10 tips for getting the cheapest train tickets

Published by Matthew Wall on 03 November 2011.
Last updated on 28 July 2014

Woman waiting for train

1. Advance tickets

If you can stick to a specific time and date of travel, advance tickets can save you hundreds of pounds. But remember that these tickets only go on sale 12 weeks before travel. Book a journey before then and you'll pay more.

2. Plan your route

Consider different routes to get to your destination as there is often competition between train operators on some routes.

3. Eligible for discounts

Check if you're eligible to buy one of the five railcards available (all £28 per year), including those for young people, family and friends and over-60s. They will get you a third off all ticket prices.

4. Train operator websites

Try train operator websites direct first, as the companies are obliged to sell each other's tickets and will often offer special discounts on their own tickets. Third-party websites such as thetrainline.com charge booking and credit card handling fees.

5. Cheapest fare finder

Get to grips with the National Rail Enquiries cheapest fare finder website (nationalrail.co.uk), but bear in mind that the cheapest fare may not be for the fastest or most convenient route.

6. Split your journey

Splitting up the journey into two distinct sections can sometimes be cheaper, particularly when each section is run by a different train company - and you don't necessarily need to change trains.

7. Don't book return

Buying two singles can be cheaper than booking a return journey, so when booking online always view the available single tickets first. Booking two singles is great value, but will limit your flexibility and is not usually an option when booking same-day travel.

8. Season ticket

If you're a regular commuter, buy a season ticket as this will be much cheaper than buying daily tickets. An annual season ticket buys you 52 weeks' travel for the price of 40.

9. First class not always most expensive

Don't assume first class tickets will always be more expensive than standard class - sometimes they're not. Look at all the options by shopping around. Also, if you're pregnant and a full season ticket holder you should be able to upgrade to first class for free. Check with your network.

10. Carnets

Don't forget about 'carnets'. First Capital Connect allows you to buy 10 single tickets, for off and on-peak travel, valid for three months. You get a cheaper rate by buying multiple single tickets in advance rather than a return on the day. Most of the big train companies offer their own versions.


Passengers can claim refunds for cancelled or delayed services under 'Delay Repay' schemes offered by the train operators. National Rail's 'conditions of carriage' set out the minimum refund and compensation you are entitled to for a delay.

If you are over an hour late to your destination you can claim back at least 20% of the price of a single ticket, 10% of a return ticket, or 20% of the price divided by seven if you are have a weekly ticket.

Most train companies go above and beyond these minimums though. To find out more about individual train companies payouts go to the Penalty Fare Appeal Support website (penaltyfareappeal.co.uk) and click on the 'Delay Repay' tab at the top of the page.

Links to all the relevant train companies refund schemes are listed on one page. If you are travelling on an annual or monthly season ticket you may also be able to claim money back for delayed trains through Delay Repay. And if you are entitled to claim compensation, you should be able to get the same amount back as if you were travelling on a standard ticket.

The only downside to Delay Repay is that all compensation is paid in National Rail vouchers, which have to be spent in stations or at travel agents so you can't access the cheap internet rail fares, but you can use them to pay for your season ticket.

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