Fare Dealer

Rail (UK) - - Contents - Bri­tain’s lead­ing fares and ser­vice ex­pert

RAIL fares ex­pert Barry Doe ex­am­ines the pric­ing struc­ture on the Cale­do­nian Sleeper.

I was asked to com­ment on the new 26-30 Rail­card in RAIL 865. Men­tion­ing that Cale­do­nian Sleeper (CS) did not ac­cept it for in­clu­sive travel and berth tick­ets, I went on to point out that it could be used for buy­ing nor­mal walk-on fares - al­low­ing use of the Sleeper pro­vided the £75 berth fee was paid.

As it hap­pened, I was look­ing into the new CS pric­ing struc­ture ready for this Fare Dealer. And it was only when query­ing de­tail with my con­tact that he told me that, in fact, the berth fee hasn’t been £75 since May 2017, but now stands at £100 for a First Class solo room and £140 for a twin.

The rea­son I wasn’t up-to-date is be­cause there is noth­ing ei­ther on in­ter­nal sites or on the CS web­site it­self that tells users the cur­rent berth fee, which to me is just like a ho­tel re­fus­ing to put any room prices on its web­site! It’s poor mar­ket­ing.

I ad­mit CS has a ma­jor prob­lem in that it sells tick­ets up to 12 months ahead of travel, and knows that at some stage next spring new trains will ar­rive (but not ex­actly when). So it has moved to the new con­cept of re­tail­ing the Sleeper based on rooms and not berths - in that re­spect mak­ing it more like a ho­tel.

The time-hon­oured scheme had been sin­gle and twin berths, with use of the for­mer re­quir­ing a First Class ticket, and for those trav­el­ling Stan­dard on their own the risk of hav­ing to share with a stranger. This has changed with ex­ist­ing stock to the twin rooms only be­ing avail­able for two peo­ple book­ing to­gether, and they can­not be booked for sole use (al­though this is tem­po­rary).

The new stock will have three types of room (aside from seats): Suite, Club and Clas­sic. Suites are dou­ble bed en suite; Club, twin beds en suite. Both are First Class. Clas­sic is a Stan­dard Class twin and will be avail­able for solo use.

Un­for­tu­nately, the CS web­site is gen­er­ally rather poor and does not ex­plain a lot of things well… or at all. It is try­ing to play down the First Class and Stan­dard des­ig­na­tions in favour of just us­ing Suite, Club and Clas­sic, but gets it­self in a mess as a re­sult when deal­ing with what hap­pens with in­ter­a­vail­able tick­ethold­ers.

The lat­ter is a large mar­ket, as many peo­ple

only want a Sleeper one way. Yes, they might travel the day­time leg with an ad­vance ticket and then book an in­clu­sive travel and berth ticket on the Sleeper, but it’s more flex­i­ble to buy an Off-Peak or Su­per Off-Peak Re­turn and then pay a room sup­ple­ment.

So the idea is that, with the cur­rent trains, if two peo­ple each has a £171.40 Su­per OP Re­turn be­tween Lon­don and In­ver­ness, then on the leg they wish to use the Sleeper they pay £140 for their use of a Stan­dard Clas­sic twin. As said ear­lier, it will soon be pos­si­ble to pay the same £140 for ex­clu­sive use of the Clas­sic room, too.

If you have a First Class travel ticket - per­haps an All-Line Rover - then you pay £100 for use of a sin­gle room.

Of course, once the new Sleep­ers are in traf­fic, I imag­ine the First Class room fee will in­crease some­what for ex­clu­sive use of a Club twin - cer­tainly for the Suites. Cur­rently all we have is guide­line in­clu­sive prices, which for Lon­don-In­ver­ness are ex­pected to be from £140 for a Clas­sic room (£170 for two), £205 for a Club (£350 for two), and £395 for a Suite (£470 for two).

So, bear­ing in mind the ‘from’, at the top end it’s go­ing to ex­ceed £1,000 for a cou­ple go­ing both ways in a Suite. How­ever, rail­cards are in­ter­est­ing, as 16-25, Se­nior, Forces and Dis­abled Per­sons’ Rail­cards of­fer a 34% dis­count on all solo oc­cu­pancy in­clu­sive prices - even though a 16-25 rail­card wouldn’t nor­mally of­fer a dis­count on a First Class prod­uct.

Note that means you’ll be able to use a rail­card in a Club en suite twin, but only if you’re on your own. No shared use - ei­ther in Club, Suite or Clas­sic - al­lows them. Note also that there are no longer any dis­counts avail­able for hold­ers of Fam­ily & Friends or Two To­gether Rail­cards, nor (as men­tioned in RAIL 865) for the 26-30 Rail­card.

How­ever, all these rail­cards (ex­cept 26-30) do of­fer 34% off seats. Fur­ther­more, all of them (in­clud­ing the 26-30) al­low hold­ers to buy a walk-on ticket and then pay the room fee.

This means that for shared use, users have to com­pare the var­i­ous op­tions of hav­ing sep­a­rate tick­ets bought us­ing a rail­card, with the room fee added, against pay­ing the full in­clu­sive travel and room price for two with use of the rail­card barred.

I have men­tioned my dis­ap­point­ment with the CS web­site. A far bet­ter one is the well­re­spected ‘Man in Seat 61’ site, which has a re­ally in­for­ma­tive and de­tailed Sleeper sec­tion, in­clud­ing co­pi­ous pic­tures at www.seat61.com/Cale­do­nianSleep­ers.

PHIL MET­CALFE.

Cale­do­nian Sleeper 73966 passes Achallder on the West High­land Line on May 5 2017. The in­tro­duc­tion of CS’s new stock next year is marred by the op­er­a­tor’s poor web­site that gives lit­tle in­for­ma­tion says Barry Doe.

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