The price of a train ticket has rocketed in the last few years, worst yet the price hike hasn’t stopped with rail fares set to increase again stretching consumers pockets even more.
We’ve created the ultimate guide to help you find the cheapest train tickets for your journey using multiple methods from promotions, through to tools, tips and tricks.
If you like our guide please share to help your friends and family beat the rail fare hikes.
Read our best tips for booking the cheapest train tickets
1. Book in advance
If you plan to make a future journey by train then booking in advance will be one of the best ways to save money, as Network Rail, the government body which runs and maintains the UK rail network have a policy to set the train timetables 12 weeks in advance.
This means train operators like Virgin Trains, normally release their cheapest tickets around the 10 – 12 weeks in advance.
You can find a handy chart created by National Rail which outlines which operators allow you to book the furthest in advance.
2. Rovers and Rangers
Ranger and Rover tickets offer unlimited travel within a specified region or area for a day or a several days which can work out cheaper than buying a return ticket or multiple singles.
For example if you are planning a day trip to the Lake District then a Day Ranger ticket would enable you to travel freely throughout that particular area.
You can find which train operators provider Rover and Ranger tickets here: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/times_fares/rangers_and_rovers.aspx
If you live in the North West or travelling in that region then Northern Railway have a comprehensive section.
3. Ask for the cheapest
As silly as it sounds when purchasing a train ticket at the station ticket desks, the cheapest ticket is not always offered to the customer by the clerk. Sometimes a return or two singles can work out cheaper or simply asking for a cheaper ticket could make you aware of offers you are unaware of such as student discounts, group save, off peak, on peak etc…
4. Off-peak and On-peak tickets
Travelling during off-peak hours is often much cheaper as during that time period the trains are less busy.
When purchasing a return train ticket make sure that you ask for an off-peak return if applicable as it will be cheaper that a ticket which allows you to return anytime.
Read more at National Rail.
5. Split ticketing
Split ticketing is a cool trick for saving big money on your ticket price by purchasing them in separate parts for the whole journey while staying on the same train. You might think this is against rules and regulations but split ticketing is perfectly legal and within the National Rail Conditions of Carriage.
For example if you are traveling from Glasgow to London by train a single ticket might cost you around £200, but a single from Glasgow to Stafford then Stafford to London costs around £100 which is a 50% saving on a standard ticket, if you have a rail card it could be even cheaper.
Finding a split ticket can be quite tricky due to the number of stops and routes but there are handy tools developed to help you find them:
RailEasy Split Ticketing Tool: https://raileasy.trainsplit.com/
Split your ticket: https://www.splityourticket.co.uk/
Alternatively it is possible to manually research the exact stops a train will make through the National Rail website so you can easily check and compare prices.
Available to most people depending on their age, Railcards are one of the best ways to save up to a third on ticket prices. If you only make the odd journey each year then a railcard might not save you much money as they all cost around £30 for a years usage but if you spend more than £90 then a Railcard would be most beneficial.
The cards are available for anyone under the age of 26 and over 60, disabled or with a family.
- 16-25 Railcard
- Two Together Railcard
- Family & Friends Railcard
- Senior Railcard
- Disabled Persons
- Railcard Network Railcard
Visit the Railcard website for more information.
Did you know with a valid Railcard you are eligible for other fantastic travel discounts such as a YHA membership for just £1, that’s 90% off the annual subscription also Virgin Experience Days provide Railcard customers with 20% off.
7. Season tickets
Do you frequently use the train for commuting or visiting family & friends? You might want to consider purchasing a season ticket which usually works out better value for money than buying single or return tickets each time you travel.
Season tickets can be bought for a minimum of 7 days, 1-2 months and annually.
National Rail’s season ticket calculator is a great tool to help you work out the price, you can find the calculator here http://ojp.nationalrail.co.uk/service/seasonticket/search
If you journey also includes travelling by bus then why not combine PLUSBUS onto your season ticket which enables you to travel unlimited on bus services throughout 170 towns and cities across Britain. You can find more about that here on the PLUSBUS website.
8. Cash back
If you purchase your train tickets online through a booking website or operator you could receive anywhere from 1-10% of the ticket price back into your pocket.
