Fed up with ridiculous rail fares? We show you how to get cheap family train tickets across the UK. We've hunted down all the hidden deals so you can get the cheapest possible train ticket for your family.
Get 30% off adult tickets and 60% kids' tickets in one simple step
Another year, another rail fare price hike. But you can save yourself a packet by reading our tips below before you book your tickets!
How to get cheap family train tickets - 8 tips EVERYONE should know
Family train ticket deals from companies - find out if YOUR train company has cheap ticket deals
How to get cheap family train tickets
1. Get a Family and Friends Railcard - 30% OFF Adult and 60% OFF Child Train Fares
Getting a Family and Friends Railcard is the best way to get cheap family train tickets regularly.
The Railcard gives you 30% OFF adult fares and 60% OFF kids' fares - a huge saving.
A Family and Friends Railcard costs £30 for one year - but with the savings you make, it will easily pay for itself. (Many people find they save over £30 on just one journey.)
Get a discount on your Family Railcard
It's worth paying full price for a Family Railcard, but there are two ways to get a discount Family Railcard:
- 10% discount: At the moment you can get 10% OFF the price of a Family Railcard (so you pay £27 rather than £30). However this offer only runs until 30 April 2014, so don't hang around.
- 50% discount (Tesco customers only): If you buy a Family Railcard through Tesco's Clubcard scheme, you can get a Railcard for just £15 worth of Clubcard vouchers. In other words, you get a Family Railcard for half-price!
2. Book your train tickets early (up to 12 weeks)
If you book a train ticket for your family early, you can usually get a much cheaper price for your journey. In fact you can save up to 80% by buying tickets early.
But what many people don't realise is that 12 weeks before you are due to travel is normally the best time to bag a cheap rail ticket.
This is because the rail companies must set their timetables (and release train tickets) 12 weeks in advance by law. So this is when they usually have the cheapest tickets on offer.
Left it till the last minute? It's STILL worth booking in advance rather than getting your tickets at the station. Some of our readers have got massive train ticket discounts just by ordering the night before.
3. Jump the queue
So you now know that the cheapest tickets come out 12 weeks in advance - but when you've got 101 things on your mind, it's easy to lose track. Who hasn't forgotten to book in advance, and ended up having to pay top whack for last minute tickets?
Luckily, The Trainline has a very useful 'Ticket Alert' feature that not many people know about. Simply enter your journey details, and it will automatically alert you by email the moment advance tickets come on sale. This will save you money, and enable you to skip the queue by snapping up tickets for routes that sell out fast.
However, be aware that The Trainline charges a booking fee when you buy tickets through them. Which brings us to...
4. Avoid booking charges
There's no reason you can't use The Trainline's Ticket Alert feature, but then buy your tickets through another site (one that doesn't charge booking or card fees).
Train ticket site Red Spotted Hanky have no hidden fees:
- NO credit or debit card fees
- NO sneaky booking fees
- FREE ticket postage
Red Spotted Hanky also reward you with a loyalty scheme. You get back 1p for every £1 you spend on train tickets. Ok, so it's not going to make you rich, but it all adds up (and it's better than other sites that CHARGE you an extra few quid through booking or card fees!)
It's also worth looking at buying tickets direct from the train companies themselves, as they don't charge booking fees either (they also occasionally run offers specific to their network - see below for a round up of their current offers).
5. Double the value of your Clubcard vouchers when you buy train tickets
If you're a Tesco Clubcard holder, you can get an even better deal at Red Spotted Hanky.
For every £5 you earn in Clubcard vouchers, you get £10 to spend at Red Spotted Hanky.
- £5 of Clubcard vouchers = £10 Red Spotted Hanky credit
- £10 of Clubcard vouchers = £20 Red Spotted Hanky credit
...and so on.
You can combine this offer with your Family Railcard discount, too!
6. Earn cashback on your family train tickets
Don't have a Clubcard? You can earn cashback of between 1%-4% when you buy family train tickets.
They have cashback deals with the likes of The Trainline, Red Spotted Hanky, Virgin Trains, East Midlands Trains, Gatwick Express, Eurostar and more.
Want to find out more about how cashback works? Check out our guide on how to get paid to shop.
7. Train tickets for just £1 with Megatrain
Megatrain (which is hosted on the successful Megabus website) is well worth looking at.
They sell incredibly cheap train and coach tickets. Megatrain/Megabus often have single tickets from as little as £1 (but these sell out quickly!). They also have plenty of tickets for around £4-£8. They do charge a booking fee of 50p - but when their prices are this low, who's complaining?
