The start of the year saw the biggest jump in rail fares in five years and with spiralling train travel cost, Brits continue to pay more for a poorer service.
Last year 1 in 25 trains cancelled or severely delayed and more recently there were thousands of train delays and cancellations over the Easter break, but train travel is unavoidable for most of us going to work, school or university each day or making the long distance trips to visit friends and family further afield.
Whether you’re a daily rail user or tend to use the rail network less frequently, there are effective ways to keep travel costs down – the trick is knowing which option to choose and when.
From investing in a railcard if you’re a regular commuter to booking train tickets well in advance to snap up the best available price for your journey, travelling around the UK via rail doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. Below we have rounded up some of the simplest ways to save on fares to help you out.
Get a Railcard
Before you book, check to see if you’re eligible for any discount railcards on railcard.co.uk, which will save you money throughout the year on regular journeys.
Railcards are available for anyone under 26, over 60, disabled or with a family (discounts only if you travel with at least one child), and cost around £30 for a year.
The discounts can be used on all Standard and First Class Anytime, Off-Peak and Advanced fares, although most will only work on journeys taken after 9:30am in the morning on weekdays).
With the introduction of digital Railcards, travellers now have the option to instantly buy and download one straight to the Railcard App (via Google Play or iTunes) on a smartphone. Once downloaded rail commuters can start saving straight away – and if the phone battery dies the Railcard can be swapped on to another smart phone device.
One of the best ways to save on fares is to split up your ticket.
For example, it can be cheaper to book a ticket from Liverpool to Crewe, then Crewe to London, than to simply buy a ticket for the whole journey.
It’s perfectly legal as long as the train you’re on stops at the stations you’ve bought tickets from.
TrainSplit is a great tool to use online if you’re planning to use this trick. The handy website does all the calculations for you, working out how much you’ll save. We’ve got a complete guide on how to TrainSplit using the tool on Raileasy.co.uk.
Book 12 weeks in advance
Train companies release a handful of cheap seats for each journey they make around 12-weeks before the date of travel.
These early bird tickets can save you as much as 80 per cent off when compared with the cost of tickets brought much closer to the date of travel. Using that principle means booking a ticket from London to Edinburgh in advance could save you around £100 off.
If you can’t book that far in advance, you can still make big savings by booking even just a week or so early – tickets and travel details can be checked and booked online via websites like the thetrainline.com.
Use Virgin Train’s best fare finder
If you’re taking a Virgin Train and know the exact dates and times you’ll be travelling, booking in advance using the best fare finder tool can save you a small fortune.
Early bird peak single fares, booked up to 24-hours in advance, to major cities like Manchester, Birmingham or Liverpool can be bought from as little as £7.50.
Tickets do tend to sell out quickly, especially during peak periods throughout the year so to be in with the best chance of snapping up tickets for the cheapest price it is advisable to book three months in advance if you can.
There’s also a Virgin Trains hack that could get you a return ticket for half the price which is ideal for anyone looking for cheap long-distance train travel along the West Coast main line to and from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Free cashback sites like TopCashback.co.uk can offer fantastic savings on train tickets purchased online.
Right now the cashback site is offering all new members £15 cashback on train tickets bought via LOCO2 costing £15 or more.
The handy offer is valid until midnight on 2 June, so if you’re planning a late May bank holiday getaway or a day trip with the kids now is the time to book to save some extra cash. Follow the steps below to redeem the bonus.
Sign up to TopCashback.co.uk for free.
Find the £15 cashback on purchases at LOCO2 deal for new members on the link and click through to LOCO2 to make a purchase.
Up to £15 cashback will then track in members’ accounts within seven working days and will become payable to transfer into bank accounts approximately 14 working days after the deal end date subject to a successfully tracked purchase.
If you spend less than £15 you will only be paid out the amount of your transaction and if the cost of your tickets is over £15 you will only be paid £15 towards your order. This deal is wholly funded by TopCashback, not LOCO2 and the cashback bonus only becomes payable 14 working days after the date of the purchase is reported to TopCashback.
If you’re wondering what a cashback site actually is and how it all works read our cashback FAQ guide.
Use National Rail’s cheapest fare finder
The National Rail website has a useful Cheapest Fare Finder, which anyone can use to check the lowest possible fare for all UK train operators across all routes.
The simple tool is ideal for planning trips between one day and three months in advance, all you need to do is select your preferred dates and time using the widget and wait for the results.
If your dates or times are flexible you may even be able to score some additional savings by taking an earlier or later train or travelling a day earlier or later instead.
Consider a season ticket
If you’re a going to make the same journey periodically over a week or month, it is probably worth buying a season ticket instead of paying for train travel daily.
For instance, if you’re making a regular trip from London to Birmingham buying a monthly travelcard will work out cheaper than buying a weekly, and both options are far cheaper than buying a ticket daily.
Travellers are advised to use the National Rail Season Ticket Calculator to work out the costs and savings for their trip. If you’re buying a monthly season ticket for 10 months then an annual Season Ticket is probably the cheapest option.
Investing in an annual ticket may also mean you can qualify for a Annual Gold Card which offers additional perks and discounts that can be redeemed throughout the year.
Don’t buy at ticket machines
Using a ticket machine to buy your fare could mean you automatically miss out on the best price.
Most in-station ticket machines do not advertise discounted or group tickets so work out a lot more expensive, compared to buying in advance online or over the counter. If you want to save, avoid doing this at all costs and if you have left it to the last minute, buy at the counter.
Don’t buy a return ticket
Train tickets are priced in a highly complicated way and very often two single tickets can actually work out cheaper than a return. This is especially true if you know the time of the train you’re getting back.
The trick of using singe tickets can be used on both advance and on the day fares, it’s best to check online and compare the cost of two single journeys versus a return option. If you also use the split ticket trick you can save even more cash on top.