Whether it’s standing on a wind-tunnel platform doing your best impression of Jack Nicholson at the end of the Shining or sweating it out stood up in the aisle, train travel can be nightmarish. Still, with no money for petrol, insurance or the MOT, it’s often the only way to get from A-B. And on the rare occasion it’s not late or overcrowded, it’s not such a bad way to get around.
If you’re visiting friends or just popping home to reassure the family that you’re not dead yet, there are always ways to get cheaper tickets.
Book ahead – like, 12 weeks ahead.
The closer you get to your departure date, the more ticket prices take off like they’ve got dreams of working at NASA, so book as far in advance as you can before they skyrocket once more. Don’t put it off; the prices can go up by a couple of quid every night.
You’re looking at a maximum of 12 weeks before you travel , which is when Network Rail are legally obliged to announce their timetables. Because tickets don’t always go on sale exactly 12 weeks in advance (it’s not a science) it’s well worth making a bookmark out of this National Rail calendar which fills you in on the earliest you can book up for a journey.
…or the night before
If you’ve forgotten all about booking and are travelling soon, don’t think ‘damn, I’ve missed my chance.’ You haven’t. You can always pick up an ‘advance’ ticket at the last minute; most companies offer them up to 6pm the night before you travel and some even later than that. It might only be a couple of quid you save but hey, use it for a much needed coffee on the way home.
Split the fare
One way of getting from to A to B without splashing out is to split the fare and buy tickets for separate parts of the journey. No, it shouldn’t work but it does, it’s just one of those beautiful little mysteries of the world.
It works like so:
- Find out the route your journey takes (a quick google does wonders) and jot down what stations the train stops at.
- Spend ten minutes and rather than pay for a return ticket, price it by singles.
- Think about getting more than one single for the journey – so if you’re going Sheffield to Reading, try buying a ‘Sheffield to Banbury’ ticket and then a ‘Banbury to Reading’ ticket on the same service.
Try it now; we booked up for this evening and saved the best
part of £6. For an off peak fair, this can look more like £30 and if you
book up those crucial 12 weeks in advance, you could save £100s over a
walk-on fare. We’ve found this great little site which should help out.
If this doesn’t work for you, double check the price of singles vs returns as on the odd occasion, it’s cheaper to book two singles than a return.
Don’t pay peak fare on a long journey
Peak train times: Before 9.30 am, or 10am in some regions and between 4pm and 7pm.
You’ve heard those announcements saying ‘this is a peak time train, only peak time tickets will be accepted.’ And you also know peak time train fares cost way over the odds – sometimes as much as double.
If the journey you’re taking is a long one, it’s unlikely your train will always be running in peak times. Check to see what portion of your journey is peak and what isn’t (the easiest way to do this is simply to see what time it’s passing through stations) and book accordingly. On the national rail website, it will say if a train is peak-time or not.
If it’s a long journey, this can save you £100s of pounds – seriously. Definitely put the time in to get the best results.
Pick up a railcard
A young person’s railcard is £28. But it’ll save you 1/3 on all your train journeys, so you’ll almost certainly make your money back within a couple of hours. Just be sure to always carry your railcard with you as the ticket inspectors tend not to understand if you’ve forgotten yours – and they will charge a penalty.
Buy from the right place
It used to be that different websites tended to charge slightly different fares for tickets but most have caught on and prices tend to be flat across the board. What you can do, though, it make sure you avoid all booking fees and pick up rewards when you’re getting your tickets.
Who's out there?
|Provider||Booking fee?||Credit card charge?||Debit card charge? ||Any extras?|
|Red Spotted Hanky ||None.||None.||None. ||Free ticket postage. Loyalty scheme available to earn points on your purchases. Tesco clubcard points are worth double if used as payment.|
|The Trainline ||£1 per booking.||£3.50||None.||Free ticket postage.|
|East Coast ||None.||None.||None. ||None.|
|Raileasy ||£1 on tickets over £10, £2 on tickets under £10.||2.5% of ticket price.||50p.||None. |
|Take the train ||None.||None.||None.||Free ticket postage. Highlights the cheapest prices very obviously.|
As should be obvious, avoid the places that charge anything at all costs – they take far too much cash off your hands. You just want the ticket, right? You'll find the cheapest with any of them and we think they're all as trustworthy as each other.
Watch out for deals
Around Christmas time, there’s usually a few deals running around because the ticket sellers are jostling to get your custom. Red Spotted Hanky teamed up with us to give away 30,000 £10 ticket vouchers on a first come, first served basis so students can save a little extra on their fare –or even get a ticket free. These sort of deals tend to be short lived (this one has just finished) but they do come up from time to time. Keep checking our facebook page and deals page for more offers.
If the train is delayed – claim the cash back
It might take a few minutes to fire up your letter (ok, email) writing skills but if the train is seriously delayed you can often get some, or even all, of your money back. Which is nice – have read of this to find out how.