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Cheaper train tickets: Five ways to save money

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The next price rise for regulated rail fares is due in March 2024. The prospect of a jump in ticket prices may feel particularly unwelcome, after costs for everything have risen at near-record rates.

Cheaper train tickets: Five ways to save money
Cheaper train tickets: Five ways to save money

Regulated fares cover about 45% of fares, including season tickets on most commuter journeys, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and anytime tickets around major cities.

It may seem like little consolation – especially after months of disruption from rail strikes and poor service – but the government has promised that the increase will be below the rate of price inflation for a second year.

While some people will try to cram in buying their season tickets just before the price rise, here are five tips for getting the cheapest deals at any time of the year.

1. Buy in advance

Advance train tickets are usually released up to 12 weeks before your departure date, although some go on sale as far as 24 weeks in advance.

These types of tickets are often the cheapest way to travel on the railways if you’re happy to go during a fixed time. Sometimes they can be available to buy up to an hour before your journey.

Personal finance website Money Saving Expert says that London North Eastern Railway (LNER) often releases advance tickets up to six months ahead for routes from stations north of York to London.

Some ticket purchasing apps can send alerts to your phone as soon as tickets for a specified journey go on sale.

2. Split your fare

Split ticketing means you can take the same number of trains you normally would for your journey, but can save money by splitting your journey into multiple tickets between the stations the service stops at on the way.

Some websites like Split My Fare and Split Train Tickets do it for you without you having to work it out.

Split My Fare says on average, customers save 26% by doing this – although it’s not always possible on some journeys.

Also, checking to see whether it is cheaper to buy two single tickets rather than a return might save you money.  

3. Use a rail card

Rail cards can offer discounts when booking, though they cost money to purchase in the first place, so benefit those who travel often.

There are several types of rail card available: national, regional, those for students and those for pensioners.

For example, the regional Cotswold Line Railcard costs £9.95, is valid for one year and gives you a 34% discount on off-peak single and return tickets.

More information on the different types of railcard are here.

4. Travel in groups

You can get up to a third off the ticket price when travelling in groups of three to nine adults.

The group must be travelling together, and individual rail cards cannot be used when booking a group ticket.

Groups of over 10 people can also get discounts – contact the train company directly for those. Group off-peak day travelcards for London are also available, but the origin station on the ticket needs to be in fare zones one to nine.

5. Take advantage of flexible commuting

National flexible rail tickets could save passengers hundreds of pounds, says watchdog Transport Focus.

The flexible season tickets will allow travel on any eight days in a 28-day period, with no need to select the days of travel in advance.

Train companies have also introduced a range of flexible tickets aimed at commuters and workers who have seen their travel patterns change post-pandemic. 

The Flexi Season ticket will offer a minimum of 20% discount on an equivalent monthly season ticket, according to National Rail.

For those making the same journey multiple times in a week regularly, monthly or season tickets can be cheaper. Check with your employer to see if they offer a season ticket loan to help you spread the cost, interest free.

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