Most of the population needs to move around from place to place to perform our day-to-day tasks. We travel to make a living, for education, for exploration, for our enjoyment, and more. For many of us who cannot drive, myself included, we need a means of transport – The biggest one being by train.
Despite how much it angers many of us, rail fares are forever on the rise. As we go to purchase our first ticket of each new year, we always seem to do the usual “Oh, that’s gone up”. In 2018, train tickets increased by an average of 2.9%, in 2019 an average of 2.8%, and in 2020 they increased by 2.4%.
“Rail fares in Great Britain increased by 2.4% in January 2020 compared with a 2.7% rise in the January 2020 Retail Prices Index (RPI).”Office of Rail and Road, Rail fare statistics 2020
And we can assume it will increase again in 2021.
So, whether it is for work, school, or even an inbound holiday, the same train journey can cost you a lot if you do not know how to plan or know how to find the best deal. But we are here to help! Here are some easy ways to save money when searching for cheap train tickets:
- Get a Railcard
- Book your tickets in advance.
- Set a mobile alert for cheap train tickets.
- Do not travel at peak times.
- Be flexible.
- Compare the cost of a return fare to the cost of two singles.
- Be wary of online booking charges.
- Purchase a season, monthly, or weekly ticket.
- Split your journey into parts
- Travel in a group
- Bonus Tip: Always apply for a refund with train delays
1. Get A Railcard
There are many side benefits of having a Railcard, however, the main one is the discounted train tickets. The discounts do vary according to the type of Railcard you are using, ranging from 30-60%. In the UK, you can get the following Railcards:
|16-17 Saver||50%||Need to be 16-17 years old||1 year – £30|
|16-25||33.33%||Need to be between 16-25||1 year – £30, 3 year – £70|
|26-30||33.33%||Need to be between 26-30||1 year – £30|
|Two together||33.33%||Need to be over 16 and travelling together||1 year – £30|
|Family and Friends||33.33% – adults, 60% – kids||4 adults and 4 kids max.||1 year – £30, 3 year – £70|
|Disabled Persons||33.33% for you and a caregiver||Proof of disability related benefit||1 year – £20, 3 year – £54|
|Network railcard||60% in London and South East, 33.33% outside||Need to be min. 16 years old. Max group size 4 adults, 4 kids||1 year – £30|
|Senior railcard||33.33%||Min. 60 years old||1 year – £30, 3 year – £70|
You can check the restrictions of the above and apply for each on the Railcard website.
2. Book your tickets in advance
On the day ticket booking for a train journey can often cost more than a booking in advance. But did you know, according to the Trainline, if you book an Advance train ticket 12 weeks ahead of your journey, you can save up to 61% of the total fare.
The caveat on this is there is only a set number of tickets available at this discounted price. The longer you wait, the fewer tickets there will be, and the discount will keep reducing until it is too late. So, you need to be quick and set up an alert for when they come available, which leads us to our next point.
3. Set an alert for cheap train tickets
Many websites and apps provide you an option to set an alert for when or if the price of a train ticket goes down. You simply enter your email, departure and destination locations, any dates, and then click submit. And then you play the waiting game.
4. Avoid traveling during peak times
There are certain days and times when the train stations and platforms are more crowded than any other days. This is often referred to as ‘peak time’ – usually 06:30-10:00 and 16:00 – 19:00. And with this, train fares are much higher. Not only that, but many Railcards are also not valid during peak travel times.
You will find that different locations have different peak periods, dependent on the area type. As in, larger cities like London tend to use the above peak times, whereas smaller towns and cities use 06:30 – 09:00 and 1630-1830.
If you are not travelling for work or school, you should consider travelling during off-peak or super off-peak times. This is because your tickets will be cheaper, and you can use your Railcard discounts. If you must travel at peak time, set up an alert to book your ticket in advance.
5. Be flexible on days
If the journey is not an immediate priority/ emergency, being flexible on the day you travel can also save you money on your train ticket. You may find that there are some cheaper Advance tickets left on certain days that have not been allocated yet! You may also find that Friday and Sunday ticket prices are higher than other days due to weekend getaway travellers.
6. Compare the cost of two single tickets to a return ticket
It is common to think that a return fare should be better value for money, but this is not always the case. If you need a return ticket, before booking, compare the cost of two single tickets for that route. You may find that the price is cheaper for the two singles, even if only a few pence.
7. Be wary of booking charges
If booking your tickets online, you will find that many websites and apps add a small amount of total train fare for booking a ticket. You should take this into your calculations when looking at the savings you are getting on the ticket. You do not want to be paying more for your train tickets than they are normally!
8. Get a season ticket
If you are a frequent traveller where your route does not vary with time (e.g. to and from work/ school), you should look into buying a season ticket. You can get a season ticket on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. Even if you only work 5 days a week, a 7-day weekly ticket is still cheaper than 5 return tickets. If you buy a yearly season ticket, you get 12 months of travel for the price of 10!
9. Divide your journey into parts
Instead of booking one ticket for a direct journey, use a ticket-splitting website, such as Splitmyfare, try to divide your journey into different sections. You may find that the total cost of these multiple tickets is much cheaper than the direct route, even though you’re on the same train! The longer the journey, the higher the potential savings.
10. Travel in a group
If you know you are going to be travelling with a group, be sure to book together. By doing so, you will be eligible for Groupsave which will give you a 34% discount on the total cost. You must be travelling during off-peak times with a minimum of 3 people up to a max of 9. However, you can get around this and split your group into two or more– E.g. if there are 11 people, just split into two groups of 5 and 6.
11. Bonus Tip: Always apply for a refund with train delays
Not a way of getting a cheap train ticket, but – If the train is delayed by more than 15 minutes or cancelled, you are eligible to get either a partial or full refund of the fare. As soon as the delay hits the 15-minute mark, open the Delay Repay page for the train operator in your location and submit your details and ticket information.
I created an account with Southeastern for this very reason and have received a lot in compensation, be it in cash or train ticket vouchers. One time, I even got a taxi home as all trains were cancelled, and they reimbursed the full amount on top of the ticket price (came to almost £100!)
I hope these tips have been insightful and hope you can now find the best deal when you are booking your next train journey!
James Banerjee is a Senior Account Manager who graduated from the University of Kent in 2014. He works in SEO on clients such as HSBC UK and Nestle and he has a keen interest in personal finances and money-saving advice.