Travelling by train? Here’s how you can get around those frustrating rail fare rises and get cheaper train tickets for the family.
Rail fare price hikes are getting beyond a joke. This year saw ticket prices going up by an average of 3.9% (way above inflation). Regular rail commuters got an even rawer deal, with season ticket prices increasing by 4.3% on average.
In fact, rail fares have gone up by as much as 50% over the last decade. One of the most shocking examples we’ve found is the annual fare of someone travelling from Sevenoaks in Kent to London: in 2003 an annual train ticket for this journey would’ve cost you £1,660. Today, that same journey will set you back a tidy £3,112!
While there is little you can do to stop general price rises, there are some tips and tricks worth knowing that can help lower fare costs. Here are 10 ways to get cheaper train tickets:
1. Buy early
Most people know that if you book early, you can get much cheaper tickets. However the best time to grab your ticket is around 12 weeks before your date of travel. (This is because Network Rail must have their timetable set 12 weeks in advance by law. So most train operators tend to release their cheapest tickets 12 weeks in advance, or shortly thereafter.)
2. Jump the queue
So now you know the best time to look for tickets, make sure you’re first in line. The Trainline has a great ‘ticket alert’ feature that not many people know about, but it’s really useful – it alerts you by email the moment cheap advance tickets become available for a particular journey.
3. Travel off-peak if possible
Basiccommon sense, but it’s always worth travelling at times when there is less demand if you can (for example on Friday afternoon rather than Friday evening) as you will get a considerably cheaper ticket. It’s worth experimenting with times and dates on online ticket sites and see what different prices get thrown up.
4. Season tickets don’t have to be for a year
Many people aren’t aware that you can get a season ticket for less than a 12-month period. So if you had a six month work contract, you can get a 24 week season ticket. Or if you plan to go on maternity leave in 11 weeks, you should be able to get an 11 week season ticket – which is almost always cheaper than buying single, weekly or monthly tickets.
5. Buy carnet tickets
‘Carnet’ tickets are a great option if you make a few journeys a week but don’t travel every day. Carnet ticket schemes are just where you buy a batch of single tickets up front (typically around 10) and get a discount for doing so.
The discount varies (some operators give you 10 tickets for the price of 8, for example) and you can often only get these deals on the main commuter lines. To get carnet tickets you will need to buy them direct from the train operator.
6. Don’t automatically get a return ticket
Bizarrely, getting two single tickets often works out cheaper than getting a standard return ticket. So don’t just automatically select a return ticket without checking the price of two singles online first.
7. Have a look at Megabus/Megatrain
The Megabus/Megatrain website is well worth a look – they do really cheap travel deals for both train and coach travel. They sell hundreds of single tickets from £1 (these sell out fast!) but also have plenty of tickets for around the £5-7 mark (plus 50p booking fee) for routes across England and Scotland. While they offer cheap deals for networks like South West Trains, Virgin Rail and East Midlands Trains, Megabus/Megatrain only release their tickets 45 days in advance.
8. Take advantage of Railcards
Railcards cut a third off your rail fares for just £30 a year. For example, the Family and Friends Railcard saves you a third on adult fares and knock off 60% off kids’ fares, too. (While Railcards are great, unfortunately they’re not suitable for commuters – as Railcards aren’t valid during peak morning travel times on Mondays-Fridays). Check out the latest Family and Friends Railcard promotional code and discount deals.
9. Claim for delays
If your train is over an hour late, by law you can claim back 20% of the cost of a single fare (10% of a return ticket, unless there was an hour delay on both legs).
However, some train companies are more generous than this. Many will refund 50% of your ticket for a delay of 30 minutes or more (providing you make a claim – most people aren’t aware they can).
Check the Passenger Charter of your train company for details of its compensation scheme (you can find the link to your train company here).
10. Don’t forget…
Want to know the best place to buy your train ticket? See our full guide to getting cheaper train tickets in the UK.