How to get cheap train tickets

Tip 1: Book early

Tip 2: Be flexible

Tip 3: Get 34% off with a Railcard

Tip 4: Last minute train tickets

Tip 5: Cheap travel around London

Tip 6: Choose

Tip 7: Low-cost First Class tickets

Tip 8: Mix and match for the best fares

Tip 9: Consider a different train operator

Tip 10: Advantages of Off-Peak and Anytime tickets


Tip 1: Book early (back to top)

Generally speaking, the further ahead you book your train tickets, the cheaper they are. Train tickets can often be booked up to 12 weeks ahead.

Advance tickets are often available on longer-distance journeys, but have limited availability – so the earlier you book them, the better.

Advance tickets can only be purchased online, and are not available on the day of travel – but you could still find one the night before you travel. However - because they’re cheap, they’re not flexible and can’t be refunded - you must travel on the train and date specified. The date or time of travel can be amended, for a £10 administration fee plus the price difference (if any) between the new and the old ticket.

Tip 2: Be flexible (back to top)

Travelling on certain days, and at certain times, can be a lot more expensive than others. You could actually save quite a lot if you can be flexible.

The cheapest fares (Off-Peak and Advance) tend to be available around 9am - 2pm on weekdays, after 7pm on weekday evenings and at weekends. Exact times will vary, and Advance tickets won’t be available on every route.

Tip 3: Get 34% off with a Railcard (back to top)

There are nine Railcards:

  • 16-25 (formerly Young Persons) - a third off most train tickets for 15 – 26 year olds, as well as full-time students
  • Senior - available to everyone over the age of 60, giving a third off most train tickets
  • Family & Friends - any adult can buy a Family & Friends Railcard, which gives discounts to groups of adults and children travelling together (members of the group don't need to be related). Minimum group size is one adult and one child; the maximum is four adults and four children; everyone in the group must travel together at all times. Adults save a third off most fares, children save a fantastic 81%
  • Network - any adult can buy a Network Railcard, which provides a third off Off-Peak fares in the South East of England. This is classed as roughly the area bounded by Ipswich, Kings Lynn, Bedford, Northampton, Banbury, Worcester, Didcot, Exeter (via Salisbury only) and Weymouth is covered as far as the south coast including, of course, London
  • Network Gold Card - if you have a First Class Annual Season ticket between any two destinations in the Network area, then you can get a Network Gold Card
  • Disabled Adult / Child - disabled persons can make significant savings on train travel; accompanying adults may also get a discount
  • HM Forces - available to all current members of the Armed Forces, generally giving a third off fares
  • New Deal - available to jobseekers via Jobcentre Plus agencies only. It gives 50% off Standard Class tickets (no discount is available on First Class tickets) in England and Wales

Select any Railcard option and the cheaper fares you can get with your Railcard will be displayed automatically.

Please remember to take your Railcard(s) with you when you travel - otherwise you may be charged the full fare.

Tip 4: Last minute train tickets (back to top)

If you’re travelling tomorrow, book online tonight - there may still be cheap train tickets available.

Advance fares are available on many routes until the day before you travel - so, even if you're travelling tomorrow, you might still be able to save money compared with buying at the station on the day of travel.

Advance fares are always available for purchase until 6 p.m. the day before you travel (unless they're completely sold out) and sometimes until midnight on the day before.

Tip 5: Cheap travel around London with a Travelcard (back to top)

To get around London if you’re planning a day trip, why not buy a Travelcard? It allows unlimited travel on all London Underground (tube) trains, London Overground trains, Transport for London buses and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) within Zones 1 to 6.

Travelcards are available as an integral part of your rail ticket for shorter journeys such as from Cambridge, Brighton, Birmingham or Bristol - just select "London All Zones Travelcard" as your destination. If you're travelling to London from further away (e.g. from Leeds or Newcastle), then Travelcards may not be available as an integrated part of your ticket, but can simply be added to your basket after you've purchased your main ticket.

You might only need a Travelcard for Zones 1 and 2 if you’re visiting Central London (all the main tourist sights are in Zone 1) - simply choose "London" as your destination, then add the Travelcard on the next step.

Note: Travelcards are day tickets and are only available if you are returning from London on the same day as you are travelling to London. They’re not available if you select "Open Return" as an option (i.e. you don't specify the return date of travel), or if you are making a journey in one direction only.

Tip 6: Book online with (back to top)

Always visit to compare train ticket prices from all train operating companies and find great deals on rail travel.

Always check the ‘2 Singles’ tab when looking for a Return ticket, as two singles may work out cheaper.

Tip 7: Low-cost First Class tickets (back to top)

It may sound daft, but Standard Class isn't always cheaper than travelling First Class. First Class may sometimes be cheaper than Standard Class on routes where there are Advance fares, and the quota of Standard Class Advance fares has sold out – so it’s always worth checking!

Advance fares are sold in 'buckets' - for a particular train on a particular day there will be (for example) 50 tickets at the lowest price level in Standard Class, 50 at the next and so on. The same applies for First Class.

If you're lucky, this means you can snap up a First Class ticket for less than the cost of a Standard Class ticket - and benefit from more space, bigger seats and sometimes extra luxuries like free Wi-Fi and complementary snacks and drinks.

This can only happen on routes where Advance fares are available - generally these are the longer distance services such as London to Manchester, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Leeds and so on, operated by Virgin Trains, East Coast, East Midlands Trains, Hull Trains, First Great Western and CrossCountry.

Tip 8: Mix and match your tickets for the best fares (back to top)

Sometimes you'll know exactly what time you're travelling on your outward journey, but not when you’ll be coming back.

If that's the case, you may want to combine two single tickets - an Advance ticket (the cheapest ticket type, but inflexible) for your outward journey and a flexible ticket (either an Off-Peak or Anytime, depending on the time of day you'll be travelling) for your return journey. Just select the "2 Singles" tab when your train times and fares are displayed.

Tip 9: Consider using train services from competing operators (back to top)

On some routes, services are operated by more than one Train Operating Company - and it may pay to choose carefully which operator you travel with. If you’re not worried about journey times, cheaper fares are often available on services that are slower.

Routes with more than one operator include:

Tip 10: Don't forget the advantages of Off-Peak and Anytime tickets (back to top)

It's easy to focus on always getting the cheapest tickets, but often these will be inflexible (Advance) tickets. If you're not certain that you can commit to travelling on a specific train - for instance, you don't know exactly what time a meeting or an event will end - then it may be best to get a flexible ticket. That way you don't end up clock-watching, or worrying about missing your train - you can simply get on the train that suits you.

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