The train is one of best ways to travel in the UK. It offers spectacular routes along the Scottish Highlands, along a Cornish Coast, and across the Yorkshire Moors. It’s much more convenient than traveling by car, and has a lower environmental footprint.
Many people are afraid to travel by train within the UK because they believe it is too complicated and expensive. Although I cannot help but be confused by the number of train companies and fares, I have many money-saving tips to travel by rail. Here are 12 ways you can save money on train travel within the UK.
How to save money on train travel within the UK
1. Avoid peak times
Although the UK fare system is complex, there are only three types of tickets: Advance, Anytime and Off-Peak.
- Anytime – The most expensive and flexible train travel option. Prices are set and tickets can purchased right up to the departure of the train.
- Off Peak: These tickets can be purchased until the train departs. There are also Super Off-Peak discounted tickets available at less restricted times.
- Advance – This is often the cheapest way to travel.
Peak times are when commuters travel to work. They can vary by train company. However, it is a good idea to avoid travel between 6.30am-9.30am or 3.30pm-6.30pm in order to reduce costs.
2. Get your tickets early…
Advance tickets are limited and sold out quickly. Book early to get a great deal. In the past, train tickets were available for purchase around 12 weeks prior to travel. However, post-pandemic schedules can change and some companies are only able to sell their tickets in six weeks.
You can search the National Rail website to find out when the first-day tickets go on sale for that date. This will show you the farthest dates you are able to book for each company. To be notified of the sale of tickets, you can sign up for email alerts.
3. … at least 15 minutes before
It’s worth searching for last-minute Advance tickets even if you are unable to book in advance. Previously, Advance tickets could only be booked up to 6 pm the night before departure. If Advance tickets are still available, some train companies now allow you to book Advance fares up to 15 minutes before departure.
Even for peak-priced services, booking in advance can help you save money. A single trip from London to Bristol at 6.30pm on this week cost PS90 for an Advance ticket purchased the night before, and PS119 for an Anytime tickets bought the same day.
4. Instead of buying multiple tickets, buy single tickets
Although you might believe that a return ticket is cheaper than two singles or the same price, the cheapest tickets are available only for one-way travel. A return ticket for Off-Peak from London to York costs PS112, but single fares are available for PS30 each.
Single fares are restricted to certain trains. If you desire flexibility, an open return is better as it gives you the option of many trains.
5. Split your ticket
You can also save money by purchasing separate tickets for different sections of the same train journey in the UK. This is possible without even having to change trains. This works best for longer trips and more expensive tickets. However, it is worth looking into for other journeys.
It would cost PS109 to go from Exeter to Birmingham on weekday mornings. You can save PS28 by purchasing separate tickets (PS19 and PS62) to travel from Bristol to Birmingham.
You can either work out the route and stop locations yourself, or you can use an online tool such as Train Split to find the best places to split your journey. It also shows you how much money you can save. However, you could end up with 10 tickets for long trips! ).
6. Get a discount on your flight to the airport
It might be cheaper to purchase a train ticket to all of the UK than separate tickets. This might sound odd, and is not the same as split ticketing, but you can get tickets that include Tube and airport train fares at a fraction of the cost.
For PS22.40 I was able to find a train ticket to Cheltenham from Gatwick Airport. This included a train from Gatwick Airport, London Victoria, the Tube, Paddington, and train to Cheltenham. They would have cost PS12.50 to the airport train and PS2.50 to the Tube. The Cheltenham train was PS19.20 cheaper, which saved me almost PS12.
Although it doesn’t work on all airports, it is worth looking into. You can also save up to a third on your train tickets if you take the Gatwick, Heathrow, or Stansted Express trains.
A Railcard* is a great way to save up to a third on most UK train fares if you plan on taking a few trips. You will usually be eligible to at least one of the many types of railcards available.
- 16-25 Railcard – For students who are under 26 and full-time.
- 26-30 Railcard – For those aged 26-30.
- Senior Railcard – For people over 60
- Disabled Persons Railcard – For disabled persons and one adult companion.
- Two Together Railcard – For two adults traveling together.
- Family & Friends Railcard – For up to four people and four children
- Network Railcard – For travel to London and the southeast
Each card costs PS30 (except for the Disabled Persons Railwaycard, which is PS20), and is valid for one year. You will get your money back if you spend only PS90 on rail travel. Railcards are available to both UK and international travellers. You can use them for most journeys. However, travel after 9.30am is not allowed.
Railcards can be purchased online*, or at any station. You can download a digital version of your railcard to your smartphone if you book online. Otherwise, you will receive a physical card. You can then select the railcard fare when you book tickets online. You must bring the card with your travel to receive the discount tickets.