Jul 04

Cheap train tickets – transport for less

Reading Time: 9 mins

Autumn is here but don’t mope and moan about it – get on a train and see a bit more of good old Blighty! Come rain or shine now’s a great time to book cheap train tickets and get away while you can! Prices may have gone up recently, but buying your train tickets early could save you literally hundreds of pounds. We’re often asked “where can I find the cheapest train tickets?” so we’ve put together the golden rules on how to save money on train travel – plus we’ve collected the best money-off deals around.

Current travel deals!

As well as finding cheaper tickets on their websites, individual train companies also often have loads of fantastic deals on offer. Many of these will be sent out each week in a special newsletter, so it’s worth signing up to see how much you can save.


  • Get 2 for 1 entry on loads of top London attractions including London Zoo, London Aquarium and Madame Tussauds.
  • 2 for 1 Kent offers, with 2 for 1 deals on entry into Canterbury Cathedral, and Leeds Castle among others.
  • Get a weekender ticket which allows passengers to travel over the weekend at a reduced cost.

East Coast:

  • Special offers on top attractions, shows, and restaurants in London;

For loads more great deals check out their special offers page, and sign up to their newsletter to be the first to hear about any new deals.

First Great Western:

  • 2 for 1 offers on top attractions in London
  • 2 for 1 offers on restaurants, hotels and attractions in loads of historic cities including Bath, Bristol, Oxford and Salisbury.

Sign up to their newsletter to be the first to read about any special offers!

Cross Country:

  • WIN free train tickets! Exclusive to registered customers, every time you sign in and buy tickets you’ll be entered into a prize draw to win FREE train tickets.
  • Get 2 for 1 meals with the Gourmet Society, or 25% off food and drink at thousands of top restaurants.

For further deals sign up to their newsletter.

Red Spotted Hanky: For fantastic savings and benefits start using Red Spotted Hanky. It’s a great new site that lets you book your train tickets quickly and easily and saves passengers an average of 51% compared with buying the tickets in the station on the day of travel.

On top of all that, there are no extra fees for booking or delivery (apart from next day delivery) and you can earn loyalty points that can then be used to knock money off the cost of future tickets!

There are seven golden rules to bear in mind when looking to save money on train tickets:

Golden Rules

Rule One: Buy early and avoid the walk-on fares

Complicated ticket names are a thing of the past – there are now just three categories for all tickets, (whether they are single or return, standard or first class): Advance, Off-peak and Anytime.

Advance tickets are where the real savings can be made. If you can avoid it, never turn up on the day you wish to travel and buy your ticket there and then, book early and you can avoid the extortionate walk-on fares.

  • The best time to book is between 10 and 12 weeks before you plan to travel – this is when tickets are first released and the prices are at their lowest.
  • Don’t worry if you can’t book that early. Surprisingly, some advance tickets are actually still available at a reduced rate up to 6pm the night before, so you can still make significant savings.
  • The good news is that you can use any railcards on advance tickets, making the price even cheaper!

The only downfall to buying an advance ticket is that you’ll be tied to a specific time, date and train. So if you’re willing to be less flexible you can slash your costs.

Rule Two: Buy online for extra savings is the best place to start planning your journey, as it covers all train routes. You can find out prices, the quickest routes, train times and even book your tickets all through this site.

If you can, find out which train company you’ll be travelling with and check the websites of the operators and third party retailers (like the Trainline or Raileasy) for special offers. There’s also a great discount site run by National Rail called Days Out Guide which is worth checking – they’ve got a free newsletter that delivers all the latest deals and offers straight to your inbox.

Find all the contact details and websites for UK train operators on the National Rail website.

Ticket Alerts

Sign up to online ticket alerts to be the first to know when Advance tickets go on sale:

  • Cross Country
  • East Coast Trains
  • The Trainline

Online Discounts

There are also often online discounts and website only special offers so check out the train companies websites to pick up any extra discounts.

Here are some of the major online booking sites:

  • East Coast Trains: They cover travel along the east coast from London to Edinburgh passing through York, Leeds and Newcastle. There don’t charge any booking fees, and you can get a 10% discount for buying online.
  • Megatrain: If you book early enough there are sometimes £1 fares (plus 50p booking fee) up for grabs through Megatrain, they cover destinations from Inverness to Penzance so you may well pick up a great bargain.
  • The Trainline: Has a £1 booking fee and charges a flat fee of £3.50 for credit card payments. This fee can be avoided if you book by debit card.
  • Raileasy: Has a £1 booking fee on a purchase over £10 or a £2 fee for purchases under £10, plus a 50p debit card fee. However, because it charges 2.5% for credit card purchases instead of a flat fee, it will be cheaper than The Trainline for smaller credit card purchases.
  • SouthernRailyway: Has a £5 return ticket for bookings made far enough in advance and £1 off-peak travel for kids under 15. Three or four friends can travel for the price of two, saving everyone 50%.

If you can be flexible The Trainline has a best fare finder. To use it you need to enter your destination and when you’re thinking of travelling. The tool will then find you the cheapest day and time to travel.

You can choose to see results for up to three months depending on how flexible you are. This clever little tool is perfect if you’re more concerned about how much you want to save rather than when you go and is perfect for students who can use it to decide when the best time to visit home and friends without forking out a fortune.

Rule Three: Check your ticket options

Single vs Return

Sometimes it may actually be cheaper to buy two singles rather than a return ticket. When you’re booking compare the price of two singles to a return ticket and make sure you’re not paying more than you need to. If you can’t be bothered to do this yourself, National Rail will do it for you, automatically suggesting the cheapest combination of tickets.

