The ticket costs on one of Virgin Trains’ mainline routes almost derailed a glitzy office Christmas party for West Midlands staff in London.
Michael Westcott, boss of an expanding exhibition business, was horrified by the jaw-dropping £1,800 return cost of taking his regional staff to London for a festive bash with their colleagues in the capital.
He was even more amazed when he learned he could hire two luxury limos – a 16-seat Hummer and a standard stretch limo – for little more than half the price, with free bubbly thrown in.
“With the rail fares to Victoria, and the cost of tubes and taxis at the other end, the whole bill would have worked out at around £2,000,” said Mr Westcott, managing director of CloserStill Media Healthcare.
“The limos picked us up from our office on Coventry Business Park and took us to our hotel in London, with no fuss and the chance to relax with a glass of bubbly on the way, and all for just £1,165.
“It makes me wonder whether we should think about hiring chauffeur-driven limos for all our travel. With these prices, why would you travel anywhere by rail?
“We went online to book the seats but it was going to work out at nearly £100 a head, once the cost of taxi and the tube were factored in. The limos, and the supply of enough bubbly to last the journey, meant we could travel in style.”
Mr Westcott treated his staff to dinner at the Natural History Museum as a thank you for what he describes as a “good year,” in which turnover at the three-year-old business topped £5 million.
The company organises exhibitions at the UK’s leading conference venues, for healthcare practitioners including doctors, pharmacists, dentists and vets. “I was surprised when I heard how much the Virgin tickets were,” he added.
“It’s normally a brand that’s synonymous with being innovative and creative, with a reputation for taking on the big boys.”
A spokeswoman for Virgin Trains said tickets on some routes were widely available at much lower rates than those found by CloserStill.
“The advice is always ‘be flexible and book ahead’, she added, insisting that group travel rates were usually competitive.
“There are some very good deals to be had out there for people who do that, with prices available, between Coventry and London, for as little as £15 one way for anyone travelling off peak.”