Author Topic: Reducing the costs of rail travel  (Read 4726 times)


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Reducing the costs of rail travel
« on: August 19, 2017, 02:33:42 pm »
Getting cheap train tickets

Many visitors to the NAC travel by train, and often they express their concern over the cost of tickets.

There are some ways that you can reduce costs, simply and quickly.

What types of tickets are there?

Basically there are three ticket types understanding the differences can help you choose what is cheapest and best for you:

1. Anytime.

Anytime fares are a simple they are, valid any time, on any day of the week , on all trains, operated by any train company.
They are also expensive as an example  a ticket from London-Manchester costs over £180 one-way or over £360 return.

2. Off-Peak.

Off-Peak fares are valid on any train except in the Monday-Friday peaks times (06:30- 09:30 and 15:30 - 18:30).
They are much more cheaper

The timing of peak hours varies so you should check using one of the many journey planners that are available. (More on this later)

A few companies might still offer “Super Off Peak” tickets (these were known as Super Savers) they have the same restrictions

If you buy a ticket at the station you will probably be sold either an Anytime or an Off Peak ticket

In the case of Any Time and Off Peak tickets you can get a refund if the ticket is not used, but an administration fee of around £20 will be charged.

3. Advance.

Advance fares only valid on the specific train you've booked, no refunds are available.

They are the cheapest option, for example London-Manchester from £15 each way.

Numbers of tickets are limited and the price increases as the departure date gets nearer. They must be booked before 18:00 on the day prior to travel. Tickets have an automatic seat reservation. No break in a journey is allowed and you cannot leave the train before the final destination is reached, if you do you can be charged the full fare!

Advance tickets are always one way so you can pick and mix out bound and return ticket options to get the best deal.

Rail Cards

These might help if you travel regularly since having a Rail Card will give you a 34% discount of ticket prices

There are a number of types of rail card:

16-25 Railcards These are for anyone aged 16 - 25 who is a full time student. They can be bought on line at There are some restrictions on times of use

Senior Railcards  These are for anyone over 60.  Buy online at, and get 34% off almost all rail fares.  The only restriction is that you can't use the card for journeys London morning rush hour on Mondays-Fridays
Family & Friends Railcards  These are for small groups of up to 4 adults and 4 children.  You don't need to be related, as long as the party includes at least one child and all travels together.  The card gives a 34% off all the adult fares in the group and 60% off all the child fares in the group. They can be bought online at
Disabled person's railcard.  You will need to look at the conditions at to see if you qualify.  Anyone in a wheelchair or registered blind automatically qualifies for a 34% reduction on Anytime fares (the expensive peak fares) even without a railcard, and so does one companion. This isn’t widely advertised or known. See destinations/44965.aspx.

Two Together Railcard This gives 1/3 off most Advance, Off-Peak & Anytime fares nationwide, standard class & first class, if two named individuals travel together.  The named individuals, must have their photos on the railcard, and be over 16 you do not need to be related. These can be bought at

Railcards can take up to 2 weeks to be delivered so you will need to buy them well in advance

What does a rail card cost?

A rail card costs £30 and it can soon pay for itself. There are also 3 year rail cards available these cost £70.

So how do I get the cheapest ticket?

Understanding the types of ticket, and having a Rail Card (if you qualify and travel enough to recover the cost of this) will obviously help, but there are other things that can be done:

1.  Book early, the earlier you book the  more likely you are to find a cheap fare.  If you use some companies you will be charged a fee but Virgin Trains do not and they will sell you tickets for any route in Britain online at, . The Trainline offers an alternative but fees are charged. On line buying is the easiest and simplest. Print your tickets at home or collect them from a ticket machine rather than paying postage to have them delivered.

2.  You can buy Advance fares up to 12 weeks ahead, though this might sometimes be reduced to 9 weeks.
This will almost certainly give you significant savings but the on line tools don't normally give you other options such as:

Are there cheaper routes?

On line journey planners find the fastest route and the cheapest fare for that route.  Sometimes there's a slower route run by another train company with cheaper fares. For example the journey from The Midlands using Chiltern Railways to Marylebone can cost half of the main line fare offered by Virgin. (When I worked in London I often used this rather than the mainline as the journey was much more pleasant and I was able to park at a local station) To check what might be available run a normal search on, and note the prices. At the bottom of the search you will see

“The results above show single ticket prices, based on the fastest available journey, to offer more flexibility to our customers. If you are making a return journey, there may be a cheaper fare available, particularly if you are travelling with a train operator other than Virgin Trains. Please click here to check if these are available for your journey.”  Click on the link on the Virgin site and you will usually be shown other fares, starting with the cheapest.  Click the button against each price, to see what is on offer working your way down the list.

Split the journey

      Two tickets covering different sections of the journey can be cheaper than one:  If you use the site and select 'split ticketing' at the top.  A journey buying a ticket from Station A to Station B and a second from Station B to Station C is often cheaper. (As long as the train stops at 'B', you're entitled to use a combination of tickets, it's perfectly legal and there is absolutely no need to get off the train) In testing savings of 9% -10% can be found on routes. for Off Peak tickets. In some cases savings can be bigger.. Raileasy charges a fee for bookings they make, but you could buy the tickets from Virgin or another train operator to avoid fees.


There are many cases where it's cheaper to buy a ticket from Station A to  Station C and you might try to get off at Station B.  Legally you cannot break your journey with an Advance fare, or an Off-Peak return. If you do this you could be made to pay the full fare!

Does it work?
I travel to the NAC about 8 times a year and I have had a rail card for 4 years. In that time I have saved hundreds of pounds in rail fares, some for leisure as well as medical journeys. On one memorable day I travelled First Class to Euston and ate a full breakfast all for £12 and enjoyed free coffee and biscuits in the First Class Lounge at Euston where I read my free copy of The Times. I had bought the ticket early splitting the journey and used my Senior Rail Card.

  • Buy Advanced tickets if you can
     Buy early when tickets are cheaper
     Do your sums and work out if a Rail Card is going to save you money
     Use a train operators website to buy tickets (they don’t charge a fee)
     Print your own tickets or collect them at a ticket machine at a station
     Split your journey
     Use a slower route if practical
« Last Edit: September 11, 2017, 10:50:40 am by Miriam Vered »


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Re: Reducing the costs of rail travel
« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2017, 05:01:57 am »
Useful, practical stuff, John. Your lengthy explanation is an apt indictment of the mess that rail fares are in. One or two useful points there that I was not aware of.
I generally use which seems to give me the best options, but sometimes gets it wrong.

Mark McConway

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Re: Reducing the costs of rail travel
« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2017, 07:40:07 am »

Really worthwhile post.   Thanks for going to the effort of writing it.



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Re: Reducing the costs of rail travel
« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2017, 07:11:59 pm »
Thank-you John.

The difficulty I experience is that the cheapest way is early booking a a named time of train. That's fine for the outward journey but unsuitable for the homeward one. As it is impossible to predict what time I will be free to leave the NAC that means booking a more expensive open ticket. For me complete flexibility is critical because I want to be on the first available train leaving from Waterloo. I always used to risk catching an earlier train than the pre booked time but was once fined £40.00 for travelling on a train for which I had not booked. 

May I please suggest you repost this in the General Discussions thread as more forum members read the posts in General Discussions than in the other threads?