something like this and gives a deeper insight into the pricing structure.

Most popular routes do have some kind of advance purchase discount available, but some do not. One is New Milton to Salisbury. [That said, with split ticketing, it may still be possible to find discounted advance purchase fares, but this is more complicated.] Many commuter routes also lack advance purchase tickets.

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    Shorter-distance routes can be very popular and not have advance purchase fares available. This applies to many lines primarily of a commuter nature. – Muzer Mar 30 '17 at 12:11
  • Good point Muzer. I shall add it. – Calchas Mar 30 '17 at 12:18

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