News 7 money-saving hacks to slash the cost of UK train tickets

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7 money-saving hacks to slash the cost of UK train tickets

UK rail holidays are lovely – but train tickets can cost more than flights. These tricks give you the fast track on how to have a British rail adventure on a budget.

A couple looking at the British countryside

Railcards aren’t just for students.

If you take off-peak trains more than a couple of times a year, a railcard could save you a third off ticket prices – and you don’t have to be a student to get one any more. In recent years, several different types of railcards have been launched to encourage people to take the train.

There are now options available for 16-25 year-olds, 26-30 year-olds, Friends & Family, HM Forces, Disabled Persons and Seniors. And even if you don’t qualify for any of those, if you often travel with the same friend or family member, you could both score a discount. The Two Together railcard allows two named adults to save 1/3 off fares when they travel together, and costs just £30 a year. It’s worth looking into regional railcards as well, depending on your location. See to find out how to apply, or ask at your local train station.

Want to save even more? Use Tesco Clubcard points to cut the cost of some railcards in half. Spend just £15 of Clubcard points to nab a £30 Two Together railcard, for example.

Just make sure you remember to bring your card with you when you travel, or you’ll be liable for a full-price on-the-spot ticket or possibly even a fine from the conductor.

Two people clinking beer glasses

Get mates’ rates.

Are you best friends or related to someone with an annual season ticket for trains in southern England? If so, they probably automatically received an Annual Gold Card – and you might be able to reap the benefits. The Gold Card gives discounts of up to 1/3 on off-peak travel on many routes in southern England – and while the card itself can only be used by the named person, they can share the same 1/3 discount with up to three adults, and secure 60% off up to four children travelling with them.

But maybe you don’t always travel with your mate? No worries. Their Annual Gold Card entitles them to buy one additional railcard for themselves or someone else for £10 instead of the usual £20-30. Chances are they don’t even realise this, so the benefit is probably going to waste. Let them know, and they might just bung this benefit to you.

People on a roller-coaster

Make the most of two-for-one deals.

Planning some sightseeing on your train trip? Days Out Guide deals have hundreds two-for-one sightseeing tickets available for anyone with valid train tickets for travel on the day of entry (although anecdotally, sites will often accept train tickets dated a day or two before entry).

A surprising number of attractions are included all around the country. When we checked, we found two-for-one tickets available for the Thorpe Park, London Eye, Hampton Court Palace, Tower of London, Manchester United Museum and Tour, Royal Pavilion Brighton, Bletchley Park and more. Most of these cost £15-25 per ticket, so the savings can be substantial.

Crucially, you must download and print the relevant voucher from the site, and present both the voucher and your valid train tickets at the attraction. And if you’re travelling as a group, don’t forget to print multiple vouchers to cover everyone.

Travelling on your own? Print a voucher, head to the queue and just ask someone else waiting if they’d like to share the savings with you. There’s nothing in the T&Cs to say you can only use the ticket with people you know.

But there is one important downside to bear in mind. You can’t book advanced tickets to the attractions with these – they’re valid for walk-up tickets only. So go first thing in the morning or outside peak periods, when queues tend to be shorter for the most popular attractions.

A pen circling the 21st on a calendar

Book on the right day and you’ll be quids in.

Savings of more than 70% can be made by booking the cheapest Advance train tickets, which tie you into a specific train time. But companies sell only a limited number of Advance tickets, and on the busiest trains, such as the early evening Euston to Birmingham New Street trains, and late afternoon Manchester Airport to Edinburgh trains – they get snapped up pretty quickly.

Most train companies release tickets for sale 12 weeks prior to departure, while Virgin Trains releases them 24 weeks ahead, so if you know where and when you want to travel, mark the exact date on your calendar and you can nab a bargain. Bear in mind that these tickets are only valid for that exact date and time – get on the wrong train, and you’ll be subject to hefty fines on the day.

But if you can’t book until closer to the time, don’t despair. If the Advance tickets don’t sell out, they can still be available just 15 minutes before departure on some routes, so it’s worth doing a quick search on your phone on the way to the station.

Full English breakfast

Slowly does it.

The most expensive time to travel on almost any route in the country is Monday to Friday from 6.00 to 9.30am, and on some trains it’s also 4.00 to 7.00pm – although this can vary by up to an hour extra either side, depending on the route.

Don’t rush. Have a relaxing cuppa and the proper Full English, Welsh or Scottish breakfast at your hotel, and you’ll not only save cash, you’ll avoid the agony of being squashed in with rush-hour commuters.

And just as with flights, slower journeys can often be cheaper than the faster ones, so book a window seat and kick back to watch the beautiful British countryside unfold as your train weaves through wild national parks and rural landscapes.

The easy way to ensure you’re getting the cheapest ticket – whether fast or slow, early or late – is to do a train search This way, you’ll clearly see the lowest fare, whether it’s the slow train at 10am or the fast one at 10pm.

Woman in train station looking at her phone

Don’t assume a return is cheaper.

You might not realise it, but sometimes it’s cheaper to buy two single tickets than a return.

Do a train search on our iPhone app and it’ll show you where this applies, so it’s easy to spot the difference in price. Bear in mind that single fares tend to apply only on a specific date and time, so an open-return ticket might work better if you want a bit of flexibility on your return journey.

Someone serving a coffee


You can get first-class seats on the cheap.

First-class fares rarely offer much of a bargain. You’d need to get through quite a few cups of coffee to warrant the extra cost. But here’s a sneaky tip – if you travel at the weekend, you can score an upgrade for next to nothing.

Some companies charge a flat-rate upgrade fee on weekends and Bank Holidays from as little as £5. For that, you’ll usually get complimentary snacks, drinks and Wifi, as well as a plusher seat and sometimes even a first-class lounge. These upgrades are occasionally available online at the time of booking, so when you do a search, you’ll see the option come up.

But here’s the real secret – even if those first-class seats weren’t a bargain when you booked, they might be when you board. Find the conductor and ask how much an on-the-spot upgrade is. Particularly on quiet trains, it can be cheaper to buy the upgrade than to pay for Wifi or a sarnie from the onboard kiosk, so pay the conductor, swan on up into that first-class carriage, and enjoy the ride.

Search rail and download the Skyscanner app on iOS

Android coming soon!

Advance train ticket comparison search on 28 March 2018 found Anytime tickets London to Edinburgh at £141.90, compared to £32.50 for 20 June, compared to the same route, train company and time.

Stop wasting your holiday money. Find out how to make even more savings with these money-saving tips.

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