Travelling by train is one of my favourite ways to explore the UK – no parking, no worries about the size of your luggage and carrying liquids, and the option to have a little sleep on your journey! However, it can be fairly pricey especially if you’re on a long distance trip but here’s a few hints and tips I’ve discovered over the years that can cut the cost of your train journey.
Use the Best Fare Finder
This is my go-to when booking train tickets: Virgin Trains offer a Best Fare Finder showing the cheapest times to travel. It’s only for certain routes, but if you’re travelling to or from London Euston, it’s worth checking out. Generally, Manchester to London train tickets are available for £20 each way using it – bargain!
Buy advance – the day before!
Most people know that the further in advance you buy, the cheaper the tickets. However, you don’t need to book weeks and weeks in advance to get a lower price. Some operators offer advance fares up to 6pm the night before you travel, so it’s always worth checking rather than just turning up and buying on the day.
Booking direct with an operator is always recommended when purchasing train tickets as there’s no fees, unlike some of the other sites. If you’re not sure which operator your route is covered by, the National Rail website will point you in the right direction when you enter your journey details.
Use a railcard
I don’t think I ever got over the disappointment of being too old for a Young Persons’ Railcard (now called a 16-25 Railcard). However, a Two Together Railcard is a good alternative if you regularly travel with the same person – or if even if you’re only planning a couple of journeys. It knocks 1/3 off journey prices and costs £30 a year, so a few trips and you’ve covered the price. There’s usually discount codes knocking around online for them offering anything from 10-20% off the price, and you can also use your Clubcard points to buy one if you’ve accrued enough.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not just 1/3 off standard prices; you can also use it on advance tickets (including the Best Fare Finder).
Travelling in a group? You can make significant savings if you buy your tickets together. It’s only offered by certain operators, but if there’s between three and nine of you making the journey it’s worth looking into. It comes up as an option when you enter your journey plans on participating train companies – so if there’s a couple of you planning a trip, it’s worth clubbing together and getting the tickets all in one go. National Rail has more information.
I won’t go into this too much as there are many other sites doing just that. But, if you’re planning a long journey, it’s worth a look. MoneySavingExpert has a good calculator to see if it works for you. One thing I would note is that it doesn’t always work in some places – for example, if I’m travelling from Manchester to Southport via Northern Rail, there’s no discount available as rail travel is slightly subsidised in Greater Manchester so there’s no split to make it cheaper.
Cashback sites are a good way to get money back on things you were already planning on buying. I’ve been using Quidco for a number of years and I always check if a retailer I’m looking to use is on there first. As you can buy train tickets for any service on any operator’s website, choose the deal that pays the most. It’s worth noting that some do only provide cashback for their own services or offer a lower rate for others and it can take a while for your cashback to be paid.
Go contactless on London Underground
You no longer need an Oyster Card to reduce the cost of travelling on the tube – which is perfect for less regular visitors to London. Simply touch in and out with your contactless bank card and no matter how many journeys you make during the day, you’ll be charged the corresponding daily capped rate which is generally cheaper than buying a travelcard from the ticket machine. For example, on my last trip to London I took a number of journeys within zones 1-3 during the day and was charged the capped rate of £7.60. Compare this to the cost of a day travelcard (£12.10 for a day any time within zones 1-4) and you can see just how much you can save.