10 ways to save on rail fares

The school summer holidays are fast approaching and if you’re planning on travelling by train, why pay a penny more for your rail tickets than you need to?

So, with advance tickets for the summer months starting to be released now (with fares at a fraction of the full walk-on rate), we’ve come up with 10 simple tips to save you money when travelling by train.

1. Snap up tickets as soon as they are released…

Train tickets are generally released 12 weeks before the date of travel, so that’s when you’re most likely to snap up a cheap advance fare. Tickets are currently being sold up to the end of July – so get in there fast!

If you’ve got a trip planned in a few months, put a note in your diary now to remind you to look online for your tickets 12 weeks in advance

2. …or even just the night before

If you’ve missed the 12-week date, however, all is not lost.

Cheaper fares can often still be found online even the night before you travel – so get online and compare fares rather than turning up to the station and simply paying the standard walk-up fare.

3. Look at all of the options

To ensure the ticket you’ve bought is the cheapest one available, use a train ticket comparison service to look at all of the options side by side.

And don’t just assume certain ticket types will always be expensive and discount them as not worth looking at – if you’re lucky, you may be able to bag first-class fares for less than standard-priced tickets.

4. Are two singles cheaper than a return?

Similarly, while you’re considering your travel options, compare the price of buying two singles separately with that of a return ticket as return tickets aren’t always the cheapest option – particularly if you take advantage of offers.

5. Be flexible with your travel times

If you can’t find cheap fares at the exact time or date you’re aiming to travel, search for slightly earlier or later journeys to see whether being more flexible with your timings will result in cheaper prices.

Even if you are restricted to travelling during peak times, when fares tend to be higher, you may find a temptingly low-priced advance fare half an hour before you planned to travel – which will make getting out of bed that bit earlier worthwhile.

If you can be even more flexible, look at the prices when travelling on a different day, too. For example, travelling first thing on a Saturday morning may be cheaper than getting the train on a Friday night – and you could save the price of a hotel room for the night as well.

6. Consider splitting your journey

On some rail routes, it can actually work out cheaper to “split” your journey.

For example, if you’re travelling from Manchester to Newcastle and your train passes through York, it may actually be cheaper to buy separate tickets from Manchester to York, then York to Newcastle, rather than a straight ticket from Manchester to Newcastle.

MoneySavingExpert has a handy tool and app called Tickety Split that allows you to uncover hidden cheaper fares in this way.

7. Don’t pay any booking fees

When you’ve done all of the hard work and found a discounted advance ticket, don’t throw away any money at the last minute by paying a booking fee or a fee for using a credit or debit card. While some rail booking websites add these fees automatically, others such as TravelSupermarket don’t.

8. Or delivery charges

Another charge that can catch you out when you’re ready to purchase your tickets is a delivery fee. Rather than paying a hefty fee to have your tickets delivered to your house – even if you need your tickets the next day – consider all of the other options first.

There will usually be the choice to pick your tickets up from a ticket machine in the station you’re travelling from – currently available in around 1,000 UK stations – while certain train companies will allow you to print off your own tickets or even download them through mobile apps.

9. Look into railcards and season tickets

If you travel regularly, look into the railcards that are available to you to discount fares. You can get a third off many ticket prices with railcards such as the 16-25 Railcard, Senior Railcard, Two Together Railcard, Network Railcard, HM Forces Railcard and Disabled Persons Railcard.

Or, if you’re a commuter and rely on the train for your day-to-day travel, consider buying a season ticket for any period from seven consecutive days to a year.

If you want to work out whether this is the cheapest option for you, National Rail has a handy season ticket calculator to help you do your sums. And, if the overall cost is unrealistic for you, ask whether the company you work for has any schemes for season ticket loans.

10. Do you really need a coffee at the station?

Finally, even if you are a savvy train ticket buyer and always bag the cheapest fares, think carefully about whether other elements of your journey are eating away at your monthly budget.

For example, if you always buy a coffee on the way to the station, could you wait until you reach the office for your caffeine fix and pocket the difference?

Or, if you tend to buy your sandwiches from the on-board shop, consider taking your own packed lunch and put the money you’ve saved towards future travel.

Similarly, is a taxi the only option to get you from the station to the office or would public transport be more cost effective?

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