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It's always been said that the only way to make British trains affordable is to buy months in advance like you're taking an aeroplane.

Certainly on past experience coming on the day and buying a ticket it can be crazy expensive.

However; I suspect I may have been conned. Buying a ticket from the ticket desk and being given some very flexible any-time ticket rather than just a normal ticket for the next train.

Next month I have a flight to Manchester airport and then from here I need to get to the north east (Durham/Chester le Street/Newcastle, all good, I'm going to be picked up from the station to go onto my destination).

I've done something similar before and I remember buying a ticket for some hours after my flight and having to sit and wait at the airport station for a while whilst trains came and went to Manchester city. I don't want to buy one too close to my estimated landing time in case the flight is delayed.

How do I find out how much a ticket bought on the day will cost me? Is there a way to balance buying in advance with the flexibility needed from connecting from a flight?

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    If you are resident outside the UK and will be making multiple train journeys within a month in the UK, look at getting a BritRail pass. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 24 '17 at 10:17
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    There are a variety of Ranger and Rover tickets, which are available to anyone, whether you are a UK resident or not. Yes, they can save money if making multiple journeys, over several days. And no need to book specific trains in advance. Though some have restrictions at peak times. – vclaw Jun 24 '17 at 22:50
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There isn't really such a thing as "a ticket for the next train". Tickets sold on the day will generally be either "anytime" (valid on any train) or "off-peak" (restricted from some peak time trains, details of the restrictions vary). Off peak and anytime tickets are not limited in number and will be the same price whenever you buy them.

Advance tickets can be significantly cheaper than regular tickets, but you have to book them in advance (generally at least the day before, on busy trains sometimes weeks in advance) and you are locked in to a specific train. There are often multiple prices of advance tickets for a given train with the cheapest ones selling out first.

Looking at Manchester airport to Newcastle and assuming a single journey standard class advance singles vary from £18.50 to £36 while an anytime single is £71.10. There does not seem to be an off peak single available.

So basically you have to decide if a saving or £40 or so is worth hanging around for ages waiting for your booked train.

Finally note when it comes to off peak and anytime tickets returns are usually considerably cheaper than two singles.

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If you go to National Rail Enquiries and ask it for a ticket today (and perhaps next Monday - weekday pricing can be a bit different) you should get a good idea of the probable walkup pricing for any route.

Any "advance" ticket is only bookable in advance (as the name suggests) - tomorrow morning you could can get a single Manchester Airport - Newcastle for £36, but you would have to be on that specific train. Advance ticket pricing often varies depending on exactly which train you are booked on (poking around I could get it as low as £21 on some days/times)

The standard option if you buy it at the station will either be "Anytime" or "Offpeak", the latter restricted to only off-peak trains (with an often opaque way to determine what's peak). These are the "normal" ticket options. However, many lines do not sell offpeak singles, though they are available in some specific cases.

In this particular case, the system is reporting that an anytime single to Newcastle is £71, an off-peak return is £86. This price does not vary depending on day or time (though there are restrictions on when you can use the return ticket). An anytime return would be more expensive still.

Short answer: in this case, "anytime" is indeed apparently the cheapest option for walking up and buying it at the station if you only want a single ticket, no return. One thing I would recommend is running the prices for various stations - many of the Newcastle trains stop at Durham and it's about £10 cheaper, for example.

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    The reason for the odd pricing is you're not comparing like-with-like. The £86.20 fare is an off-peak return, while the £71.10 is an anytime day single. The off-peak return is an open return (ie, it's not limited to a particular train, though the general time restrictions on usage will apply, and as you note, they can be a bit baroque) so if you're planning on going back to the airport at a suitable time, it'll be a lot cheaper to get an off-peak return than two anytime singles. Offpeak singles are not generally available. – MadHatter Jun 24 '17 at 10:05
  • @MadHatter Aha, that makes sense! Will edit. The site only seems to display that on mouseover... I think I have been confused wrt offpeak singles by the fact I usually only buy walkup tickets for the Cambridge trains, which do usually have them - but on examination those are billed as the slightly seperate "Super Offpeak Single". – Andrew Jun 24 '17 at 10:15
  • @MadHatter fixed (I think) - please feel free to edit if desired. – Andrew Jun 24 '17 at 10:20
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You can use the website Brfares to look up the price of all available tickets between any two stations in the UK. Remember that many tickets have specific exceptions and it can be hard for you to find the cheapest options. In theory, an advance ticket can cost from £18.60 to Newcastle and must be bought by 18:00 the day before departure. Advance fares from £23.00 are then available until 23:59 the day before departure. Both of these types of tickets have limited availability and could sell out before these dates. Whereas, an anytime ticket bought on the day will be £71.00.

You could also look into airport advance these are only available in limited quantities and need to be booked in advance, they are also only available on some routes, but that does include all of your three possible destinations. Airport advance tickets are a special subset of advance tickets which do allow you to change trains without cost, however, they are not as flexible as anytime tickets. You can only get a later train if your flight is delayed, if you are held up at baggage or passport control then you will need to buy a new ticket. You also need to go to the ticket office who will verify your ticket and mark it so it is valid on the later train. You can also only catch trains upto 3 hours after the scheduled departure.

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