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Flexible train tickets: how much could you save when you return to the office?

The new wave of part-time commuters could save hundreds of pounds a year

Flexible train tickets: how much could you save when you return to the office?

The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed working patterns, and the options commuters have for buying train tickets are being adapted to keep up.

Office buildings have remained empty throughout the pandemic with millions of people working from home. As lockdown eases, many companies are adopting new flexible working policies, with a mix of office and home-based working. All of this means the five-day commute could become a thing of the past.

Currently, weekly, monthly and annual season tickets provide discounts to rail passengers who commute every day. But what if you will only commute for two or three days when you return to the office?

From 21 June, you’ll be able to buy new flexible season tickets that address this very problem – just in time for the possible lifting of the government’s ‘work from home’ advice.

Here, Which? takes a look at how flexible train tickets will work, and how much you could save.

How will flexible season tickets work?

It’s a problem part-time commuters have had for years. Annual season tickets usually give the equivalent of 12 weeks’ free travel – a significant discount for daily commuters, but it’s cheaper for part-timers to just buy individual tickets each day.

These new flexible tickets aim to offer discounts to part-timers who formerly had none and the new wave of commuters that will mimic this working pattern. Here’s how it’ll work:

  • Passengers will buy a flexible ticket
  • This will allow them to travel on any eight days within a 28-day period
  • There will be no need to select the days of travel in advance
  • You will tap a smartcard or your phone at the station when you travel
  • You could save ‘hundreds of pounds’

The tickets are part of the Department for Transport’s (DfT) overhaul of the rail system, rechristened Great British Railways. Despite the moniker, they will only be available in England.

The government’s plan also includes a new Great British Railways ticket website and app and more straightforward compensation.

How much could you save?

Tickets go on sale on 21 June, for use from 28 June onwards. Since they’re not available to buy yet, we don’t know exactly how much they’ll cost.

The government has, however, released some estimates of how much commuters could save on certain routes.

According to the DfT, commuting two days a week with a flexible ticket rather than a daily ticket could save you:

  • over £250 a year from Woking to London
  • over £220 a year from Liverpool to Manchester
  • over £200 a year from York to Leeds
  • over £160 a year from Stafford to Birmingham
  • over £60 a year from Southampton Central to Winchester.

And three-day commuters could save:

  • over £330 a year from Chelmsford to Stratford
  • over £220 a year from St Albans City to London
  • over £120 a year from Bromsgrove to Birmingham
  • over £90 a year from Weston-Super-Mare to Bristol Temple Meads.

Without seeing the actual costs, we can’t say much more about potential savings at the moment, nor can we verify these estimates. We’ll have details of exactly how much you could save on different routes when tickets go on sale on 21 June.

Other flexible train ticket schemes

If you can’t wait until next month to get yourself a flexible ticket, you’ll be pleased to hear that they already exist in slightly different forms on some routes.

Back in July, we reported that DfT was asking rail operators for proposals for what became the new flexible ticket. In the process, we rounded up a few of the flexible ticket schemes that already existed.

Most of these are carnet (pronounced car-nay) schemes where you effectively ‘bulk buy’ tickets at a discount.

Great Northern and Thameslink sell five or 10 single-journey tickets at a 10% discount. Unlike the new flexible tickets, they are valid for three months.

ScotRail also sells 10 tickets at a 10% discount, for use within one month, across 28 of its routes. So although rail passengers in Scotland may miss out on the Great British Railways ticket, they’ll still have a chance to save.

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