The New Year brought with it the usual hikes in rail fares, hitting British travellers with a price increase of as much as 2.5 per cent, and pushing the cost of some annual season tickets to in excess of £5,000. Therefore it pays to do your homework when it comes to train travel - here are a few tips to help you find the cheapest fares on offer.
If you know well in advance when you need to travel, start your ticket search early to find the best prices. Timetables are typically set 12 weeks in advance, and this is often when the cheapest tickets are on offer.
Try www.nationalrail.co.uk as your first port of call. Here you can research your ticket in advance and look for the cheapest deals. Don't despair if your trip is a bit last minute. Some advance tickets are available as late as 24 hours before you travel so it's worth buying your ticket as early as you can.
Check your rail provider's website before booking anything. They might have a promotional discount to lower the price further. There are sites that will help you get the cheapest advance booking, such as www.thetrainline.com, which also operates a Ticket Alert service so that you can keep ahead of the pack, and www.raileasy.co.uk, although you may be charged a nominal booking fee.
Many passengers simply can't be bothered with the hassle of ticket splitting, but it could knock a significant amount off the price. Provided your initial ticket stops at the station where you plan to switch trains, you can split tickets, whether or not it involves two separate rail operators. And thankfully there are no services that take all the hard work out of searching, so try Money Saving Expert's Split Cheap Train Tickets tool or the Split Your Ticket website to see if you can save money.
The likes of Takethetrain.co.uk and redspottedhanky.com are well worth a try if you want to quickly find rail ticket deals. Thetrainline.com is another well-known booking service which offers discounted prices, though you will have to pay a booking fee and charge for using a credit card, while the aforementioned sites won't.
If you're planning an intercity rail journey, Megatrain.com has some serious bargains on offer, with some as little as £1. The less popular journeys and less popular times are where you'll find the real bargains, and tickets, which are typically released 45 days before the date of travel, must be purchased in advance.
There are a variety of railcards on offer to varying groups or traveller types, and if you find the right one for your particular rail habits, you could certainly save money. Last year the Two Together card was launched, offering pairs and couples a third off rail fares when travelling together. What used to be the Young Person's railcard, now the 16-25 railcard, costs £30 a year, or £70 for three years, and according to National Rail, could save users £161 a year. Similarly, the Family & Friends card is aimed at those travelling with children aged five to 15, and allows for up to four adults and four children travelling on one card, and providing a potential annual saving of £117. The Senior Railcard, for over-60s, costs £30 for a possible £106 average annual saving, while the Disabled Person's Railcard costs £20, and gives discounts for both the holder and a carer. To find out more about any of the above, visit railcard.co.uk.
In addition, many train companies offer a discount for those travelling as part of a group with 'Groupsave'. This allows three or four adults or children to travel for the price of two adults on various off-peak fares, plus up to four children accompanying the group for a ticket price of £1 each.
Unfortunately, for those who commute to work or make the same journey on three or more occasions each week at peak times, there are not too many bargains to be had, but depending on your specific requirements, it is worth looking at weekly, monthly or annual season tickets, since you will almost certainly save money in the long run. The National Rail website provides a season ticket calculator that will enable you to compare costs.
Have you managed to save money on your rail travel, and how? Leave your comments below...