A Farey Tale

In which The Author explores the mysteries of time, space and money

As I mentioned in A Capital Day Out, I’m taking a trip to Manchester next month. Ideally, I’d have booked the return ticket in one easy transaction – but putting my hands on £73.00 is beyond me at the moment. Even though my travel costs will be reimbursed afterwards, I’m trying to find the most economical way to do the journey within the scheduling constraints.
It’s the outward leg that’s the stumbling block. I need to be in Salford by 4.45 p.m., so I’ve had to make sure that I’ll get to Manchester with time to spare in case of disruptions. With this in mind, my first port of call was the Arriva Trains Wales website. I’ve seen numerous advertisements for their bargain fares over the past few months, in the stations, in the pocket timetable, on the trains themselves, and on their website. According to these, the cheapest single fare is £13.00. That sounded like a good option to me, so I had a closer look at the website. Isn’t it odd how, even with my new reading glasses, the small print becomes almost invisible on adverts?
As I’m travelling on a Friday, the £13.00 fare isn’t available at all. In fact, the cheapest Advance Single ticket for that day is £29.00. Add in the extra £5.00 single from Aberdare to Cardiff, and it comes to £34.00 all told. On the other hand, if I booked the ticket from Aberdare, it would cost £35.00. I was always led to believe that through tickets were cheaper than connecting tickets. Obviously not …
I wondered about taking the coach from Aberdare to Birmingham, changing there for the Manchester service. I had a quick look at the National Express website, to see whether that was an alternative. It’s actually more expensive than the train, with a single ticket costing £41.80. It’s also scheduled to arrive at 1545, leaving me a bare hour to get out to Salford. I know it isn’t far (and the trams run direct to Salford Quays), but traffic on Fridays is notoriously busy. It would only take a crash on the motorway to bugger my schedule up entirely. There are coaches from Cardiff to Manchester, but the only one which suited my needs leaves Cardiff at 0725.
The first train from Aberdare goes out at 0622, and takes an hour to get to Cardiff. That window isn’t big enough. Besides, I know from Gaz’s many attempts to catch the first train that it only runs three days out of five in a good week. So, the coach was a non-starter. I booked my £29.00 train ticket on Thursday and it arrived in the post on Friday morning. That’s what I call a first class service, fair play.
Coming back on the Saturday isn’t so constrained, as my time is my own. I’ve got overnight accommodation booked on the Friday night, so I can come and go as I please. I’d like to spend the morning and early afternoon exploring Manchester. It’s a city I’ve never been to before, and it’s always interested me. I love industrial history and there’s plenty to see. It’s also been a big part of the UK music scene – not nonsense like Oasis and Stone Roses, but real bands like 10cc and Joy Division/New Order. Ideally, I’d like to wander around for a few hours with the camera and see as much as I can. I wondered about booking a second night in a B&B, but I couldn’t find anywhere reasonably priced. Then I spent a few hours in Cardiff on Thursday, and decided I really didn’t fancy the prospect of getting back too late on a Saturday night.
So I had a quick look at Arriva Trains Wales again. The cheapest ticket from Manchester to Aberdare on the Saturday is a whopping £65.00. That was out for a start. Remembering the moral of the Through Ticket Story, I had a look at a ticket to Cardiff instead – £38.50. Then I’d only have to pay an extra fiver to get back to Aberdare. In other words, I could do the journey in two stages and save £21.50. Does this make sense to you?
I went back to the National Express website. A single ticket from Manchester to Cardiff is £36.50. Add in the last leg to Aberdare, and that’s a grand total of £41.50 – still two quid cheaper than the train.
But it doesn’t end there. At the moment, the Daily Mirror has an offer in conjunction with National Express for cheap coach travel ‘throughout the country’. I decided to have a look at their promotional website, and discovered something very interesting which wasn’t in the small print. You can indeed travel ‘throughout the country’ – as long as you’re heading to or from London or Birmingham. I put the offer on the back burner (thinking that maybe C— might fancy a day out in London) and returned to the idea of booking the train.
Last night, lying in bed listening to the noisy neighbours arguing again, I had a flash of inspiration. Even if I was travelling by coach, I’d have to change at Birmingham. I wondered whether the Mirror offer would work if I went from Manchester to Birmingham, and then from Birmingham to Cardiff. So, this afternoon I had a look. Here’s what I found:
  • Manchester depart 1315 → Birmingham arrive 1600 = £4.50
  • Birmingham depart 1845 → Cardiff arrive 21.30 = £5.50
  • Cardiff depart 2141 → Aberdare arrive 2241 = £5.00
  • Grand total = £15.00
The beauty of this little scheme is that I should be able to connect in Cardiff without having to spend too much time in the place. Even if the coach should happen to get in late, it drops off at the Students’ Union. I can have a quick one in one of the pubs near the museum, rather than go into the city centre, and travel up from Cathays. If things do according to plan, I can be back in the Prince long before stop-tap.
If anyone truly understands the Byzantine (Kafkaesque?) logic behind these fare structures, please let me know. I’ve tried to fathom out why it costs over twenty quid more to travel straight through from Manchester to Aberdare by train than it does to book two single tickets. I’ve no idea at all why a coach journey done in two stages costs less than a third of the identical journey booked on one ticket. And don’t even ask me why a single ticket from Aberdare to Cardiff costs a fiver, while a return ticket is only £7.00. I don’t really care, to be honest. I’ve already got my tickets for the outward journey by train. Next Giro I’ll book the coach tickets and it’s sorted!
I’ll just have to get up early on the Saturday and make the most of Manchester in the morning. Then I can have a quick nose around Birmingham in the afternoon as well. It’s a couple of days away from this place, after all – regardless of how complicated my tickets might be when I submit them to be reimbursed …

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