Megatrain does not cover the whole train network but it's very good for deals on South West, Virgin and East Midlands trains.
While Megatrain offer some of the cheapest tickets around, they are the only exception to the '12 weeks rule' (see point number 2 above) - Megatrain discount train tickets are only released 45 days in advance.
8. Don't get a return ticket without checking first
It makes absolutely no sense at all, but for some reason getting two lots of single tickets can often work out cheaper than buying a standard return ticket.
It's worth quickly checking this on a ticket site to see if you can get a cheaper deal doing this.
One final tip - remember to claim for train delays!
Did you know that if your train is over an hour late, you can claim back 20% of the cost of a single fare by law? (You can claim back 10% if it's a return ticket - unless there was an hour delay on both legs of the journey).
But that's just the legal minimum, and some train companies are more generous. Many will refund 50% of your ticket for a delay of 30 minutes or more (but only if you make a claim). Most people aren’t aware they can claim at all.
Check the Passenger Charter of your train company to see what you're entitled to (you can find links to each train network's Passenger Charters here)
Family train ticket deals from train companies
Now you've read the 8 tips above, you know how to get cheap family train tickets for ANY train network.
However, many individual train companies have their own discounts. You can combine these with your Family Railcard for extra savings.
For example, did you know that if you are travelling with kids aged between three and six on a Virgin Train, they get a free goody bag bursting with treats and toys? Or did you know that kids can travel for free with Scotrail if you buy the right ticket?
Here's a run down of the best family ticket deals on each train network (if they have one):
Virgin: family ticket special offers
Virgin Trains offer a host of deals and discounts on family travel across its network. Virgin covers a substantial area including London to Scotland via Carlisle, Wales and Southern England. Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham are also served by the network.
- Children under the age of five travel free and those under the age of 12 travel at half the adult fare. These fares also apply to Advance tickets ensuring even better savings.
- Get a free treat bag for kids aged between three and six bursting with goodies to help keep them entertained. Get it at the walk-in Virgin Shop on the train.
East Coast: cheap child fares when you book Rewards tickets
Every time you book tickets with East Coast, you get Reward points - which you can then exchange for free tickets.
For every free Rewards ticket you earn, up to three kids can travel with you for just £5 each on the East Coast network. Find out more here.
East Coast: 33% off family/group tickets offer
If you haven't got enough Reward points, you can still get a big discount on the East Coast network by travelling in a group.
By travelling in a group or family of between three to nine people, you can get 33% off advance single tickets here.
This offer can't be used with Railcards however.
First Capital Connect: kids can travel for just £2
First Capital Connect have some great deals on Super Off Peak tickets - you can get up to 35% OFF if you buy your tickets before 24 November.
To make the deal even sweeter, kids aged 5-15 can travel for just £2 with an adult, while kids under 5 go free.
Super Off Peak tickets are only available on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays. You can use your Family Railcard to get even bigger savings. Remember offer ends 24 November.
ScotRail: kids go FREE deals
Up to two children aged between 5 and 15 can travel free with each adult who purchases a Kids Go Free ticket.
- This offer is available all year round; even when the school holidays are on.
- As an added bonus your kids get free entry to some of Scotland’s top attractions.
Southern: kids travel for £1
Up to four kids aged between 5 to 15 years can travel for only £1 each when accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket. Kids can only travel for £1 during off-peak times.
Adult tickets can be bought online - but the kids' £1 tickets must be bought at the station.
Four for two returns with Gatwick Express
Gatwick Express is perfect for times when you want to save on the hassle and time on getting to the Gatwick airport when jetting off to your family holiday As the name suggests, it is fast! With this discount, three or four people can travel between London Victoria and London Gatwick for the price of two.
Save with GroupSave: kids travel for a £1
GroupSave is a great way to save money on your family train tickets if 3 or 4 adults are travelling:
- When 3 or 4 adults travel, only 2 adults pay
- In addition, you can add up to 4 kids can tag along for just £1 each
- Children under 5 travel free.
Up to 4 adults can travel for the fare of just 2 adults on with any off-peak tickets (plus up to 4 additional kids can travel for just £1 each).
GroupSave is available across a range of operators; from C2C to Stanstead Express. The offer is very popular for routes into London. You can book your GroupSave tickets using the SouthWest Trains website for travel on any UK rail operator.
However you can't use a Family Railcard with the Groupsave deal.
Enjoy your cheap family train tickets!
Remember, finding cheap family train tickets needn't be a hassle as long as you book early and follow our guidelines. We hope you find these hints useful. If we've missed a deal, then get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Main image credit: Betina Skovbro/Arriva Trains Wales