/ Travel & Leisure

I’m not scared to commit, but I don’t want an annual train ticket

Are you weighing up the cost of an annual season ticket? Me too. But committing to a whole year… that’s a long time. So why is there no such thing as a three or six-month season ticket?

Train tickets are expensive. Particularly when travelling into the nation’s capital from, say, most places.

Luckily, to avoid us handing over vast wads of cash on a daily basis, season tickets are available. Existing in seven-day, monthly and annual forms, if you’re a regular train traveller they can save you a lot of money.

If you’re a commuter who takes the train five days a week, this Conversation deals with an issue that is likely to affect you. Or if you commute less frequently but still need a season ticket, check out the Campaign for Better Transport’s guest Conversation on flexible season tickets.

Tickets today

‘But wait!’ I hear you shout, ‘of course there are three and six-month tickets’ – the National Rail Enquiries online season ticket calculator clearly displays seven-day, one-month, three-month, six-month and annual season ticket options by default.

But season tickets are seemingly only sold in seven-day, monthly and annual form – with each tier offering a significant saving on the last. It turns out that the three and six-month prices are for illustrative purposes only.

This is my problem. It’s a big leap from monthly to annual, and I want some intermediary steps that offer reasonable savings.

The Cambridge commuting conundrum

Let me present you with an example journey. Cambridge is less than an hour away from King’s Cross, and by almost pure coincidence, is just where I happen to commute from. Here is what someone like me, who commutes in from Cambridge five days a week, would pay (prices do not include tube travel):

  • £36.00 per day for an anytime return ticket (or £180 for five daily tickets)
  • £106.00 for a weekly season ticket (weekly saving of £74 or 41% on five daily tickets)
  • £407.10 for a monthly season ticket (monthly saving of £52.23 or 11% on equivalent weekly tickets)
  • £4,240 for an annual season ticket (annual saving of £645.2 or 13% on 12 monthly tickets)

Six months, as quoted on the National Rail Enquiries season ticket calculator, would cost £2,442.30 – that’s a magnificent saving of 30p compared with six separate monthly tickets.

For three months its £1,221.20, you’ll save 10p compared to three separate monthly tickets. Amounts so negligible it’s almost not worth mentioning.

Do you want another option?

Why can’t train companies offer multiple season tickets that offer a saving for every month booked at once? That is, a four month ticket offers a better discount than three month tickets, which in turn is better than a two month ticket.

Our rail expert Richard Dilks comments:

‘An industry that’s actually focused on meeting customers’ needs would have come up with something more flexible than what’s currently on offer. The Department for Transport is currently running a ticketing review and is explicitly asking for passengers’ views on the issues debated. One of those issues is more flexibility in ticketing.’

Could you see yourself making use of three-month, six-month or nine-month train tickets if they offered a reasonable discount at each stage?


I certainly would, however I need, like many, to add the cost of the underground into that.

Then again, it’s not often that I consider such a large outlay up front when I don’t know if I am going to be ill, work from home or take a holiday in that time.

Yes, absolutely! I think it’s a great idea to offer these tickets. For example, people who are on contract work or who aren’t sure if they’ll be in their job for a full year could buy shorter tickets. You’d be annoyed to fork out for a year’s ticket to London only to find that your next contract was in Birmingham, for instance.

It would also help those whose workplaces don’t run initiatives like season ticket loan schemes. I know I couldn’t afford to buy a full annual ticket without help, and many will be in the same boat, so might be stuck with weekly or monthly passes, missing out on bigger savings they could have had with, for instance, a 3 month pass.

I am a fan of annual tickets, even though there is always the fear you won’t use it. I stopped work for a bit and found I was paying almost as much on Oyster pay-as-you-go per week, even off peak, plus the time I’d take to calculate what is the best value (should I take the bus or train? Which buses?). I think that even with rail season tickets you can get free bus travel if you show the driver, though I may be mistaken.

In addition, if you get an annual ticket in the South East network you get a Gold Card, which means myself and up to three others can get a third-off off-peak travel in the south east area, and I think I have saved a good sum with that.

But going back to your main point, yes, I found it odd that train companies don’t offer better savings, particularly as by getting an annual I am effectively travelling on ‘old’ fares as soon as a price rise comes in.