We recommend using TopCashBack or Quidco which allow you to book tickets with the below companies and receive cashback
- Virgin Trains 2.3%
- TheTrainLine 3.5%
- East Midlands Trains 2.8%
- Rail Card 5.75%
- TrainGenius 2.3%
- Voyages-SNCF 4.6%
Register with: https://www.topcashback.co.uk/
9. Nectar points
Various train operators have partnered with Nectar to reward customers with points when they purchase their train tickets, the points can be redeemed for monetary value and other benefits such as a meal out, days days out or the latest gadget.
For example if you purchase your train tickets with First Group which operates First Great Western, First Hull Trains and First TransPennine Express for every £1.00 you spend with them will entitle you to 2 Nectar points and if you’re a season ticket holder a maximum of 2,500 Nectar points.
Once you have received your Nectar Card a unique number will be allocated which you can enter at the checkout when booking tickets or swiped.
If you don’t have a Nectar Card you can sign-up for one here: https://www.nectar.com/new-card
- Transpennine Express: https://www.tpexpress.co.uk/special-offers/collect-nectar-points/
- Virgin Trains East coast: https://www.virgintrainseastcoast.com/rewards/spend-your-nectar-points/
- First Great Western: http://www.firstgroupplc.com/about-firstgroup/uk-rail/nectar.aspx
- EuroStar: https://help.eurostar.com/faq/uk-en/question/Can-I-use-Nectar-points-to-buy-Eurostar-tickets
- Virgin Trains: https://www.virgintrains.co.uk/experience/rewards/nectar
- Hull Trains: http://www.hulltrains.co.uk/tickets-and-offers/travel-offers/nectar-loyalty/
- Great Western Railway: https://www.gwr.com/help-and-support/nectar-points
10. Megatrain £1 train tickets
Operated by Stagecoach Group, Megatrain sells rail tickets starting from £1.00 for hundreds of popular routes across the UK, although the £1.00 fares are limited you can often find tickets priced under £10.00.
For example we performed a search travelling from London to Liverpool this January 2017 and several tickets priced at £5, £7 and £10 were presented.
Dare we say it’s a £1 shop for railway tickets, please note they do charge a small booking fee of 50p per transaction.
You might be confused when visiting the Megatrain website as the banner at the top is for MegaBus, a sister company for finding £1.00 coach tickets. But you will notice when performing a search with the drop down form it does show train journeys, it just uses the same booking script.
If you do find a £1.00 train ticket don’t let the price put you off they are for real trains, StageGroup also owns South West Trains and East Midlands Train which are where most of the cheaper tickets are sold on.
What routes are included?
Megatrain goes to around 19 destinations across the UK.
If you want to save even more money you could combine Megatrain fares with split ticketing to grab the mega cheap journey of your life.
Bonus tip!: Can’t find a cheap train ticket? Are you aware that MegaBus UK provide £1 bus tickets for thousands of their inner-city routes?
11. Group Travel
A large number of train companies operate a regular promotion called Groupsave, if you’re travelling together in a small group between three to nine people then you can save a whopping 34% of the price of your train ticket. If the group is larger than ten people some still offer you the GroupSave promotion but you need to arrange 7 days in advance.
Not all train companies provide Groupsave discounts so make sure you do your homework before heading to the train station.
Here is a list of the companies below we have found to do Groupsave
- South West Trains: https://www.southwesttrains.co.uk/tickets-explained/group-travel/
- c2c: http://www.c2c-online.co.uk/tickets-and-fares/daily-tickets-and-offers/group-travel/
- Chiltern Railway: https://www.chilternrailways.co.uk/group-travel
- Great Northern: https://www.greatnorthernrail.com/
- Great Western Railway: https://www.gwr.com/
- London Northwestern Railway(London Midland): https://www.londonnorthwesternrailway.co.uk/
- South Eastern Railway: https://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/tickets/ways-to-save/groupsave
- Southern Railway: http://www.southernrailway.com/tickets-and-fares/railcards-and-discounts/groupsave/
- Thameslink: https://www.thameslinkrailway.com/
12. National Rail’s cheapest fare finder
According to the the National Rail website the Cheapest Fare Finder tool displays the lowest possible fare for all UK train operators. http://ojp.nationalrail.co.uk/service/farefinder/search
13. Buy 2 singles, instead of a return ticket
Train ticket pricing is a complex web of companies, regulations, booking websites and other varying factors one cannot explain, and for that reason it can work out cheaper buying two single tickets as opposed to a return.
