The waiting game

NarrowNicole and I are heading off to France in September.  It’ll be a chance to catch up with a few friends we have over there, and while we both really like the country I’ve not seen too much of it and my French could do with some significant practice.

We’ve decided we’re going overland, which even from the Highlands of Scotland isn’t as arduous or expensive as it sounds.  The sleeper from Inverness to London arrives with plenty of time to catch the 9am Eurostar to Paris, meaning you can go to bed in Inverness one evening and be in Paris before lunchtime the following day.

Who says the Highlands are remote?

There’s something inherently more fun and adventurous in taking the train than flying, and given the time it takes to check in for a flight or get the bus or train to or from an airport, it’s probably not significantly slower by train.

Of course going overland can be expensive if you don’t plan ahead, but then again so can flying.  In any case, we’ve been on the ball: we got the Eurostar tickets sorted for great value some days ago, and the second step was booking the sleeper to London.

That can be over £100 each way if you book late, but I’ve been watching the bargain berths like a hawk recently – where if you’re quick you can get berths for £19 each way.  It does, however, require the sort of stealth and persistence of a ninja Jehovah’s Witness.

Last week, the tickets for the week before we aim to travel were released, and I did a “dry run”, watching carefully for the precise moment when the Inverness to London bargain berths were put online, checking my information against things I found on various travellers’ forums online.  The tickets went within about 45 minutes, so I knew I’d have to be quick.

The battle plan confirmed in my head, I had every web browser I use at home and at work primed with a bookmark so I would be ready to go one week later for the bargain berth tickets we wanted.  That day – BB-Day, if you will – was yesterday.

Judging by the previous week, it should have been 9am that the tickets were released, though I stayed up until midnight the previous night just in case.  Nothing.  9am yesterday came, then, and as I checked and rechecked the Scotrail website it soon slowed down, frequently timing out – clearly I wasn’t the only one watching, and presumably down in server room there’d be some mangled-accented engineer exclaiming that she couldnae handle it, captain.  The tickets did appear, the whole week’s bargain berths released at once as scheduled, but not the Friday’s which I was after.

I waited, watching the cheapest of the other ones disappear with still no sign of the Friday ones.  It was impossible they’d all completely disappeared in a second, though they certainly would sell out fast.

I tweeted Scotrail to ask what was going on and when they’d be released, and they replied saying that they were released at 9am – when patently they hadn’t been.  I even tried that date in the other direction and on other sleeper routes from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Fort William.  They were out and selling fast, and yet the Inverness ones weren’t.  Very odd.  The whole day went by before I eventually gave up watching, assuming that they would be out at midnight or perhaps 9am the following day.

I did check a couple of times through the evening though, more out of hope than expectation, and to my surprise they were out! The cheapest £19 tickets had gone but the £29 ones remained.  Quick as a flash, I grabbed my credit card and nabbed two of them.  Sighing with relief after a day of nervous web-watching, I’d done it: two tickets to London – effectively eleven hour train journeys and overnight accommodation rolled into one – for a total of £58.

I think I’m entitled to feel just a tiny bit smug about that.  Though if I ever discover the person who got the £19 ones, I’ll throttle them.

Now it’s just a case of waiting a couple of weeks to do the whole thing again for the return journey…

6 thoughts on “The waiting game

  1. Thanks both. It really does seem to be a bit of a lottery – there is the usual Friday morning release date, but no guarantee that there won’t be some delays in some cases. All rather frustrating, really, if you have specific dates in mind.

  2. Interesting to hear your experiences.

    After months and months of waiting and “dry runs”, the bargain berths I want are due out this Friday.

    The problem is the inconsistency of the whole thing. I was checking at the start 2011 and bargain berths were being released on Thursday evenings at 5pm, then as the weeks went by this started becoming Friday mornings at 9am, and then gradually Friday mid-morning (11am or so). I understand this tactic from First ScotRail though, it’s all about the thrill of the chase.

    What unnerves me extremely is the fact that last week’s BBs for travel week beginning 3rd October were released TODAY, not last Friday – in fact they are practically all still available now if anyone wants one.

    What makes things even worse (if that’s possible) is the fact that the route I want is both the most popular and the one with the least BB availability (London-F William). I have caught the 19 quid Tuesday fare on several occassions when I’ve tried (even the Man in Seat 61 says that it isnt possible to find the 19 quid Fort William fare!), but this time it matters.

    Plan B is the Lowland sleeper to Glasgow and then a train to Oban. This is actually a more sensible option considering we have to get a bus from FW to Oban for the ferry to Barra, but I want to travel all the way to FW on the sleeper!

  3. Thanks for your comments David. It is good that you can be flexible and split tickets but it is such a pain when the whole idea is to go to sleep in London and wake up in whatever part of Scotland you’re trying to get to, without having to change.

    It’s a real mystery how it all works and like you I can only assume that ScotRail takes a perverse delight in seeing us all scramble about helplessly – thrill of the chase, as you say.

    I’ve tidied up my thoughts on this in a more readable post – check it out here. Thanks again for visiting.

  4. That’s a nice summary of the whole thing. Perhaps someone forgot to press the “Release Bargain Berths” button last Friday, rather strange.

    To be honest, I have absolutely no desire to spend my weekend refreshing my browser waiting for them to be released, so I hope that it is tomorrow, even if it means settling for plan B.

    I’ve noticed that ScotRail announce on their Twitter feed when bookings are open for the next week (usually Friday mid-morning), but as you say, this doesn’t include BBs. Two weeks ago, however, the BBs became available a short while after the Twitter announcement…I’ll let you know how I get on tomorrow.

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