How to get cheaper train tickets
Sure, trains can be a bit more pricey than other means of travel, but there's no denying how comfy it can be. Plus, we've got tips to slash the cost of your ticket!
Credit: JackPeasePhotography – Flickr
We all know trains aren't exactly the cheapest form of transport, and prices only seem to be going up! However, depending on where you're travelling to, sometimes you have no other option but to splash out on rail.
But despite prices generally being way higher than they should be (even more expensive than flights! How'd you work that one out, Richard Branson?!) there are loads of tricks you can pull to get a serious discount.
And here they are!…
How to save money on rail travel
Get a railcard
Seriously, you'll kick yourself if you don’t get yourself one of these. This card will save you a bucketload even from the very first time you use it, so it's particularly handy if you've moved to the opposite end of the country for uni.
Student railcards will save you one-third off every train ticket you buy and it costs just £30 a year. It may sound a bit on the pricey side, but if you travel just a couple of times a year you'll be making a major saving.
If you don't qualify for the 16-25 railcard, and normally travel along with someone else, it might be an idea to get a two together railcard instead. This will also get you a third off all fares (as long as you're travelling after 9.30am Mon-Fri) and costs £30.
A super sneaky tip is you can make your railcard last until you're 27 if you buy a 3-year card just before your 24th birthday (up to the day before your birthday, to be precise!). Once you hit 24, you'll only qualify for a 1-year card, so think ahead and you could save yourself a mint.
You can also currently get a four year railcard for free when you open a Santander student account! Woohoo!
Never travel at peak times
To avoid the risk of a seat-deprived journey, make sure you reserve a seat when you book your ticket.
You’ll find the price of your train ticket rockets at weekends and during rush hours (before 9 and just after 5).
It’s not just expensive to travel at peak times, but you're also more likely to be left standing for the entire journey (or crouched outside the bogs like our man Corbyn!) since it tends to get really over-crowded and no one wants that hassle.
Rail booking sites will notify you of peak times when you book, so take care to avoid them.
Book in advance
Early bird gets the worm and all that! The best time to book your tickets is 10-12 weeks before you travel, but even if you don't manage until one week before, it can make a big difference.
This is particularly relevant to those travelling across the UK who may find themselves paying £200+ on the day of travel, but even just a week or two in advance can save as much as 43% on your journey.
Advance tickets almost always work out cheaper (even if they're bought just a day or two before travel), but again, it's always worth doing your homework to make sure this is the case as ticket prices can be really unpredictable.
Split up your journey
If you have a long journey that passes through several major stations, it might be worth checking the price of booking each leg of the journey separately rather than buying a single ticket straight to your destination.
For example, if you're travelling from London to Edinburgh and the train passes through Newcastle, it might actually work out cheaper to buy two singles (London – Newcastle and Newcastle – Edinburgh) than one direct, even though you have no intention of switching trains or getting out your seat!
Amazingly, it can sometimes work out cheaper even though it's the same journey – a discount for the extra hassle or switching trains!
It may take you another 10 minutes to look around for the tickets and split your journey in a number of ways but you could make some decent savings.
Remember returns aren't always cheaper
Similar to splitting your journey up along the way, you can also divide a return journey into two single ticket to see if it works out any cheaper. However, it's worth knowing that in most cases, it will cost pretty much the same for a single as it does for a return.
It's just a matter of doing your research. Sites like Trainline actually show you the price of two singles in comparison with the cost of a return so you can see which works out cheapest.
Wait for sales
This isn't the most convenient, particularly if you have an exact date in mind that you'd like to travel.
But if you can handle waiting around for deals to happen, some of the flash sales from companies like Virgin Rail are really crazy. For a company that often has journeys priced at £150+, it's not unusual for them to offer £5 tickets during flash sales.
Check if Megatrain covers your route
Our beloved Megabus began offering budget train seats a decade ago, but they're often overlooked as an option since the routes they offer can be quite limited.
However, if you're travelling within England this is definitely worth looking into, as tickets are often as low as £1 plus 50p booking fee and the most you'll pay for a ticket is £7!
How it works is that Megatrain sell off seats on the less popular routes/times at a discounted price, which is why you won't have seen any bright blue and yellow Megatrains on the rails – Megatrain tickets will get you a seat on South West trains, East Midland Trains and Virgin.
Bring your own snacks and drinks
Credit: Kelly Sue DeConnick – flickr
Food on the train is extremely overpriced, so save yourself a mint by bringing your own!
Buying some sandwiches at a nearby supermarket will work out cheaper (although nowhere too close to the station, as the mark-ups can be high), but throwing something together at home and popping in a Tupperware box is even smarter!
Use a cashback site
Before heading straight to the website of the rail company to book your tickets, it's worth knowing that you could actually earn cash back on the money you spend if you go via a cashback site first.
Registering with cashback services like Quidco or Topcashback can see you earning a fixed about on cash back on your ticket, or in some cases get your journey free!
Check out our guide to using cashback sites for more info on how to do this.
Top 5 ticket companies to book with
Pros: Great money-saving tools, free ticket postage.
Cons: £1 mobile app booking charge + credit card fee.
We are loving Trainline these days, mostly because of their ‘best fare finder' tool that shows clearly the cheapest prices available months in advance.
They also recently had a bit of a revamp of the app, meaning it's now really easy to use and you can travel with a mobile ticket rather than picking up tickets (don't forget to activate your ticket at least 10 minutes before you travel).
Pros: Money saving tools, reward points.
Cons: £1 booking fee for app, between 25p-£1.50 booking fee when using website (depending on price of tickets)
RedSpottedHanky were by far the best in the past due to not having any additional fees (booking, card or postage). However, they've recently introduced a £1 booking fee as well as £1 for ticket postage, which we're not happy about!
There still aren't any card fees included though, and you can pick up your tickets from the station for free, so they're still one of the best value sites.
A little added bonus is that you can earn 1 reward point for every £1 you spend with their loyalty scheme. Each point is worth a penny, so it's not much, but similar to the rates supermarket reward schemes offer.
Pros: No booking fees, no card fees, free ticket postage.
Cons: Slightly basic site.
In recent months, this site has become a favourite among train travellers. They are one of the only sites left to charge absolutely no fees (and we hope that lasts!).
The site design is a bit dated, but that's pretty much our only complaint with these guys!
Pros: Great fare finder tool, no booking fee.
Cons: Fairly limited site.
The Virgin Trains website is great for getting deals on longer journeys, and despite their high prices they often run flash sales that see tickets going for as little as £5!
If you're feeling like really treating yourself, you can upgrade to first class for £25 on weekends with any regular ticket.
First TransPennine Express
Pros: No booking fees.
Cons: Few helpful tools.
First Transpennine Express can sometimes be cheaper than the rest for booking long distance journeys.
As always, it's just a matter of making sure you cover all the bases to make sure you're getting the best price on your tickets!
If you've covered all of the above but still can't find tickets within your budget, it's definitely worth checking out coach travel instead as this tends to be much cheaper.