If you feel exasperated by the cost of train travel you’re not alone. But with a little know-how it is possible to cut the cost of tickets whenever you travel.
Follow these steps to find out how you can save a bundle on rail fares.
1. Book in advance
If you know when you want to travel, booking your train tickets early is a must.
Advance Fare tickets are available to buy up to 12 weeks in advance and are usually significantly cheaper than the price you’d pay on the day.
It’s really a case of the earlier you book the better as the cheapest seats are likely to go first.
You can set up alerts on TheTrainLine.com to make sure you’re first in the queue – they’ll send you an email reminder as soon as tickets for your journey go on sale, so you’ll be less likely to miss out on the best rates.
That said, even if you’re travelling at short notice you could still save by buying an advance ticket; they're often still available the day before departure.
Sometimes, if you're lucky, cheap advance fares will still be available on the day. You will need to book before you get to the station so it's always worth doing a quick search before you leave home.
2. Grab a railcard
If you travel by train on a regular basis then applying for a railcard could be an easy way to start saving money.
Railcards give you discounts of up to 1/3 on each and every ticket you buy.
However, there is an initial outlay involved so it’s important to make sure that you travel by train often enough to justify the annual price.
Work out whether the minimum amount you’re likely to save is greater than the cost of the card to see if it's worth your while. That said, even if you are an infrequent traveller it’s worth checking whether a railcard could help you to cut the cost of a long journey.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the railcards on offer:
Anyone under 26 or in full time education can buy a 16-25 Railcard which gives the holder 1/3 off rail travel across Britain. These cost £26 and are valid for one year.
Family & Friends Railcard
If you regularly travel as a family you could save a 1/3 on adult tickets and up to 60% on children’s tickets with a Family & Friends railcard. The only restriction is that you have to be travelling with a child to use it. A one year card cost £26 and can be used by 2 adult cardholders.
Anyone over the age of 60 who holds a passport and driving licence could save a third on standard and first class rail travel with a Senior railcard . A one year card costs £26.
Disabled Persons Railcard
If you receive disability-related benefits or are registered deaf you could save money with a Disabled Persons railcard . It will entitle you to 1/3 off rail fares and you can use the card to save on tickets for a friend travelling with you too. A one year card costs £18 for those who are eligible. You can check eligibility requirements on the Disabled Persons Railcard website .
For £25 a year you can apply for a Network railcard which will give you 1/3 off most adult travel tickets in London and the South East of England. These also give you up to 60% off child tickets and are available to all.
3. Invest in a season ticket
If you travel to work on the train each day or make several journeys a week, a season ticket for your regular route could offer substantial savings.
Although they can easily cost thousands of pounds, compared to buying tickets individually season tickets often work out cheaper in the long run.
To find out whether buying a season ticket is worth your while you need to:
If the price of a season ticket is less than your estimate, investing in one is likely to make sense.
4. Split your tickets
Rather than buying a single ticket coving your whole journey, it can work out cheaper to split your fare.
There are a number of ways to split your tickets and it’s worth checking whether any could help cut the cost before you book.
Your options are:
To make the most of ticket splitting you’ll need to think about where and when you travel and which stations are enroute. You'll then be able to compare the price of a single, continuous ticket with the amount you'd pay in total if you split your fare.
It's worth noting that even if you split your tickets between stations you won't necessarily need to leave the train unless you have to make a switch. You'll simply hold different tickets for different parts of your journey instead of one for the whole thing.
If you find a ticket-split that saves you money make sure you note the details down when you book so you can save time searching the next time you make the journey.
5. Check for carnets
If you tend to travel on the same route but only on a semi-regular basis then buying a carnet could save you money.
A carnet is where you buy 10 journeys for the price of 9, or similar, so you get a free journey for buying in bulk.
Carnets are usually valid for 6 months and you can often share them with friends and family who make the same journey – although you should always check this when buying.
Providing you use all the tickets before they expire a carnet will save you money, however if you don’t then you’ll end up losing out.
Most train networks offer carnets so ask at your local train station or visit the MyTrainTicket website as it lists the rail networks which offer them.
6. Book via Megatrain
If you can be flexible about the time you travel then you should always check megatrain.com before you book your tickets.
Megatrain sell ultra cheap train tickets on mainstream networks such as South West trains, Virgin trains and East Midlands trains. They start from as little as £1 per journey (plus a 50p booking fee) and although you'll be sat in the same carriage as every other traveller you’ll pay only a fraction of the price!
Megatrain release their tickets 45 days before a departure and cheap seats on popular routes get snapped up quickly, so you need to make sure you check and book your ticket as soon as possible.
7. Search for special offers
Train providers, like the shops on the high street, will from time to time run special offers and promotions on train tickets.
As well as more traditional ticket sales and discounted routes, these offers often include the likes of free children’s tickets, discounted weekend travel or family discounts, so make sure you check before you travel.
You can find out about the latest offers by signing up to receive newsletters from money.co.uk, your local rail networks and the Trainline.com, or by checking the National Rail website.
8. Travel in a group
If you are planning a train journey with several other people you could save money by booking as a group.
Most train companies now offer discounts on group tickets which can be anything up to 70% off what you'd pay if you travelled individually.
So, if you are planning a journey for 4 or more people check your travel company's website to see if you can save by travelling on a group ticket.
9. Get cashback
Don’t forget to check whether you can get cashback on your tickets when you book online as you could find yourself building up quite a saving if you travel regularly.