Travel in the UK can be inordinately expensive. If you just show up at your local train station, you can be in for quite a shock when it emerges you'll need to hand over the price of a flight to Spain for a slow trip to Coventry. Fortunately, a staycation or day trip doesn't have to break the bank, because there are plenty of websites designed to find you a cheaper option. We've dug out five of the best, which can halve the price of a trip.
The technique of splitting tickets exploits the anomalies in the rail network. If you were travelling from London to Cardiff, for example, you may find it cheaper to travel from London to Bristol and then Bristol to Cardiff. The rules state that as long as the train stops at a station, you don't have to get off and on again in order to split your journey - just show your new ticket when the guard comes round. In the past it's been a real headache to dig out the discounts, but now there are a few sites that will do this for you. Raileasy will also post the alternative price by coach.
This is a search engine, based on a clever new algorithm from a team of Oxford maths boffins. They search hundreds of millions of ticket combinations to offer cheap train fares. If multiple tickets for the same journey (split ticketing) is cheaper, it will find those too. You can search by the cheapest option, the quickest, or a 'smart' combination of them both.
So, for example, a search from Manchester to London on 6 May for the bank holiday weekend tracked down the cheapest option as £57.80 - or £65 if you wanted the quickest possible journey.
This is another great search engine, but it doesn't just hunt for cheap rail tickets, it looks across coach journeys and discount flights too. Regardless of whether your cheapest option is with Virgin Trains, Ryanair or National Express, it will find the cheapest. A search from Manchester to London on 6 May for the bank holiday tracked down the cheapest option as National Express, at just £14.
One of the best ways to get a good deal is with a railcard. There are all kinds of cards, from family cards, to those offering discounts for two people traveling together, cards for disabled people and youngsters. They can often be a great option even at full price, but you don't necessarily have to pay that much.
Hotukdeals.com lists current deals on cards, and at the moment has information on a disabled railcard for £10 in Tesco vouchers and £5 off a Family and Friends railcard, so is well worth a visit if you are considering buying one.
This is a fairly straightforward train travel search engine, but where it comes into its own is if you are collecting Tesco Clubcard vouchers, because you can swap £5 in Clubcard vouchers for £10 to spend on the site - cutting the price in half without any effort.
How to get cheaper train tickets
How to get cheaper train tickets
Train tickets have never been so expensive. On the ten most popular routes, prices have risen between 141% and 246% since privatisation. Fortunately, there are ways to cut the cost.
Perhaps the biggest saving is by booking in advance. Cheap tickets are available about 12 weeks in advance, so make a note in your diary to check then.
You can tell if you’re too early, because none of the tickets will be marked as ‘limited availability’ and the price for every journey on the day will be the same. When the cheap tickets are released, you’ll see the prices vary depending on the popularity of each particular service.
If you can commit to a particular time, and book well before you travel, you can get an ‘advance’ or ‘super advance’ ticket, which will cut the cost dramatically.
The only proviso is that you need to be certain you will make that specific train, or you will have to buy another ticket at full price on the day.
Buying tickets in advance is always cheaper than on the day, and you don’t have to book it ages before you travel to get an ‘advance’ ticket.
The train companies vary as to how late you can leave it. Some say you must call before 6pm the day before, others before midnight, and a handful of them up to 15 minutes before you travel. It’s worth checking the rules for your train operator, and making a saving even if you only know your plans the day before you travel.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that a return ticket is always cheaper, but in reality it can often be beaten by two single tickets - because some of the best deals are only available on singles.
So before you travel, it’s worth visiting a website like redspottedhanky or thetrainline, both of which show the prices for all the available single and return tickets.
If you don’t need to travel at rush hour, then you can save by buying an off-peak ticket. You’ll need to check with the train operator when it is valid and what the restrictions are, but it can bring the cost down substantially.
If you are traveling at a particularly quiet time of day, you could even get a super off-peak ticket, so if you’re flexible it’s worth checking when the tickets are cheapest. The Journey Planner service on the National Rail site is a useful place to start.
Instead of buying a single ticket, you can split the journey into two or three legs, and buy a ticket for each leg.
There’s no logical explanation for it, but often chopping a journey up can slash the price by as much as 50%, and as long as the train stops in these places you don’t have to get off and on again for the ticket to be valid.
Previously you’d have to do the legwork yourself, trying out different ways of splitting the route, but Trainsplit.com will now do the work for you, and find the cheapest way to split your journey.
As a rough rule of thumb, if you spend £90 or more on train travel each year, you could save money if you qualify for a railcard. This is because most of the cards cost £30 and give you a third off your fares.
There are a number of different cards for different groups of people, including the 16-25 Railcard for younger people, Family and Friends railcard (for adults travelling with children), the Two Together card (for two people travelling together), the Senior railcard for the over 60s, and the Disabled Persons railcard.
If you travel regularly on the same route, a season ticket offers a significant discount.
Don’t forget that you could also save substantially by getting a split season ticket. Given that many annual season tickets have now breached the £5,000 barrier, saving 10% on the cost of the journey will make a real difference to your budget.