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How to get very cheap train tickets

Lydia Fitzsimons
Lydia Fitzsimons
  | Edited by Tom Church
Updated 13th January 2022

Travelling within the UK via train can be expensive, so if you’re looking for very cheap train tickets, this guide can help you. From railcards you may be eligible for, to top tips to keep costs down, keep reading to save money on train tickets.

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8 tips to find cheap train tickets

Travelling by train can be very expensive, but there are certain tips and tricks you can use to get cheap train tickets.Travelling within the UK via train can be expensive, so if you’re looking for very cheap train tickets, this guide can help you. From railcards you may be eligible for, to top tips to keep costs down, keep reading to save money on train tickets.

1. Book in advance

When it comes to booking train tickets, the earlier you book the cheaper they’ll be. Tickets usually become available 12 weeks (sometimes 11 or 10 weeks) before the day you’d be travelling on. So, it’s key to check early, and book as soon as possible to get cheap advance train tickets.

If you know you’ll be travelling by train more than 12 weeks before you’re due to travel, you can set up an alert on Trainline. You can input the date, time and where you’re looking to travel, and they will email you when tickets become available. You don’t then have to book through Trainline, but you’ll know when the tickets are available for sale.

If you’re looking for last minute cheap train tickets, and you’re planning your trip spontaneously, some sites will let you book tickets on the day you’re travelling. Depending on the route, booking on the day itself could also offer cheap train tickets. However, this is a risk, so booking in advance is recommended. 

2. Choose off peak

Travelling ‘off peak’ means that you’re travelling at a less popular time. Ticket prices will be cheaper as there’s less demand to travel at that time. You can get cheaper train tickets at off peak and super off peak times.

Different rail networks and lines will have different windows for when is peak time, so it’s worth checking carefully before starting your journey. 

If you’re starting your journey during a peak time, you may be able to split your ticket so that part of it is at the off peak price. You can read more on this below.

3. Split your fare

Websites such as Trainsplit and Split Ticketing allow you to find cheap train tickets through split fares. 

Splitting your fare means that you pay the cheapest price for each individual leg of your journey, rather than a single straight cost. This doesn’t mean you need to change trains, you just need to make sure the train you're on stops at the stops you’ve paid for.

So, you can find cheaper tickets if some of your journey is at an off peak time, or if certain parts still have cheaper advance tickets available. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: However, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you’ve paid for specific legs of a journey and you have changes en route, if you’re delayed on one leg and miss your connection which you’ve paid for separately, you’ll likely have to buy another ticket. 

4. Get cashback

Depending on where you book your train tickets, you may be able to get cashback on sites such as Quidco and Top Cashback

Check which train companies and ticket websites are listed on the sites, book through an eligible one, and you could get back a percentage of the cost of your ticket in your cashback account.

5. Cheap London transport

If you’re visiting London and you’re trying to plan your journeys once you’re down there, it can sometimes be cheaper not to book ahead. 

With the TfL pay as you go system, you only pay for the journeys you make (whether that’s by overground train, underground train, bus or the Thameslink) up to a daily or weekly limit. You just need to tap with an oyster card or contactless card and TfL will charge you for the total cost of your journeys. 

If you’re thinking of buying a London Travelcard ticket, it’s worth thinking about how many journeys you’ll be making, as the pay as you go system may work out cheaper.

6. Compare singles and returns

A single ticket allows you to get from point A to point B, whereas a return allows you to get from point A to point B, then back to point B. 

In theory, return tickets should be cheaper than single tickets. However, that isn’t always the case, so it’s worth comparing the two before booking. You may be able to get two single tickets for cheaper than a return ticket.

On most train ticket websites you can see the prices for each option, so comparing prices should be easy.

7. Compare train ticket sites

If you’re looking for cheap train tickets it’s important to bear in mind that not all train ticket sites will offer the same prices. So, it’s worth taking the time to shop around and compare train ticket prices to find the cheapest.

Train ticket companyBooking feeE-ticket optionExtras
TrainlineUp to £1.75, no fee if you
book via app on the day
YesUse their Best Fare Finder to find the cheapest rates around a particular date.
National RailN/AN/ADon’t sell tickets but shows the cheapest tickets and links to train company sites
Raileasy£2.50NoShows the cheapest fares, good if you’re flexible
Avanti West CoastNoYesGet perks when you travel on days out, restaurants and more.
RedSpottedHanky£1.50 NoGood customer reviews, 4.5 stars on TrustPilot
MegaTrain£1 YesCheapest routes between London and Sheffield, Chesterfield, Derby, Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham

You can also look at the sites of the different train companies, such as Northern Rail, Southern Railway, South Western Railway and so on.

