However, with a bit of knowledge and a small amount of patience, it's often possible to travel cheaply. As the saying goes, look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves!
1) Plan in advance
- If travelling any great distance, try to get your tickets as early as possible. Most advanced tickets are available 12 weeks before the date of travel, although this varies between train companies
- Be aware that advance tickets are normally either non-refundable or have an 'admin' charge for amendments after booking, so if your travel plans change, you will be out of pocket.
2) Buy online
- All rail operators can sell you tickets for other companies, so you don’t need to buy from the company you are travelling with
- Some operators offer special online deals or further discounts when you buy tickets for their trains on their own websites, so shop around
- Avoid third-party sellers (companies that sell tickets but aren't train operators). They make their profit by charging you a booking fee, plus extra for using debit or credit cards and often a handsome fee for delivering your tickets. You may even pay for the privilege of collecting your tickets at the station!
- Check out megatrain.com, which offers £1 tickets between major cities that use Stagecoach-owned services.
3) Travel together or buy a card
- If you are a certain age, travel with your family or the same person a lot, have a disability or live in a particular area of the UK, you may well benefit from getting yourself a Railcard. These give a range of discounts, with certain conditions attached, and will generally return the intial outlay and start saving you money after just a few uses
- Most companies offer group discounts for off-peak travel, so ask about group tickets if you’re travelling to the same destination with more than two people.
4) Single or return?
- You would expect a return ticket to be cheaper than two singles. Yet logic and train fares go together like a kettle and a rabbit. Many of the best deals are only available on single fares, so always check to see if two singles is cheaper
- And just to make it more confusing, if you only need to travel one way, buying a return could be cheaper! So in short, it’s always worth asking for the alternatives. nationalrail.co.uk displays the fare options clearly and refers you on to a seller to purchase your ticket.
5) Split your fare
- Splitting your fare (buying two tickets for one journey) is a game to play if you’ve got a bit of time to spare
- Sometimes, cheap advance tickets aren’t available for long journeys simply because a small part of the journey is on a train where advance tickets are unavailable or have sold out. This can leave you with expensive anytime or off-peak tickets as the only option. Breaking your journey into sections can help target the cheapest tickets, meaning the total cost of splitting the route into stages can often be cheaper than one 'straight-through' ticket
- In other cases, straight-through fares between large cities are more expensive than travelling to the smaller intermediary stations inbetween. As an example, you can save yourself over £20 on a peak time journey between Bristol Temple Meads and Birmingham New Street by splitting your ticket at Cheltenham Spa and you don’t even need to change trains. Almost enough for a sandwich and a cup of tea from the trolley
- Another great fare-splitting tactic is for journeys that start during peak times but arrive afterwards. Try splitting your fare by buying a ticket to the first station on your journey after peak time ends and then buy an ‘off-peak’ ticket for the remainder of the journey – it may work out cheaper. Peak times vary between operators and destinations, so you will need to read the small print.
You can also try using the TicketySplit website from Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert. Another good website for split tickets is Raileasy's Trainsplit, where you can also book the tickets.
7) Have a moan
- Some hard-earned pounds can be recouped if your train is delayed or cancelled. If this happens, always ask for a customer comment form (the station staff rarely offer these by default!) and keep your tickets. Compensation for delayed journeys is usually provided as vouchers for future travel
- Whether you qualify for a full or partial refund depends on the journey and rail operator, but as a rough rule of thumb, if you’re over 60 minutes late then it's worth pursuing
- Some operators are quite generous and give a full refund; others offer the bare minimum that the rules require
- The website traindelays.co.uk provides an easy way to find out what you’re entitled to, and has a simple online form – and remember to keep hold of your tickets
- You can sometimes get compensation for other reasons, such as poor customer service, a lack of toilet facilities on trains, or missing / incorrect seating / bicycle reservations.
For more information and other money-saving tips, visit: