Top tips to cut the cost of rail travel

Tips on how to save money on rail fares
Tips on how to save money on rail fares

Rail fares have risen nearly three times faster than wages over the past five years, a new study by the Action for Rail campaign has found.

With rail travel eating an ever larger portion of our income, consumer site Which? has offered its top tips for fighting back against rising costs.

Get the right type of ticket

Planning ahead is a great place to start, with advance train tickets tending to be the cheapest.

These are also far less flexible and non-refundable, so you need to be diligent or you could end up having to fork out for another train ticket.

As Which? notes, there are many different price levels within the advance ticket type, which are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Some outlets’ allocations may sell out before others, so it can be worth checking different train company websites or booking offices for the best prices.

Purchase a railcard

If you are eligible for any of the railcards on offer, and make a few train journeys a year (or as little as just one long-distance journey) a railcard will more than pay for itself.

Railcards can only be used at certain times on weekdays, but these restrictions do not apply on weekends and public holidays. Virgin Trains allows railcard discounts at peak times, unlike other train companies.

Off-peak train tickets

It is obviously not always feasible, but if you can travel outside of peak times you can significantly reduce costs.

If the choice is between an advance ticket costing a similar amount to the off-peak one, Which? suggests purchasing the off-peak option as they offer greater flexibility on travel times. And if you need to upgrade to a more expensive anytime ticket, you can pay the difference between the two. Finally, they are often refundable.

Buy direct from train companies’ website

According to Which?, it is often best to buy tickets direct from train companies’ own websites.

This is because they offer online reductions for their own off-peak fares that are not available through third-party companies. What’s more, many of these third-party train ticket websites tend to add booking and debit or credit card fees to the tickets they sell.

UK train companies must sell the full range of each other’s tickets, so you may well find a cheap fare from one train company on one of its competitors’ websites. There are a few exceptions to this rule though, so it is worth checking the websites of all the train companies which serve your journey.

Look for cheaper but slower routes

There are many journeys which are served by multiple train companies.

Often, one journey will be much quicker than the other, but the slow journey will cost you far less.

Split your ticket

You can cut travel costs by splitting your ticket. This means buying multiple tickets to cover separate parts of your journey. The only rule is that the train must stop at all the stations involved.

As Which? explains, the reason it can save you money is that different train companies have their own prices for different parts of the journey. The aim is to travel the longest distance on the lowest-priced leg.

If your journey straddles both peak and off-peak times, see whether you can split the journey so that the largest possible part is off-peak.

This tactic could potentially save you hundreds of pounds on an annual season ticket. Rail staff are not allowed to advise on split tickets, but must sell them if asked.

Season tickets for regular travel

You can invest in an annual season ticket to cut the cost of your daily commute.

If you are a regular commuter, an annual season ticket will almost certainly be cheapest.

There are also weekly and monthly season tickets, which can often work out cheaper if you are making multiple repeat journeys over those periods. Season tickets covering more than one month but less than a year are also available.