8. Season tickets

If you regularly travel the same routes, for example if you commute on the train, a season ticket is usually the best value for money option.

You can get season tickets that will cover you for a week, month, less than a year or a year, so it depends how often you travel along the same route. 

Typically an annual season ticket is the best value for money if you know you’ll be travelling the same route for the whole year. So, if you can afford the initial expense it can save you money in the long run.

Usually, season tickets are not valid on ScotRail, Transport for Wales, TfL, Heathrow Express, London Overground trains, Merseyrail and on non-franchised lines, for example Hull Trains. So, it’s worth double checking your route will be covered before buying a season train ticket. 

If you have a 16-17 Saver Railcard or a JobCentre Plus Travel Discount Card, you should be able to get 50% off your season ticket. However, season tickets won’t be eligible for discounts with other railcard types.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you buy a season ticket for London or the South East, you’ll get a free Gold Card. This entitles you to similar discounts as with a Network Railcard, and you’ll also get a third off off-peak travel in London with an Oyster Card.

So, if you buy a season ticket, make sure the gold card discount has been added to your Oyster Card, and make sure you carry your Gold Card with you when you travel (when you buy a qualifying season ticket it will say Gold Card at the bottom).

With a Gold Card, you’ll also get a discount if you want to buy certain types of railcards. You can buy the 16-25, Family and Friends, Two Together, Senior, Disabled Persons and Network Rail Railcards for just £10, either for yourself or someone else if you have a Gold Card.  

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Different railcard options 

Railcards are a great way of cutting the cost of your train tickets. There are different cards available and if you’re eligible you can usually save a third on your ticket. Typically railcards are £30 for the year, so if you spend at least £90 on train tickets per year, getting one makes sense.

Railcard1-Year Price3-Year PriceDiscountEligible
16-17 Saver Railcard£30N/A50% off adult train ticketsYou must be aged 16 or 17
16-25 Railcard£30£70⅓ off train ticketsYou must be aged between 16 and 25, or be a mature student in full-time education
26-30 Railcard£30N/A⅓ off train ticketsYou must be aged between 26 and 30
Family and Friends’ Railcard£30£70⅓ off adult tickets and 60% off kids ticketsUp to 4 adults and up to 4 children (aged between 5 and 15) - you don’t need to be related
Two Together Railcard£30N/A⅓ off adult ticketsMust be travelling as a named pair, you don’t have to be a couple
Senior Railcard£30£70⅓ off adult train ticketsMust be aged 60 or over
Disabled Persons Railcard£20£54⅓ off train tickets for you and the person you’re travelling withFor disbled persons who meet the eligibility criteria
Network Railcard£30N/A⅓ off adult fares and 60% off kids’ fares in London and the South EastFor you and up to 3 other adults and up to 4 children. Valid in 16 counties in the South East and Greater London
Veterans’ Railcard£30£70⅓ off train tickets for you and a named companion, and 60% off kids’ faresMust be a UK Veteran who has served minimum 1 day in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, Regular or Reserve, or Merchant Mariners who have seen duty on legally defined military operations

IMPORTANT NOTE: 

If you’re thinking of buying a 16-25 Railcard, there’s a little trick you can use to get an even better deal.

The railcard is £30 for the year, or £70 for three years. So, if you buy the three year railcard the day before your 24th birthday, you can keep the card until you’re about to turn 27!

Even with the introduction of the 26-30 railcard, this is still worth doing, as it means you’ll spend less money on railcards in the long run. If you’re still using your 16-25 railcard until you’re nearly 27, you’ll have gotten those nearly two years for around £23 per year, rather than the usual £30.

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Train ticket refunds

When you travel it’s important to know when and if you’d be entitled to a refund. These will vary depending on where you booked your tickets, but usually you can be compensated for delays of more than 30 minutes, and some will even pay if you’re delayed 15 minutes or more.

Some companies won’t pay if the delay was caused by something out of their control, such as a strike or fire on the line. However, most use a Delay Repay policy. This means that they’ll refund you for delays regardless of what the issue is, and generally this is 50% of the train ticket price. 

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