Spending £172 to buy an annual season ticket covering a one-mile train journey on the picturesque Isle of Wight may sound like a rather bizarre way to save money on rail travel, but it is a deal which savvy rail travellers in London, the south of England, the West Midlands and East Anglia would do well to consider.
While the annual “Gold Card” from Ryde Esplanade to Ryde St. John’s Road covers a journey which few of us will ever make, as the cheapest such ticket for any daily journey within the South West Trains franchise area, it represents a sound investment for anyone not qualifying for any railcard apart from the Network Railcard and looking to save money on their train travel.
For holders of Gold Cards – that is any annual season ticket for journeys in London and southern England – significant changes came into effect in January 2015, making some of the benefits it offers significantly more attractive than before, and considerably more attractive than the Network Card, the only railcard available to many rail passengers.
Like the £30.00 Network Card, the Gold Card offers you (and up to three other adults travelling with you) one third off standard and first class off-peak tickets in an area covering the whole of southern England and places further afield such as Worcester. Both cards also offer discounts for up to four accompanying children.
But the Gold Card area was greatly extended from 2 January 2015 to cover the whole of East Anglia, as well as Chiltern Railways and London Midland services to places as far from the capital as Stafford, Shrewsbury and Kidderminster.
This extension of the area means that there is now at least one example where a Gold Card can be bought for slightly less than the Ryde example, but it nevertheless remains best value for the extra free tickets perk offered by the Island Line’s operator.
Breaking down the Ryde Gold Card’s cost, by offering you all the benefits of the Network Card (and more) there is an immediate payback of £30.00 from avoiding the need to buy a Network Card for yourself. To this you can add a further £20.00 as the saving you will make when you buy any railcard for a friend or family member at the discounted price for Gold Card holders of £10.00. That brings the effective net cost down to £122.00.
A Gold Card is now significantly more attractive than the Network Card in two important respects. Firstly, the weekday time it is valid from was brought forward from 10.00 to 09.30 (no time restriction on either card at weekends). Secondly, whereas the Network Card has a weekday minimum fare of £13.00, there is no such minimum fare applying to discounted tickets you buy with a Gold Card.
So take the example of someone who travels to London off-peak on a weekday from Woking or East Croydon. In the case of Woking, the Gold Card holder can buy a day return for travel after 09.30 for £11.55, but the Network Card Holder will pay £13.00 or £17.50 if travelling between 09.30 and 10.00. From East Croydon a one day off-peak travelcard costs £8.10 with the Gold Card, compared to a standard fare of £12.30 (no weekday discount with the Network Card).
Travellers from Sevenoaks can do even better with a Gold Card, as the weekday off- peak day return to London costs £7.85 compared to £11.90 for anyone holding only the Network Card (or no railcard at all). So for anyone making regular weekday journeys off-peak to London, the saving of £2-£5 a time offered by the Gold Card will soon start making big inroads into that net cost for the year of £122.00.
It gets even better. The generous perk offered by South West Trains to its Gold Card holders (including those on the Isle of Wight) is six free week-end tickets, which are valid for travel anywhere on its network on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (limited only to exclude trains before 10.00 and leaving London between 16.00 and 19.00 on Friday evenings).
What value you place on these free tickets will clearly depend on how far you choose to travel, but it is not hard to recoup your £122 from these tickets alone. Say, for example, you live in Exeter and fancy a week-end trip to town, well the cheapest off-peak return to London Waterloo on South West Trains is £48.30 with a Network Card or Gold Card.
Using two free tickets for your week-end (each ticket is valid for one day) means you would be able to make three return trips during the year, saving £144.90 in fares. Or perhaps you are in London and enjoy day trips to Bournemouth where, using your Network Card or Gold Card, the cheapest day return fare from London is a super off-peak ticket for £29.90. Travel six times in the year using your free tickets (or take your friend or partner three times), and you will have saved a hefty £179.40.
Of course you may just possibly be a fan of vintage London Underground trains. In that case, why not use your Gold Card to buy a discounted trip on the Wightlink catamaran or HoverTravel hovercraft services to the Isle of Wight? Once there you can travel in the delightful 1938 tube trains on their three-minute journey from Ryde Esplanade to Ryde St. John’s Road as many times as you like!