Last Updated on September 1, 2019
Great Britain – the birthplace of the train, though inexplicably also home of some of the most expensive train lines in Europe. British trains may not be as punctual or comfortable as their continental counterparts, but they’re still a quick and convenient way to travel across the country. Read on to discover five ways to take the train for less in the UK.
Book a last minute advance ticket
Advance tickets aren’t just for those booking many weeks or even months ahead. It’s actually possible to get an advanced ticket the night before you travel, if there are still seats left on the train you’re after.
As a rule of thumb, make sure you book your advanced tickets by 6pm on the night before you travel, as this is the advance ticket cut off for about half the country’s train companies. The rest cut off at midnight, apart from CrossCountry, who actually let you get a cheaper advanced fare right up until 15 minutes before departure.
With this in mind, there really is no need to pay the full fare at the station, unless all advance seats have been reserved.
If you’re a bit more prepared, then it does help to book early. Train companies in the UK must have their timetable all sorted out at least 12 weeks in advance, so this is when you should start to see cheap tickets.
Look for single tickets instead of returns
Yes, it would make sense for return tickets to be cheaper than two singles, however this isn’t always the case. It’s well worth seeing if you can get a cheaper deal by getting two singles instead of a return.
You may also be tempted to choose an “open return”, which allows you to travel back on at any time within 30 days. However, you do have to pay for the flexibility, and you won’t get a reserved seat. It’s always best to book a specific train to save money, plus you’re guaranteed a seat.
So you’ve saved money by getting two tickets instead of one, but what if you bought four tickets for a return trip? This brings us on to…
Split your tickets
What exactly does splitting your ticket mean? It’s actually a smart money saving tip that everyone travelling by train in the UK should know.
Picture a train that’s travelling from London to Edinburgh via York. You could pay for a ticket for London to Edinburgh, which might cost £100. If you were to split this ticket, you might buy one ticket to York, then the second from York to Edinburgh, which might cost £40 and £30, giving you an overall saving, despite taking the exact same train at the same time. The only difference is you’re doing it with two tickets instead of one.
This is all perfectly legal, however crucially, the train must call at the station you’re splitting your ticket at. That means if in the example above you bought tickets from London to York and York to Edinburgh, the train must stop at York for this to be valid.
So, what’s an easy way to find split tickets that are cheaper than a proper single fare? Money Saving Expert have built their handy Tickety Split calculator – all you need to do is put in your journey’s details and it will tell you what tickets you need. Easy as pie!
Get a railcard if you’re spending over £90
Railcards cut a third off any off-peak ticket prices, and are a great idea for any long distance journeys, not just for frequent travellers. If you’re spending over £90 on tickets, you should be able to make a saving, even when taking into account the cost of the railcard itself.
There are a number of different railcards available, each for different types of users:
- 16-25: for “da yoof”
- Family and Friends: discounted travel for groups of up to 4
- Two Together: for you and your significant other
- Senior: for over 60s
- Disabled Persons: discounted travel for you and a companion
- Network Railcard: discounted tickets in the South of England
Be sure to check whether a travel card can save you money before you buy however, as discounts are not always available at peak-time, which confusingly varies depending on which train operator you’re travelling with.
The best way to do this, is to go onto one of the train ticketing sites and try out the same journey with a railcard applied. You can then calculate how much you’d save.
Choose wisely who you buy tickets from
There’s seven main train ticket sites in the UK, and while most of them can sell you tickets for the same trains, there can actually be variations in pricing for the same route. It’s worth trying each ticket out on a different site to see if you can make a saving.
On top of this, several ticket sites add on extra fees for booking and posting your tickets. For the Lowest fees, try Virgin East Coast, which sell tickets for all operators, or Take The Train. Neither charge booking fees.
As for getting your tickets, rather than getting them delivered, you can always pick them up at the train station, provided there’s a ticket machine. This isn’t a problem at major train stations, where there’ll be several.
Over to you!
What have you done to save money on train travel in the UK? Let us know in the comments below!