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.
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.