What is this pass?
The Spirit of Scotland travelpass is pre-dominantly a rail rover ticket (similar to a Eurail pass in mainland Europe) where one can take unlimited train & ferry journeys along with a few bus journeys for £134 (4 days out of 8) / £179.70 (8 days out of 15). Travellers to Scotland, especially from the USA / Canada who are seeing the country using public transport (not many people) tend to buy this pass (mostly the 4 out of 8 day version)
I, Dalek, used not one but two 15 day travel passes in succession (lasting 1 month – July 2016) in my attempt to see as much of Scotland as possible by public transport. I pride myself on my public transport taking abilities and really am the target audience for this pass but I came away disappointed. 😦
Is the pass worth it? NO WAY
I came to the conclusion that the travelpass in its current form is NOT worth it for travellers using the pass to see Scotland’s sights. I’ll describe my experience with 3 suggestions on how the pass can be improved.
My monthlong trip map
Convenience: You can go to any station, look at departure boards, decide which train to take & hop on quickly. Similarly no queues for CalMac ferries. This pass is totally worth it for making more than 1 train journey a day multiple times.
Cost: The pass BARELY costed me less than what buying individual tickets would have costed me. The pass costed me £179.70 where I would have spent £201.30 (saving £21.60) and I travelled like an extremely crazy person taking a total of 34 trains + buses + ferries in 15 days. I doubt a “normal” traveller will move around as much as I did this trip!
The normal cost is quite low because the CalMac ferry fares are much lower than 2 years back for foot passengers. Plus I ended up paying a bunch out of pocket anyway for the many bus journeys you must take. Checkout my detailed cost breakdown below for my first 15 day pass.
Major destinations need extra money: Here is a list of top Scotland attractions I went where the pass takes you close to the destination for free under the current coverage rules but you’ll need to catch another bus AND pay for it to get there: Eilean Donan castle (Dornie), Glencoe, Aberlour, Torridon, Orkney Islands, Luss (Loch Lomond).
I must add that this borders on false advertising as Eilean Donan castle & Glencoe feature on Spirit of Scotland leaflets & ads but based on the current routing rules, it is impossible to get to them by using the pass alone.
Extremely limited options: Scotland’s public transport services are quite limited and certain journeys only have exactly 1 specific set of connections available. If one connection’s missed, the day is lost.
Poor pass validity awareness for buses: I found myself arguing atleast 3 times where I thought the pass should have allowed free travel but did not due to nuances. Ex: Inverness to Fort William by the 18:15 Stagecoach bus is not free because its not operated by Citylink but thats the only bus you can catch if you leave Stromness at 10 AM the same day & take the train from Thurso to Inverness. Arguments after 8 hours of travelling are not fun.
How do I save money on public transport then?
Read our UK Transportation Guide to know what a RailCard is and how spending £30 can save you much more than that even in a 15 day trip. Infact, if I had a railcard through my trip, it’d have been much cheaper to use that than the pass. Great for couple, families, students & seniors (railcard targets).
Suggestions for ScotRail & VisitScotland
1. Reduce the price or simplify the routing
The 4 day travelpass is absolutely overpriced, I’d like to see a practical itinerary someone actually did where it would cost more to buy tickets individually. My suggestion is to either reduce the pricing so it makes financial sense to buy the pass OR raise the price to say £200 for 8 days but all buses are free where trains + ferries physically cannot take you.
2. Improve travelpass knowledge for bus employees
I resorted to carrying a screenshot of the rules to show to bus drivers on this trip to reduce arguments on pass validity. VisitScotland would really help travellers if all bus drivers in the country were properly imparted the knowledge of this pass (many drivers squinted on seeing my passes as they’ve seen it so infrequently).
3. Stop the false advertising
Showing pictures of places travellers cannot get to for free using the travelpass (Eilean Donan only gets to Kyle, Glencoe only gets to Ballachulish) on your advertising bugged me the most. The leaflet should state this fact!
Detailed cost breakdowns
|Journey||Price||1-way trains / buses / ferries|
|Glasgow – Newtonmore offpeak return||38 (Railcard)||2|
|Newtonmore – Aviemore day return||5.5 (Railcard)||2|
|Balloch – Elgin anytime single||69.3||3|
|Elgin – Strathcarron anytime single||27.8||2|
|Strathcarron – Kyle of Lochalsh||6.3||1|
|Kyle of Lochalsh – Sligachan||4.9||1|
|Sconser – Raasay CalMac ferry||3.7||2|
|Uig – Tarbert ferry||6.1||1|
|Stornoway – Ullapool ferry||9.2||1|
|Ullapool – Inverness bus||13.5||1|
|Glasgow – Luss|
|Luss – Balmaha ferry|
|Luss – Balloch bus|
|Strathcarron – Torridon bus|
|Sheildaig – Strathcarron bus|
|Tarbert – Luskentyre bus|
|Luskentyre – Drinishader bus|
|Drinishader – Stornoway bus|
Sources (for prices)
ScotRail (trains): http://www.scotrail.co.uk/
CalMac (ferries): https://www.calmac.co.uk/
CityLink (buses): http://www.citylink.co.uk/
Again, I cannot in good conscience, recommend the Spirit of Scotland travelpass to anyone. Any slight cost benefit does not overcome the negatives I have faced personally.
What are your experiences of using the Spirit of Scotland travelpass? Did I miss a trick in usage or am being too harsh on the pass? I’d love to know and it would help future travelpass users!
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