Travelling by train can be one of the most pleasant ways to travel across the country. Sitting back and watching towns and scenery pass by, without having to think about traffic and motorway turn-offs. And there are several ways that you can make sure it stays low cost.
One of the best things about a recent short stay I had in the beautiful city of Bath was the satisfaction of knowing that I’d kept the cost of getting there to a minimum, thanks to advance booking, planning timings and using a railcard.
Here are six ways you could save money on train travel in the UK:
- Buying singles can be cheaper than buying a return – Most of us grew up with the idea that you bought a return ticket if you were visiting somewhere, and it’s true that in many cases it’s cheaper to get a return if you book early and off-peak. But equally, if you’ve got time to hunt around online it can be cheaper to get two singles, especially if a) they’re well in advance and b) it’s exact train only.
- Exact train only can be cheaper – We’re used to committing to get planes at a definite time, so why not trains? Admittedly, trains to most towns and cities are far more frequent than planes, which can encourage us to be flexible with our plans – my London to Bath train departed every 30 minutes. However, some huge savings can be made if you’re prepared to book a single departure time, and doing it both ways can make an even better deal. Just make sure you arrive in time for it, as getting a later one will mean having to buy a new ticket!
- Book at the right time – Around 12 weeks in advance is usually when the first cheapest tickets go on sale, and with some booking sites or train companies you can register for alerts to let you know when certain routes and dates are available. The cheapest advance tickets are usually exact train only. Not all routes and times are hugely popular, of course, and it’s often possible to still book advance tickets up to around 6pm the night before departure.
- Using railcards can give savings – If you travel a reasonable distance by train more than a few times a year, getting a railcard could help you make savings too. Examples include 16-25, Senior, Family & Friends (up to 4 adults and 4 children), Disabled Person’s, Two Together (over 16s) and Network Railcard (southern England only). All the main railcards give a third off the relevant adult ticket price, with other benefits such as discounted London tube travel or discounted child travel varying depending on the card itself. Most have peak-time restrictions but check for exact details.
- Special offer periods – It’s always worth checking train companies’ own websites for their own promotional offers, which often coincide with weekends, half-term or summer holidays. Some may have region-specific day pass offers, group savings, weekend travelcards or such like.
- Splitting tickets – Finally, one of the most widely used savings by those ‘in the know’ is to split tickets. You may need to do some careful planning for this one, but it basically means buying a ticket to a station somewhere along the route you’re travelling on (the train has to stop there) and then another ticket from that station to your destination. In other words, buying two tickets for a single train journey. I’ve never done it myself, but I know people who have!