The season ticket perks the train companies keep hidden
Are you a regular commuter with a yearly season ticket? Expensive isn’t it? We pay more than any other European country for our train travel, especially if you commute into London. So if you have to pay out such a large part of your hard-earned cash you should at least make the most of the benefits that annual “Gold Card” season tickets offer.
From 2 January 2015, Gold Card and other Railcard ticketholders using train companies such as Southeastern, Southern, South West Trains, Virgin Trains and Thameslink can claim a range of discounts including:
• One third off Standard and First Class Anytime and Off-Peak fares for yourself and up to 3 adults travelling with you.
• 60% off child fares for up to 4 children (£1 minimum fare)
• One-third off Off-Peak Day Travelcard Zones 1-6 (the full range of discounts can be found at national.co.uk/goldcard).
If you use the train for leisure as well as work then you can make some considerable savings in travel costs, especially if you take your family with you. But it is important to know what you are entitled to as I’ve discovered that not all ticket office staff know or understand the discounts.
Recently I took my son and daughter with me to London to do some Christmas Shopping. We left our home in Hastings and drove to Sevenoaks station to get an early train into town. I showed my Gold Card to the ticket clerk and asked for two travelcards for the kids. The Clerk insisted he could only sell me the two travelcards if I bought a travelcard for myself. This was clearly wrong but he wouldn’t budge when I pointed out that the Gold Card discount rules made no such requirement. In the end I went to the ticket machines next to the ticket office and purchased the tickets I wanted with the discount I was due.
As well as the savings listed above, you can also use your season ticket to travel to stations along the permitted routes that the ticket is valid for. But National Rail can make it very difficult to discover what stations and routes are acceptable.
If you look at your ticket it should state the route you can travel. It will often say something like “any permissible routes”. What does that mean? Well according to National Rail’s website that means “any reasonable route”. Again it’s a bit vague, but I presume it means if you are, for example, travelling from Birmingham to Manchester you can use any local route, but going via London or Leeds is not acceptable.
I discovered just how confusing this particular National Rail ticketing rule can be when my wife and I wanted to travel by train to see her mum and dad. They live near a train station in Kent that isn’t covered by our Gold Cards. But we were travelling there after work straight from London, so our tickets should have covered us for at least part of the journey. We expected to just need to by an extension ticket for the rest. Simple, yes? “No”, said the ticket clerk, “you have to buy a ticket for the whole route.” This seemed bonkers to us as our “any permissible route” season tickets allowed us to travel to Ashford – a station on the train route to my in-laws.
I decided to call National Rail enquiries to find out once and for all. The adviser put me on hold for five minutes and then told me my Gold Card wasn’t valid for any part of my planned journey. While remaining polite I pointed out that this didn’t make sense. After another 30 minutes and being passed on to his supervisor, she agreed that my ticket was valid for travel to Ashford, and I could then buy a ticket from there to my in-law’s station.
Rail companies are quick to fine passengers who don’t have valid tickets for their journeys, yet their opaque ticketing systems make it difficult for rail users to know what journeys are and aren’t covered by existing tickets. This inevitably leads to overpayment. That’s just not fair when we already pay so much for our travel.