How to Get Cheaper Train Tickets

With fares on the rise, we talk you through the best ways to get cheaper train tickets

Commuter train travelling in the morning
(Image credit: Getty Images)

 

If rising energy bills and inflated food prices weren’t enough to deal with during a cost of living crisis, it now appears we’re having to pay more for train travel too. Indeed, train fares in England and Wales have just gone up by 5.9% in recent weeks, meaning it's now more crucial than ever to try and cut costs wherever possible.

Despite constantly increasing fees, the number of people using train services in the UK is starting to rise again following the COVID-19 pandemic. According to gov.uk, in the year ending March 2022 “990 million passenger rail journeys were made, an increase of 155.2% on the previous year”. More journeys taken mean more money spent, but thankfully there are plenty of ways to try and secure cheaper train tickets on your next journey. 

Railcard

 

Depending on how often you use trains, a railcard might be a great way to save money. There are a host of different card types to choose from; including a 16-25 Railcard, a 26-30 Railcard, a Family & Friends Railcard and many more. They all offer slightly different perks, but all come with an up-front cost that is designed to save users money in the long run.

But how much can you actually save? The general rule of thumb with railcards (regardless of what age category you’re applying for) is that you’ll save a third off the price of a ticket. Most railcards cost £30.00 per year, and some are also available for three years at a cost of £70.00. A railcard will save you money if you plan to spend more than £90.00 per year on train travel which, if you commute to and from work, school or university, is highly likely to be the case.

There are some restrictions with railcards and many are specific to the individual card type that you have purchased. As an example, the Family & Friends Railcard is not valid between 4.30 am and 9.30 am on weekdays, making it inconvenient for commuting. Be sure to double-check the terms and conditions of your chosen railcard before confirming payment.

Season Tickets

 

Buying a yearly season ticket can be a useful option for those who use the same route regularly. How much you can save depends on where you travel, with certain routes to and from London working out cheaper than others if you avoid certain stations. 

Using the handy Trainline season ticket calculator, we quickly established that travelling from Bristol Temple Meads to London Terminals has a number of different season ticketing options that vary in price. For example, a monthly pass (at the time of writing) totalled £946.60 when travelling through smaller stations such as Warminster and Salisbury. Naturally, this would make the journey longer, but it would save you money when considering season tickets on the same route but without restrictions can cost £1,347.90. A season ticket which includes London Travel Cards for Zones 1-6 is also available, but is a little more expensive again at £1,422.80 per month.

A woman sat on a train using her mobile phone

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A season ticket is also worth considering if you commute throughout London or South East England, as you could be entitled to an Annual Gold Card. Alongside your yearly season ticket, the Gold Card will grant you added discounts on other rail journeys within the Gold Card area and this can be used for individual travel or group travel. They are automatically issued alongside the purchase of a season ticket, meaning you don’t have to pay a penny more to receive extra perks.

Consider how often you travel before deciding on whether or not a season ticket is the best option for you. If you travel less frequently, then a Flexi Season Ticket might be of more value. This alternative gives you 8 days of travel in 28 days, and prices will vary depending on where you are planning to travel.

Split Ticketing

 

This is a very useful hack when it comes to getting cheaper train tickets. Instead of buying one ticket to cover an entire journey, you can buy separate tickets to cover smaller journeys along the same route. Not only can this save you money, but it also means you can take exactly the same trip without having to make any additional changes along the way. In fact, the only thing you’ll need to remember is to show the correct ticket when asked by the train conductor!

Split ticketing is totally legal, so don’t be put off if you’re worried about ‘cheating the system’. Trainline has a useful split-ticketing platform, and at MyVoucherCodes we have a wide range of further discounts, offers and ways to save with them too. 

Are Two Singles Cheaper Than a Return?

 

Yes and no is the answer to that question, as unhelpful as it might sound. It varies largely; depending on when you book, the route you’re looking to travel and the times at which you plan to depart and return. There are a few nifty tricks to decipher which ticketing option might be best for you.

Figuring out whether or not it’ll be cheaper is fairly simple, especially online. When searching for tickets, be sure to select the ‘return’ option for your selected journey. You’ll then be presented with a range of times and prices, allowing you to see the cost for Standard and First Class Single tickets compared to the cost of an Off-Peak Return, Off-Peak Day Return or Anytime Day Return (on eligible journeys). 

Image of a commuter train moving at high speed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As an example, we looked at a return journey from Manchester Piccadilly to Birmingham New Street. At the time of writing, a Standard Single each way costs £44.60 (without any railcard and ignoring ‘limited availability’ prices), meaning if you were to select two singles for your return journey it would total £89.20. In comparison an Anytime Return, allowing you to return on any time train within the next month, would cost £104.90 - £15.70 more expensive.

The cheapest return tariff on this journey, however, was the Off-Peak Return which worked out at just £46.00 - only £1.40 more expensive than a one-way ticket. This ticket type allows travel on any off-peak train and for the traveller to return within one month. It’s evident that savings can be found, depending on your travel preferences and how flexible you are prepared to be. 

Book in Advance or Book Late

 

Booking in advance is certainly a good way to save money on your train ticket prices. Typically, train companies start selling seats 12 weeks in advance and some, such as London North Eastern Railway (LNER), release them even earlier at 24 weeks! It’s a great way to cut the cost, especially if you like to plan ahead. These seats tend to sell out quickly, however, so be sure to act fast.  

A nifty way to know when train tickets go on sale is by using ticket alert platforms. Trainline has a handy one, which will send you emails as soon as tickets that might be of interest to you are put up for sale. They do charge booking fees for advanced tickets, though, so be sure to check your final payment amount before confirming your booking. Alternatively, it might be worth booking directly with companies like GWR or Cross Country, as they don’t charge additional fees!

Paradoxically, booking late can also save you money. Train companies now allow unsold advance tickets to be sold on the day of travel, so make sure you check out if any are available before purchasing a standard ticket. Of course, leaving it until the last minute is slightly risky if you’re set on trying to save money, as the tickets might sell out. 

Jack Cunningham
Travel Editor

As a former sports journalist and content creator, I swapped the press box for a permanent desk several years ago. Since giving match reports the red card, I have enjoyed developing my writing and research skills in a few other areas, and now I spend my time doing something I really enjoy - sharing the best ways to save on travel with our wonderful readers.


I love nothing more than exploring different parts of the world and learning about new cultures (and taking in the occasional sporting fixture, if at all possible). I’m just as happy on a quick city break in Lisbon as I am navigating my way across the width of America, and firmly believe everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy travelling regardless of their budget.