Book In Advance
The easiest way to get the cheapest deals is to avoid buying your train tickets on the day you travel.
Rail companies dislike the so-called "Walk On" tickets, and although they have to provide them, they are much more expensive than buying your ticket in advance. If you can plan your trip before the day, you'll get better discounts - even if you book up to 6pm the day before.
Some rail companies offer Advance tickets up to 2 hours before the train leaves its original start station. For example, with LNER, if you’re going from Doncaster to London and the train starts in Edinburgh, you can buy your Advance ticket 2 hours before the train leaves Edinburgh.
Get a Railcard
If you're travelling often, see if you qualify for a Railcard - you'll pay for a years' card but then save a third on off-peak travel, so you'll soon recoup that investment.
A 16-25 Railcard - which used to be called the Young Persons Railcard - gets you 1/3 off rail train in Britain - and in some case, you even qualify if you are a mature student... see the website for more details. After three or four trips, the £30 card has paid for itself. There is a £12 minimum fare at certain times, and journeys that start before 10am won't receive the discount.
The Senior Railcard gets you 1/3 off rail fares - that's including Standard and First Class Anytime, Off-Peak and Advance fares. It's available to anyone over the age of 60 and costs £30 for one year or £70 for three years.
For travel in the South East of England, there's the Network Railcard - it costs £30 for the year and offers up to a third off standard off-peak travel for you and up to 3 others, and up to a 60% saving on the fares of up to 4 children travelling too. And you don't have to live in the South East to be eligible for the card.
Age-Related discount cards
It might be a good idea to check to see if you are entitled to any age-related discount cards in your local area.
- One third off most single or return rail fares
- 50 % off all weekly or monthly tickets
- One third off most advance purchases
Once-upon a time, a return was cheaper than two singles. Now, with most long-distance train operators, it is actually cheaper to buy two singles.
Split your Tickets
Try splitting your journey up into shorter ones at a station in the middle to see if it saves you money - this is easier if you have to change during your journey.
For example, an Off-Peak return from Doncaster (the home of Walks Around Britain) to Llandrindod is £92.10, changing at Stockport and Shrewsbury . Buy 3 separate off-peak returns for Doncaster to Stockport, Stockport to Shrewsbury and Shrewsbury to Llandrindod, and it costs £72.90. That's a £19.20 saving ON THE SAME TRAINS.
You can even try this if you don't have to change trains - it's ok so long as the train stops at the split station - although you might have to move seats as you're not guaranteed to get the same seat for both tickets.
Avoid the Peaks
Unlike walking, where peaks are great, on the trains they are bad news! Travelling during peak times is very expensive and should be avoided. However, if you're having a day trip walking you need to travel out in peak time, so here you should definitely split your tickets.
That's because it's often most cost effective to look at separating out the worst peak time section of the journey as a different ticket - that way you won't pay peak time fare on the whole journey.
So from Doncaster to get to London for 8:40am costs £99.50 Advance Single on LNER. Split the ticket at Grantham, and get Advance Singles from Doncaster to Grantham and then Grantham to London costs £74.50 ON THE SAME TRAIN. The only thing to note here is you may have to change seats at Grantham if you can't book the same seat for both tickets... but it is a saving of £25.
Try the competition
On many long-distance routes, there are several train operators competing - and this is good for cheaper tickets. On the East Coast Mainline, for example for journeys between Doncaster and London Kings Cross, we could travel on either London North Eastern Railway, Grand Central or First Hull Trains.
On other routes, like Birmingham to London, there are rival operators travelling over different lines - Avanti West Coast run fast between Birmingham New Street and London Euston, while Chiltern travel semi-fast between Birmingham Snow Hill and London Marylebone. There can also be other operators with slower services too - London Northwestern operate stopping services between Brum and London which only cost £10.00 but take more than 2 hours.
If you buy two singles, you could travel there and back with different operators to take advantage of the cheapest fare.
Be the Wild Rover
If you're on a holiday in a region and want to get out and explore, try a Rover or a Ranger ticket. They offer unlimited travel in a certain region for a set length of time and provide great value for money.
For example, the North Country Rover offers travel on any 4 days in an 8 day period and costs £99.10 - just making two day trips from York - one to Carlisle and another to Settle costs £89.60 making the other 2 days travel only £9.50…
For more information about all the Rovers and Rangers on offer, visit the National Rail website here.
|Standard Class||First Class|
|7 days||£526 - adult|
£263 - child
£796 - adult
£398 - child
£796 - adult
£398 - child
£1216 - adult
£608 - child
It sounds a lot, but when you consider you only have to make trips costing £76 a day to break even, it could actually be a good buy. It is also valid on the Ffestiniog Railway, the Caledonian Sleeper and Great Western Railways' Night Riviera Sleeper services (reservations maybe be required and a supplement maybe be required for berths). There's also Railcard discount available off those prices too - so with a Senior Railcard, for example, a 7 day Standard Class verision is £347.15.
Couple that with a lightweight tent and backpack - or membership of the YHA, and you're ready for a trip around Britain's countryside by rail!
Form a group
Just travelling in groups as small as 3 or 4 can get you discounts. For example, the GroupSave promotion from some operators offers groups of between 3 and 9 people 1/3 off Off-Peak tickets. But remember, to get any group discount you've got to travel together for the whole journey - no breaking off early or the whole ticket won't be valid.
London North Eastern Railway offer a Family Return ticket, where up to two adults and four children can travel for one fixed price on trains on their routes. The good news is the ticket is for anything from a minimum of one adult and one child up to a maximum of two adults and four children - and you don't have to be related.
Use their own website
Often, particular train operators discount their own tickets if they are bought on their own website - so it's worth buying different tickets on different websites for the biggest savings. Or they might offer other benefits for booking direct with them... London North Eastern Railway, for example, offer free WiFi access in standard class on their own tickets when bought on their website - so book with them direct for any part of your journey involving their trains.