14. Jobcentre Plus travel discount
Several million people are unemployed across the UK and most are claiming Job Seeker’s allowance or similar benefits which entitles them to receive discounted train tickets through a government scheme for various purposes including getting back into work, preparing for work and training.
For example Southern Railway provides persons with the Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card a 50% Off Anytime Day and Off-Peak Day tickets (including Off-Peak Day
Travelcards for travel starting outside London Zones 1-9). Also Weekly, Monthly and longer period Season Tickets and Travelcards (up to a maximum of 3 months) 50% off Oyster pay as you go (PAYG) fares in London Zones 1
How to get your Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card:
To apply for a discount card you’ll need to go to pop into your local Jobcentre Plus office.
More info at the government website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/support-to-help-with-the-cost-of-transport/support-to-help-with-the-cost-of-transport
If you include a coach or bus within your train journey then Stagecoach also provides half price tickets across their services, find out more here: https://www.stagecoachbus.com/promos-and-offers/national/back-on-board
If you include a bus or tram journey at the start or end of your train journey then why not take advantage of PLUSBUS, a ticket costs between £2.00 and £3.50 a day and can be purchased when buying your train ticket.
There’s no peak hour restrictions, so you can hop-on and off buses and trams as much as you like.
Where is PLUSBUS available?
The scheme is available for around 290 rail-served towns and cities across the UK. You can take a look at the map here http://www.plusbus.info/plusbus-your-area for a full list.
16. Keep away from automated ticket machines
Most train stations provided automated ticket machines to speed up waiting times but did you know they do not advertise GroupSave, offers and discounted tickets plus you they work out more expensive as apposed to buying in advance the night or weeks before.
16. Travel cards
Travel Cards allow you unlimited travel on most National Rail services, buses, tubes, trams and the London Underground throughout London. You can purchase a 7 day ticket or one ticket from the Transport For London visitor shop here https://visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/london-travelcard/
Tickets are valid across London Fare Zones, you can see the map here: https://visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk/~/media/files/pdfs/tfl_london_transport_map.ashx
Types of TravelCard’s
- Anytime Day Travelcard – these can be used for the whole day (using the date printed on the ticket) and for any journey starting before 04:30 the following day
- Off Peak Day Travelcard – these can be used from 09:30 Monday to Friday, anytime on weekends and public holidays (using the date printed on the ticket) and for journeys starting before 04:30 the following day.
- 7 Day Travelcard – these can be used from the start date (printed on the ticket) and for any journey starting before 04:30 the day after the expiry date.
- Group Day Travelcard – these can be used to travel as much as you like from 09:30 Monday to Friday and anytime on weekends and public holidays (using the date printed on the ticket), as part of a group of 10 people or more travelling together at all times. Find out more.
17. Get a free student Railcard and save a ⅓
Are you part-time or full-time student studying in the UK? You could cut the cost of your train tickets by a third with a free Railcard depending on which bank provider you are with.
Santander 123 Student Account
With the Santander 123 student bank account you will receive a free four year Railcard. Find out more below:
We are not aware of any other banks providing free Railcard’s for customers.
18. Discounted rail fares for students
Some train operators provide handsome discounts for students who have NUS cards.
- 25% off train tickets with TransPennine: https://www.nus.org.uk/en/nus-extra/discounts/25-off-rail-travel-with-transpennine-express-/
- 10% off advanced tickets with CrossCountry Trains: https://www.nus.org.uk/en/nus-extra/discounts/get-10-off-crosscountry-and-grand-central-advance-train-tickets/
- Did you know you can get 12% off the price of a 16-25 Railcard if you are an NUS card member? Find out more here: https://www.nus.org.uk/en/nus-extra/discounts/exclusive-11-discount-on-your-16-25-railcard/
- £80 off Interrailing: https://www.nus.org.uk/en/nus-extra/discounts/80-off-all-products-with-interrailing-packages/
If you don’t have an NUS card we recommend purchasing a 16-25 Railcard to receive a ⅓ off all rail tickets.
19. Free European travel passes for under 18’s
Young people can again register for free rail tickets from 2 May until 16 May, thanks to the Discover EU initiative, supported by the European Parliament.