Why It's Cheaper to Fly Than to Take the Train in the U.K.

Why It's Cheaper to Fly Than to Take the Train in the U.K.
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by Lilit Marcus, Condé Nast Traveler

Photo: Courtesy of CNP Montrose

One blogger's money-saving flight from Britain to Germany and back has made us rethink our travel plans.

Great Britain's national railway service may be efficient, but that doesn't make it affordable: Just this month The Telegraph reported that fares were rising three times as quickly as the average salary in the U.K. Rather than just grumbling about costs, one British blogger crunched numbers and realized that he could take a mini-vacation to Berlin for less than it would cost to take a four-hour train trip between two towns in the same country.

Jordon Cox, who blogs for the website Money Saving Expert, needed to take a train between Sheffield (in northern England) and Essex (in southern England, just northwest of London), which are about 174 miles apart, but was shocked that it would cost him £50 ($71) one way for a ticket. Out of curiosity, he began looking at fares on low-cost airline Ryanair, and realized it would be cheaper to fly from England to Germany and back than it would be to take the train in-country. So he did. "It turned out that flying out from East Midlands Airport to Berlin, spending seven hours exploring the city and then flying to Stansted [Airport] and getting the bus home was cheaper than a single train journey in England," he wrote.

Here's how Cox broke down the cost of his England-to-England-via-Germany trip: £4 train from Sheffield to Derby, £4.20 bus from Derby to East Midlands Airport, £11.83 Ryanair flight to Berlin, £5 Berlin return train from airport to city center, £1.50 currywurst for lunch, £9.54 Ryanair flight to London Stansted, £8 bus from Stansted home to Hutton. The total came out to £44.07 ($62), still cheaper than the one-way train ticket. Of course, flying instead of taking the train does have its cons--you have to respect baggage restrictions on sizes, weights, and liquids (so much for stocking up on wine!), and it won't work if you're on a strict timetable. But since Cox had a flexible timeline for his return trip home, he was able to make the flight deals work for him.

And it's not a fluke. Cox looked at other discount fares and realized that there were plenty of opportunities. For example, a one-way National Rail train ticket from London to Edinburgh starts at £66.50 ($95), while an easyJet flight from London to Venice begins at £29.49 ($42), with a flight from Venice to Edinburgh from £36.99 ($53), coming to a total of £66.48--almost exactly the train fare. And, of course, a British commuter train won't involve a pit stop at St. Mark's Square. In fact, Cox might be part of a bigger trend: In 2015, a study showed that it would be cheaper for Brits to live in Spain and telecommute than cope with London's high-priced rental market.

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