Season Tickets

You can use the season ticket calculator on the National Rail website to work out how much a season ticket will cost you. You can buy them at any station but you need to take a recent passport-sized photograph along with you.

You can buy a season ticket for seven days (you get unlimited travel between certain points for a set price), one month (cheaper than four seven day season tickets) or for over one month (up to one year). If you travel everyday this almost always works out as the cheapest option, so check all your options before you buy.

Keep an eye out for expected price rises and try to renew it before the new prices take affect.

Special tip for Eurostar travellers

If you travel to Paris or Brussels or one of the other Eurostar destinations for business, you may find it cheaper to get two return tickets instead of just the one. Strange, yes, but in some cases it works. If, for example, you want to go to Paris on a Tuesday morning and come back on a Wednesday night, the Eurostar computer will be able to tell that you’re probably a business client and it won’t show you the cheaper tickets.

However, if you book a return ticket to Paris on the Tuesday morning returning two weeks later, and then a separate one coming back on Wednesday night and returning a week or so later, each time it will assume that you’re a tourist and will show you the cheapest tickets. You could find that not only are the two tickets cheaper than the one but you can offer the unused returns to friends. Actually, some people have even sold the unused portions because the tickets themselves are rarely checked. It’s just your passport they look at.

Of course you may find that the prices are the same, but it’s definitely worth checking out to see if the tickets are much cheaper.

Rule Four: Split your ticket

Bizarrely it can even cost you less to split your ticket into several singles rather than one single if you’re making a long journey. Find out where the train is stopping on the way to your destination and check the price of combining several single tickets rather than one ticket for the whole journey. You could save money just by getting a single ticket to a stop halfway through your journey then another single ticket from that stop to your final destination.

1. Get the basic price:

First of all you need to find the cheapest price you can for the standard journey, then you can compare all the other costs to this.

Next find out where the train will stop, to do this fill in your journey details on the National Rail website then select ‘details’ and click on the ‘show calling points’ link.  This will show you all the stations the train stops at.

2. Work out the split ticket savings:

Next, pick a station somewhere along the route (go for a bigger station somewhere in the middle of the journey to start off with) and see how much it would cost to get a single ticket to that stop, and then a single from there to your final destination.

3. Fiddle around:

If it doesn’t work out cheaper try a different combination of stops to see if it makes any difference. Obviously all of this will take time and you’ll need to be quite patient, but if it works in your favour you could save yourself a lot of money.

For example:

Departure Point Destination Split Ticket Non-Split Price Split Ticket Price Total Saving
Peterborough Cardiff Central Split ticket at Birmingham New Street £87.10 off-peak £41 (£16.50 advance plus £24.50 advance) £46.10
Bath Spa Birmingham New Street Split at Cheltenham Spa £53 Anytime £19 (£10.50 advance plus £8.50 advance) £34
Wolverhampton Bournemouth Split at Oxford £93 Anytime £39.50 (£16.50 advance plus £23 advance) £53.50

*These ticket prices were taken on 13 August 2013 from National Rail and were all single tickets for 14 August 2013 departing at around 11am.

Rule Five: Get a railcard

What are they?

There are several railcards available:

  • The Young Person’s Railcard for under-25s or full-time students of any age. It’s only £70 for a three year card, saving you  £20 for three one year cards. A one year card is  £30.
  • The Family and Friends Railcard for an adult with at least one child under 15. Up to four adults and four children can travel on one railcard.
  • The Senior Railcard for the over 60s.
  • The Disabled Persons Railcard costs just  £20 for one year or £54 for three and you can save yourself plus a companion 1/3 off rail fares.
  • The Network Railcard costs £30 for a year and gives savings on most rail fares in the South East of England. You can get discounts for yourself, and three adults. Plus, you can take up to four children (aged up to 15) with you and they can save 60% on each child fare.

How much do they save me?

These railcards (unless stated otherwise) cost around £30 for a year (or £70 for three years) and save you a third off ticket prices (or 60% off kids fares with the Family and Friends Railcard) so they’re well worth having.

There are certain restrictions – for instance with the Young Person’s Railcard, you will still have to pay the standard minimum fare if you travel before 10am Monday to Friday. So, it’s always worth checking these carefully, but in general if you travel a lot, especially for leisure, you can save yourself hundred of pounds. Buy your railcard at stations.

Rule Six: Travel in a group when you can

It’s possible to get three or four tickets for the price of two with the GroupSave’ scheme.

GroupSave offers the opportunity for three or four people to travel for the price that two adults would normally pay on various off-peak ticket types.

Up to four additional children can accompany the main party, and travel at the flat fare of £1, single or return (not valid on ScotRail). In addition two children under the age of five can travel free of charge with each fare paying passenger.

Most (but not all) train operators participate in the scheme. Bear in mind that all members of the group must travel together for outward and return journeys. Sometimes there may be restrictions as to when you can travel – the ticket service should make this clear if this is the case. Railcards can’t be used in conjunction with this, but if you mange to split the cost four ways you’ll be saving more anyway.

For all the latest information on GroupSave (including the dates which the scheme cannot be used), see the National Rail Enquiries GroupSave calendar page.

Rule Seven: Know your rights

Get money back for delays

If your train arrives at your destination more than an hour late because of delays, you’re entitled to a minimum of 20% of the cost of the ticket paid in travel vouchers. You can also claim for a cancelled train if you were not advised of the cancellation before you bought your ticket.

You can make claims online here.

Hopefully, if you use our handy hints and always try and book as far in advance as you can you’ll manage to get cheap train tickets every time you travel.

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I have found .trainsto. the easiest and cheapest site to use. Allows me to save money with my Railcard aswell which is great.

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