Sunday, 1 March 2015

A guide to cheap rail travel in the UK.

The other day, I found a stash of what must be over a hundred train tickets I have hoarded over the past four years or so (I really need to learn to throw things away!).  I sat staring at this pile wondering (rather uneasily) how much money I must have spent on trains over the years.  Spending money troubles me - will do anything I can to save some pennies.  It cannot really be denied – rail travel in Britain is ridiculously expensive.  British railways are privately owned, meaning train companies can charge what they want.  This is bad news for travel fanatics!  But don’t fret, I have compiled a list of the top tips I have picked up over many train journeys which may just save you some cash.  There is so much to see in Britain, and expensive rail fares needn’t get in the way!

Rail travel needn't leave you broke!

Book advance tickets
The cheapest tickets for a journey are known as advance tickets, which are made usually available by train companies around 12 weeks before the date of travel.  If you are planning your journey more than 12 weeks in advance, it is advisable to wait before booking, as you really can save a lot.  These tickets are limited in number, so you must ensure you book early before they sell out.  It probably goes without saying that advance tickets will sell out quicker on the most popular routes.  Even if you are travelling the next day, it is advisable to check if there are advance tickets left before you book!  The latest you can buy advance tickets varies amongst the different train companies – for example the cut-off point for advance tickets on the Heathrow Express is seven days before travel, whereas Cross Country are more lenient and offer advance fares up to 15 minutes before the journey.  Buying an advance ticket will be substantially cheaper than the regular tickets available at the station on the day.  However, these cheaper tickets do come with disadvantages – mainly reduced flexibility.  Advance tickets are only valid on the specific train you have booked and are strictly non-refundable.

Use websites such as Trainline
Train companies sell off a certain number of tickets to online ticket sites such as The Trainline and Red Spotted Hanky.  These websites are allowed to sell slightly reduced fares.  I have always used The Trainline website to book train tickets.  It’s really easy to use and will highlight the cheapest option for the journey you wish to make.  Tickets can be sent through the post, or picked up at the train station using a unique customer reference code.  A word of warning though, these sites often include a booking fee (I believe it’s £1.50 per transaction with the Trainline), so for short journeys it is cheaper to just buy tickets at the station before travelling.

Buy a railcard
This point is relevant to either people who often travel by train in the UK, or those who are booking a journey costing over £90.  Railcards cost £30 and are valid for a year.  Railcards give you a third off the price of your journey – all you need to do is show the card when purchasing tickets at the station and then show the conductor on the train.  Some London transport is also discounted when using a railcard.  There are several different types, the most popular being the 16-25 Young Person Railcard.  It is worth noting, however, that railcard discounts are do not apply to journeys which start before 10am on weekdays.

Split your journey
The way in which ticket prices are decided is rather unfairly not entirely based upon the distance of the journey.  Instead, more popular routes are more expensive.  A way around this is to split the journey into several tickets, but stay on the same train.  An example given by Money Saving Expert is the return journey between London and Durham – this would usually cost £301, but if you buy a ticket between London and York and then York and Durham.  This way the journey would cost just £82 – a saving of over two hundred pounds!  Booking tickets this way can be tedious - you really have to do your research.  But it may save you some cash!  Be careful though whilst doing this though that the tickets you buy are for the same train.

Travel on weekends
Saturday and Sunday are classed as off-peak, meaning tickets will be cheaper than weekdays.  This is because there is less demand at weekend due to the lack of commuters.  Most journeys run as normal, but it is probably worth noting that a lot of engineering work takes place on the railways during the weekend because of the lower passenger numbers, so train services can sometimes be replaced by buses.

Buy an Oyster card for London travel
Oyster cards are brilliant things, any Londoner will confirm this for you!  Oyster cards can be used on any public transport in London, including the Underground, Overground, DLR, trains, buses, riverboats and trams.  They can be purchased from any station in the city for £5 and provide discounted travel each time you use it.  For example, a journey on the Underground in zone 1 would usually cost £4.80, but with an Oyster card this is reduced to £2.30.  Oyster is a pay-as-you-go system – you can easily add money to the card at machines all over London, then you simply ‘tap in’ on the yellow circle on the ticket barriers at stations and ‘tap out’ at the end of your journey.  The appropriate fare will automatically be charged from your card.

A return is not always cheaper!
Train tickets can be quite deceptive.  You would think that the whole point of a return ticket would be to get a better deal than paying for two separate journeys.  This is not always the case!  Quite a lot of the time, it can be cheaper to buy two single tickets than it is to buy one return ticket, so make sure you check as you could be saving yourself money!

Consider bus travel
I am really not a fan of buses, but they can be SO much cheaper than trains.  For example, a train to London from where I live would cost £44, compared to just £7 on the bus.  So I hate to say it, but perhaps bus travel is the way forward!!

I hope this has helped save you some cash!  Trains in Britain can be expensive, but there are ways to bring this cost down.  Note the figures given in this post are correct at the time of writing, but change often, so don’t be caught out!  Happy travels, and many thanks for reading!


Elis Griffiths. x