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.