LNER is indisputably Britain’s flagship rail company. The state-owned train operator runs the vast majority of intercity trains on the UK’s most prestigious route: the East Coast main line linking London with Yorkshire, northeast England and Scotland.
Front-line staff and the management deliver top-class transport. And the company knows how critical it is for the rail industry to attract more passengers and reverse the spiral of decline into which the network is sinking.
LNER is also a disruptor, in a positive sense. The rail firm has a mission to simplify ticketing: to reduce the confusion that sees one in three potential train passengers dissuaded by an arcane and anomalous ticketing system. it is learning from the success of the UK’s aviation industry – the fresh thinking of budget airlines, notably easyJet and Ryanair, to make high-quality, safe travel more affordable.
Perhaps you can sense a “but” coming?
Well, allow LNER to introduce its latest trick. “The biggest change to fares in 30 years. Our goal is to offer customers clearer ticket options, more modern flexibility and a better experience when travelling with LNER. We’re piloting the removal of the complicated and outdated off-peak and super off-peak fares.”
Let us pause there. Off-peak tickets are those you can buy on the day, a couple of minutes before the train leaves, and use on most trains; super off-peak tickets are cheaper but more restrictive in the services you can travel on.
Yes, off-peak tickets are complicated. And because of the way they are structured, with specific times excluded, they have unintended consequences such as a bulge in demand for the first departure after the peak restriction ends.
So, not ideal, but far cheaper than the “anytime” fare that almost nobody pays. In the case of Edinburgh to London, the cost of a fully flexible is £193.90, with the super off-peak less than half as much: £87. You can use it on any train from 7am onwards. The ticket is lso ultra-flexible: between Edinburgh, Newcastle and York you can choose to travel on CrossCountry or TransPennine if those departures are more convenient.
A less well-known benefit, I think, is the option to make unlimited stops along the way: between the Scottish and England capitals, you could pause for elevenses in Newcastle, lunch in York and an afternoon viewing of…