Trains represent a great way of getting around, and they almost always come out ahead in terms of cost per mile, especially if you consider driving. However, being cheaper is one thing – being as cheap as possible is something else entirely. We are going to assume that you are not the biggest fan of spending more than is necessary on your train travel, and the following tips have been pulled together to make the entire concept of moving around by train as cost-effective as possible.
1. Always Keep an Eye on Advance Bookings
There will be times when life happens, and you need to hop on a train and be somewhere else immediately. In general, however, you have plenty of notice for the longer journeys, and it is prudent to use this advance notice to your advantage. You can shave at least half the price off a ticket by booking more than a week in advance compared to buying the same ticket on the day. In some cases, the reduction is almost breath-taking – advance tickets are typically available 3 months before the journey, and they can be up to 90% cheaper. While the reductions will not be quite as vast closer to the date, anything bought up to midnight on the day before the journey counts as an advance ticket, and this will often be reflected in the price.
2. Take the Slower Route when Not in a Rush
It makes sense that you want to get from A to B as quickly as possible, but you often pay for the privilege. On longer routes, there are often multiple services that ultimately start and end in the same place. One just covers more local routes – this means more stops and longer journey time. Alternatively, you can add another stop to your journey and take advantage of the cost savings involved. You’ll add less than an hour to the overall journey time while potentially cutting the travel cost in half.
3. Use Off-Peak Tickets where Possible
On- and off-peak tickets are not available everywhere, but our readers that live in areas where they are will be used to the idea of the off-peak ones being significantly cheaper. As a general rule, these are the tickets used by people not travelling to work, so they tend to be valid in the evening and at weekends. Given that this feature should have you thinking about planning ahead, see if you can modify your travel plans to accommodate an earlier or later start to avoid peak times.
4. Buy Numerous Tickets for a Single Journey
As long as you have one or more tickets covering your entire journey, you will have no issues with buying as many as is necessary. The easy option is to buy a ticket that starts at point A on your journey and ends at point B where you get off. Train companies know this and price it in for convenience. If you have the time and inclination, however, you can buy tickets to cover shorter legs of the journey, and potentially even individual stops. This tip can even be combined with the off-peak advice above – if your journey begins at peak time but becomes off-peak partway through, you’ll only need an off-peak ticket to complete it.
5. Use Certain Payment Methods for Cashback and Incentives
Both cashback websites and the equivalent credit cards can shave a few percentage points off the price of rail travel. Again, the chances are that you are planning ahead here, so there is time to decide on the card of choice while also weighing up the various cashback offers. There will always be some kind of cashback available while booking, and it can add up quickly for frequent travellers.
6. Get a Railcard
This tip varies once more depending on where you live, but most train operators give travellers the chance to discount their fares with up-front payment. Naturally, if you are going somewhere by train and back again, and do not plan to make another journey within 12 months, then prepaid discount cards are not worth it. However, if you take long journeys regularly, the savings can add up. If you are a student or fit into other concession categories, the savings are likely to be even bigger.
7. Look into Season Tickets if you are a Frequent Traveller
This one is a no-brainer but worth mentioning for anyone that may have forgotten. The nature of season tickets means that they will be far cheaper than the equivalent single or return ticket bought on the day, and they cover various periods. Even if you are making the same journey every day for a week, you will cut travel prices almost in half by paying upfront.
8. Bring Your Friends and Get a Group Discount
Train companies love group bookings. One person has decided to make a journey and does the marketing for them by encouraging others to come along. While not stated directly, the operator passes on a reward by way of group booking discounts as they love to see their seats being filled quickly. Once your group size passes a certain threshold, you will start to receive increasing percentages off the full price.
9. Do Not Always Buy Direct
Part of the reason why buying on the day is so expensive is that you are a captive audience – the ticket desk in the station and the various machines are your only options. When you have the internet to hand, you can buy straight from the operator, but consider third-party sellers too as they may be able to do a better deal.
10. Don’t Buy a Return by Default
If you go somewhere, the chances are that you’ll want to come back at some point. Return tickets are convenient, but not always the cheap option. Two singles at specific times can be cheaper, as can off-peak travel as outlined above.