Cheap Train Tickets
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Updated October 2017
The train ticketing system is a farce. To keep your spending away from the buffers, you need to learn how to play the system with hidden tricks.
This guide has 21 sneaky ways to save on fares, including how to split tickets, beat booking fees, find hidden promotions and much more.
21 ways to slash fares, including.
Book 12+ weeks ahead for the cheapest fares
Most people know if you book early, you can get cheaper train tickets, yet often these vanish quicker than empty seats on a commuter journey. To ensure a bargain, the key is to start looking about 12 weeks before.
Contractually Network Rail must have the timetable set 12 weeks in advance. So train operators commonly release cheap advance tickets shortly after. It’s not always dead on 12 weeks though, often more like 10 or 11.
Some train companies are now starting to release advance tickets even earlier – with the caveat that times could change slightly. For example, Virgin East Coast releases advance tickets 24 weeks ahead for routes from stations north of York into London.
Get a free alert when tickets go on sale
If you know when and where you want to go, there’s a sneaky way to be first in the cheap tickets queue. If you sign up and fill in your journey details with the Trainline’s ticket alert system, you will get an email when cheap advance tickets for that specific journey go on sale, which are commonly the cheapest fares.
To help, National Rail also has a future travel chart, showing the furthest date in the future you can buy advance tickets for each train firm.
Find out when cheap tickets are likely to jump in price
The Trainline has recently launched a tool which will show you when cheap tickets are likely to rise in price – as well as when they’re expected to sell out. The Price Predictor tool has been added to the free Trainline UK app, which is available for both Android and iOS devices.
It gives you predictions for specific routes, dates and times based on data from billions of journeys, making it great for when you want to get a cheap advance fare but haven’t quite finalised your plans.
We tried it out using a journey from Edinburgh Waverley to London Euston – it showed us that tickets currently cost Ј30 and would likely sell out at that price in 29 days, after which the price was predicted to rise, hitting Ј137 on the day of travel.
Beware when you book. If you do use Trainline’s Price Predictor tool to decide when’s best to book, DON’T use Trainline to buy your tickets, as you could pay as much as Ј5 extra in booking, credit card and delivery fees. Other sites charge less – Virgin East Coast, for example, sells tickets for all train companies and doesn’t charge booking or credit card fees.
Split your tickets, not your journey – find the cheap tickets train firms hide
We’ve been shouting about it for ages and earlier this year it was all over the news – how split-ticketing makes no sense but can slash costs. Train firms have finally said they’ll start trials to reform fares, but you needn’t wait for them to be able to save money– you can do it yourself for free.
This is the big trick everyone should know; instead of buying tickets for the whole journey, bizarrely, buying tickets for its constituent parts separately can slash the price – even though you’re travelling on exactly the same train.
It’s perfectly within the National Rail Conditions of Carriage – the only rule is that the train must call at the stations you buy tickets for.
Save Ј219 on a London-Durham return
To show how this works, we unearthed this cracking example. For a London to Durham return, the cheapest ticket was an anytime return at Ј301 , but the train stopped at York, so instead we found four singles:
The total cost for those tickets was just Ј82 – a saving of Ј219 .
Just to make it clear, this is the same return journey – the only difference is you’ve four tickets covering it rather than one
Full step-by-step guide to finding split tickets
It normally takes 5-10 minutes to check for split tickets, but it’s worth doing, especially for long journeys. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
Find the journey’s cheapest standard price
Track down the standard journey price. Without it, you won’t know if you can save money.
Find out where the train stops
Use the National Rail site. Search for the train you want to take, click ‘Details’ and then ‘Show calling points’.
Check the options
Pick a main station halfway along the journey you want to take and search for separate tickets to and from there for each leg – if that doesn’t make the journey any cheaper, try another station.
For help on where to split tickets, use our TicketySplit tool as a ready reckoner – it will show you where a ticket for today is split, which is often the same as for advance tickets. Then you can check the prices for the dates you want to travel via a train booking site to see if it works.
If the train stops at a lot of places, there’ll be a huge combination of tickets available, and then ticket splitting comes down to time versus money – you could split a journey into six or eight tickets, which might work out cheaper, but it will take a fair amount of legwork to do.
If Megatrain, which operates mainly in the East Midlands, covers part of your journey, you could bag a Ј1 ticket for part of it – read Ј1 Megatrain Fares for more information.