At the moment an annual is the equivalent 12 monthlies less six weeks’ free travel, plus (as with all season tickets) you get the equivalent of free weekend travel. How about a six month travel card gives you the equivalent of three weeks free, that would be fairer as you wouldn’t be getting the Gold Card.

Without a doubt, train companies should start offering shorter season ticket options. In the current climate, a year IS a long time to commit to – but in particular, it can cost season ticket holders a lot of money.

For example, a number of workplaces offer an interest free season ticket loan, which is brilliant. It spreads the costs of your annual ticket across 12 months and overall, reduces your costs. But – if you decide you want a refund on your season ticket at any point, the train companies don’t necessarily split the value of your ticket into 12 even chunks like your employer does. Let me give a quick example (based on my own personal experience).

> I bought an annual season ticket from my hometown to London at the cost of £3560.
> If I’d bought the same tickets monthly, the total cost would’ve come to £4101.60 – giving me a cost saving of £541.60 over the year.
> My employer deducted £296.67 a month out of my pay for 12 months to cover the cost – yet after 10 months, I left my job and no longer required my season ticket.
> I had to pay back the remaining cost of the loan to my employer from my final pay – a deduction of £593.30.
> Yet – when I went to the train company and asked for a refund on the remaining term of my season ticket (2 months), they could only offer me approximately £99. This is a lot different to the £593.30 I hoped for.

My train company explained that they divide the cost of the annual season ticket (£3560) by the cost of a full-price monthly ticket (£341.80) to get the number of months your ticket has ‘value’ – (in this case, around ten and a half months) and then the rest is considered to be ‘free’ (representing your discount).

To conclude this enormous comment – if you have a season ticket loan and don’t end up using the it for the whole term, you could end up losing out financially.

If you like to buy monthly season tickets, one way of saving money is always to add extra days to the ticket so that it expires on a Friday; the extra days are charged at a pro-rata monthly rate. Then get the next season ticket to start on a Monday, meaning that you don’t pay for a weekend once per month. If you do this every month, it will save 11 weekends per year, avoiding 22 days per year of wastage. Committing to an annual season ticket costs the same as around 10½ monthly tickets, so the Friday-rounding method saves around half of what an annual ticket saves.

Steve Smithson says:
15 May 2012

You can save more using this method if you arrange to end one season ticket just before a holiday and start the next afterwards. Season tickets can be purchased for any period from one month to 10 months – the price is pro rata on the monthly rate. This applies to train tickets including Travelcards but not if you have an add-on like PlusBus.

Refunds on season tickets are based on the cost of the ticket you would have bought for the period that you used it. The amount of the refund is the amount that you paid for the annual ticket less the cost of the period that you used it for at the monthly rate so after about 10 months, there is no refund. There is an administration charge for the refund. I think it is £10 but it may vary between the companies.

Almost all railway season ticket prices are based on a multiple of the weekly season ticket price. The price of an annual is 40 times the weekly. The relationship between the cost of a day ticket and the weekly varies with journey. Sometimes, it is not worth buying a season ticket at all.

Adrian, I think you can get numerous reprints of season tickets, but they will charge you for them. They slap an ‘admin fee’ on it, which I think is around £20 (but don’t quote me on that). Holding on to one paper ticket for a full year is quite a mean feat, I found!

the MEK says:
28 May 2012

the worst is that if you don’t need it for a full 12 months (new job, made redundant, whatever) you only get refunded up to 10 months, which is very convenient for them to suddenly say that you pay the full amount for teh first 10 months and have the last 2 free.
Such an obvious ploy.
Maybe it’s time to challenge that legally

petec200 says:
20 August 2012

Is there such a thing as an annual weekend only ticket?

If not there should be.

I would buy one for my daughter to travel to see me on weekends if there were significant savings.

i’d imagine trains are quieter when a lot of people are off work, so there must be a lot of seats to fill;?

What do you think about the announcement of part-tie season tickets?

“Part-time rail commuters will be able to buy cheaper season tickets for travel three to four days a week in a trial scheme announced by the transport minister, Norman Baker.

The scheme, allowing part-time workers to benefit from similar discounts on monthly and annual passes, would be trialled on a major London commuter line next year. New “shoulder” fares on the cusp of rush hour will also be tested in an attempt to smooth out demand between peak and off-peak trains.”