We all know the benefits of travelling by train; it’s better for the environment than driving, allows you to drink if you’re on a night out; and no traffic jams.
But, more often than not, there’s one major downside – the cost. Although the cost of rail travel has been frozen and in some cases fallen in 2010, it can still be extremely expensive to travel by train across the UK.
However, there are ways you can cut the cost:
Easy ways to save money…
Be an early bird
The earlier you book, the less you are likely to pay – according to thetrainline.com, you could save 43% by booking in advance. As a general rule you should aim to buy a ticket 12 weeks before your date of travel, when the first advanced tickets are released.
However, these might get cheaper as the date of travel gets closer although this will depend on the route and the time of the journey; the less popular, the cheaper it is likelier to become.
Even if you are purchasing tickets for your daily commute, buying the ticket before you board will save you money.
Do your research
Rather than waiting until you get to the station to buy your ticket, do your research ahead of time. Websites such as thetrainline.com allow you to search for train times and compare costs. It also has a special alert that will inform you when advance tickets for a specific journey you are making become available and a ‘best fare finder’ tool.
Raileasy.co.uk also features tools that promise to help you find the best deal.
When buying tickets, watch out for booking fees as these add to the cost of your journey. Thetrainline.com and raileasy.co.uk both charge these fees, but you can bypass them altogether by buying from the rail company in question.
Travelling during peak times will see you pay more for your ticket so, if you can, try to be flexible with the time. Avoid journeys before 9am on weekdays and those during the week’s evening rush hour (5pm to 7pm).
Some workplaces may offer flexible working, which would allow you to come in later and leave later or come in earlier and leave earlier. Alternatively you could try to work from home a couple of days a week to save on train fares - it's always worth asking your employer.
In addition, some routes are operated by different train companies and it may be that one is cheaper than the other. That’s why it’s always worth comparing prices online.
Get a railcard
If you qualify for a railcard make sure you get one and use it. If you are aged between 16 and 25 or over 60 then you could save a third off rail travel for a one-off cost of £26. Other railcards offer you discounts if you travel with friends and family, or if you’re disabled. Go to railcard.co.uk to see the different types of railcards available.
A word of warning though; not all journeys (such as those at peak times) are eligible for a railcard discount so check before you book.
If you are under the age of 26 then remember to renew your railcard just before your 26th birthday, as this is valid for a year.
Get the right type of ticket
There are three types of ticket - advance, anytime and off-peak – and the cost does vary. Make sure you are buying the right ticket for your journey.
Also, if you are making a journey on a regular basis then paying more for a season ticket could be cheaper. Commuters can buy weekly, monthly or even annual season tickets, but even if you don’t travel somewhere every day this could still be the cheapest option.
The best way to work this out is to use the calculator on National Rail’s website. Some rail companies also offer unlimited travel on specific routes (again, see the National Rail website for more details).
Finally, check out the promotions section on National Rail’s website, which lists which routes are currently being offered on the cheap. Virgin Trains also offers special deals and discounts on a regular basis.
And if you’re feeling a little more adventurous
Single or return?
If you are making a return journey, then you’d be forgiven for thinking that a return ticket would be better value than two singles. However, this logical conclusion isn’t always true so check before you buy. Equally, sometimes return tickets actually cost less or just a few pence more than a single, so even if you’re not sure whether you’ll use it or not it might still be worth buying a return.
If you are travelling somewhere during peak time but coming home during off-peak, it might again be cheaper to buy two singles rather than a peak return.
Buying one ticket for your journey from A to B makes sense. But it might be cheaper to buy different tickets to cover separate parts of your journey. This is known as split ticketing; while train companies don’t encourage you do to it, it isn’t against the rules as long as the train calls at all the stations you have tickets for.
Split ticketing is also a good idea if part but not all of your journey is at peak times.