11 tips to cut the cost of train fares

Published by Andy Webb on 28 February 2017.
Last updated on 30 May 2017

The romance of train travel is well and truly a distant memory. Delays, strikes and overcrowding can make most train journeys a stressful experience, while sky-high and complicated fares compound the misery.

But hope is on its way… in May, a handful of rail companies will trial new ticket types – outdated route options will be removed and cheaper fares introduced for when you change trains.

However, even if these changes become the norm, there is more you can do now to pay less when you get the train. Here are our top 11 ways to save, plus we’ve answered questions about delays and compensation.

1. Book up to 12 weeks in advance for the lowest fares

Most train operators release their cheapest fares 12 weeks ahead of travel. Availability is often limited and prices will increase as the weeks go by.

It is possible to set an alert with Trainline.com to be notified via email when tickets for your date of travel go on sale. Although if you’re after a return journey at a later date, you might have to wait until that batch is released.

2. Check for discounts even the day before

If you’re due to travel in the next few days, don’t presume there won’t be any cheap tickets left. With the most expensive fares charged on the day, you can still save money if you book the day before – even as late as midnight with some operators.

3. Change your route

It might take a little longer, but if more than one train operator can take you to your destination, see if one, normally a stopping service, is any cheaper.

4. Go off-peak

Travelling first thing will always be more expensive, and many routes add a premium in the evening rush hour too. If you can delay your journey to avoid this, you’ll reduce your fare.

5. Pick your tickets

There are a few quirks of train fares that really don’t make sense. A return is often more expensive than two singles, while you can sometimes get Advance First Class tickets for less than a standard ticket. Plus, on mainline travel within London zones, Oyster or contactless is often cheaper than a paper ticket. So do your research first.

6. Get a railcard

If you travel a lot by train, getting a Railcard can save you a third on most fares – also keep an eye out for limited time discounts that are often on offer. There are, however, restrictions depending on which type of railcard you buy, including the times you can travel and who else can get a discount.

 

7. Split your ticket

A handful of websites will tell you if you can save money on your journey by splitting your ticket. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll split your journey. It is possible to stay on the same train, and even the same seat, but have a set of tickets for different parts of the journey.

These are most likely to save you money on complicated journeys or close to the date of travel. Try Ticketclever.com and the app Tickety Split to see if they can help you save.

8. Buy a season ticket

Any commuter is likely to save with an annual season ticket. The problem is they can be hugely expensive, but there are a couple of workarounds.

First, see if your employer offers an annual season ticket loan. Every month your repayment will be deducted from your pay before it gets to you, which also gives you a tax saving. Another option is to buy the season ticket on a 0% purchase credit card – just make sure you make at least the minimum repayments and clear the balance before the interest free period ends.

If neither of these work, you can look at Commuter Club, which lends you the money at 5.6% interest to buy an annual season ticket – usually still a saving on buying monthly or weekly season tickets.

9. Avoid a booking fee

The Trainline heavily advertises cheap rail fares, but fails to mention you could easily add £2.50 to a £50 train ticket by booking through it (plus the fares aren’t actually any cheaper than elsewhere).

This isn’t the only booking website to charge you extra, so we’ve compiled the fees associated with the main sites for you (see table above). You can, of course, book direct with the rail operator. Some, including Virgin and Great Western Railway, offer fee-free bookings on any train journey, even on routes they don’t run. So check first.

(Click on the table below to enlarge)


Rail ticket confusion causes one in ten to buy pricier fares


10. Use loyalty points

Great Western Railway, Hull Trains, TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains offer Nectar points when you buy direct, while Virgin also offers Virgin Atlantic miles. Plus if you collect Tesco Clubcard points, you can double their value for bookings on Redspottedhanky.com.

11. Look for local offers

Many of the different operators run flash sales and promotions on their own routes. If you’re a regular traveller to certain destinations, sign up to any mailing lists so you can grab the offers as soon as they’re announced.

(Click on the table below to enlarge)

Six questions on claiming for delays

 

How long does a train need to be delayed for compensation?
With most rail companies, you can claim compensation for delays after 30 minutes. A handful offer partial refunds after 15 minutes (more will follow in the next few years). There are also a few where delays needs to be over an hour.

What compensation can you get?
With most operators, you can get 50% of your single ticket for delays between 30 and 59 minutes and 100% for delays over an hour. If it is more than two hours, you could get the full return fare refunded.

What reasons do you need to get compensation?
Sadly, just because you’ve been delayed, it doesn’t mean you’ll get any money. Some will reject claims for delays out of the control of the rail company, such as for severe weather or vandalism. However, if the rail operator is signed up to the Delay Repay scheme you can claim for any delay.

How do you get the refund?
Each train operator has a website to submit your claim. Do this within 28 days. You’ll need your original ticket in many cases.
Make sure you don’t get those dreaded rail vouchers for your payout. You can now ask for the refund as a cheque or paid direct to your bank account.

What if you have a season ticket?
Yes, you can claim refunds but it is calculated differently. Some will work it out as a proportion of the total cost, others by the cost of the daily ticket.

And if my train has been cancelled?
If you decide not to travel after a train has been cancelled, you can claim a full refund.

 

See the table below for a full list of how to reclaim compensation for delays by rail provider.

Company Minimum delay required for compensation Any cause of delay (via Delay Repay) How much refunded? (Single ticket unless stated)
Arriva 30 minutes No 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
C2C 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Caledonian Sleeper 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Chiltern Railways 30 minutes No 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
Cross Country 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
East Midlands 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Gatwick Express 15 minutes Yes 25% (15-29 mins)
      50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Grand Central 1 hour No 50% (1 to 2 hours)
      75% (2 to 3 hours)
      100% (over 3 hours)
Great Northern / Thameslink 15 minutes Yes 25% (15-29 mins)
      50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
GWR Depends on route and journey length No 100% (60 -119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Greater Anglia 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Heathrow Express 15 minutes No 50% (15-29 mins)
      100% (30 mins plus)
Hull Trains 30 minutes No 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
London Midland 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
London Overground / TFL Rail 30 minutes No 100% (30 mins plus)
Mersey Rail 30 minutes No 100% (more than 30 mins if journey only on Mersey Rail)
      20% (if only part of the journey was on Mersey Rail)
Northern 15 minutes Yes 25% (15-29 mins)
      50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
ScotRail 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Southwest 60 minutes (30 mins if Island Line trains) No 100% (60 mins or more)
Southeastern 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Southern 15 minutes Yes 25% (15-29 mins)
      50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Stansted Express 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Transpennine Express 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Virgin Trains 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)
Virgin East Coast 30 minutes Yes 50% (30-59 mins)
      100% (60-119 mins)
      100% of return fare (120 mins plus)

 

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Tip 12 if you can reduce the

Tip 12 if you can reduce the number of journeys. I am retired adn with the latest increases shall be travelling less. I know those who work can not do this. I suffered for 30 years! But for those who are now able to avoid these increases it is an option!