Let’s face it: rail travel in the UK has become ridiculous. In a time when we are being encouraged to give up our cars and switch to trains for the morning commute, the price of rail travel is increasing all the time. It’s not just going up by a few pennies at a time, either. It’s rare that a year goes by when train travel doesn’t increase in price by 10% or so.
For those of us who don’t drive, though, the train is often the only way to get to work, and galling as it may be to pay through the nose for an overcrowded, uncomfortable and often late service, we just don’t have a choice. That doesn’t mean that we always have to pay the crazy prices, though. With a little research it’s often easy to find discounted rail travel.
Here are a few tips to drive down the cost of rail travel:
- Buy your tickets in advance
The most expensive place to buy your train ticket is at the station. If you make a habit of buying your tickets from the booth on the day of travel you’ll be paying much, much more than you have to. By buying your tickets the evening before you could save a hell of a lot of money over the year. Online prices are sometimes as low as half the advertised rate at the station.
Rail companies sell discounted advance tickets up to 6PM the day before travel,, after which time the price usually goes up to the full rate, but you should still check even on the morning of travel online or by phone. You might get a great deal.
- Split your tickets
If your travel plans for a long journey include any of the peak running hours you can expect to pay a greatly increased fare. If you’re smart, though, you can save. Let’s say, for instance, that you want to travel from Penzance to Birmingham. It’s a hefty journey, and the chances are that you’ll be travelling during peak hours. If you buy a ticket to Cheltenham, though, and then another from Cheltenham to Birmingham, you’ll only pay peak fares on one leg of the journey.
Here’s the best part: you can even stay on the same train. There’s no need to transfer at Cheltenham as the train is carrying on to Birmingham anyway. Simply stay on the train and use the second part of your ticket.
You’ll find routes all around the UK with opportunities for split ticketing. It takes a little research to find the best option for your trip, but a little effort can pay dividends.
- Get a Railcard
Most regions of the country offer a discount card for regular travellers, and most of them offer a hefty discount on many fares. The Network Railcard offers a 34% discount on off-peak travel for many routes in the south west, so if you travel regularly (or if you’re making a single, expensive long journey) the discount you’ll receive may offset the cost of the Railcard and leave you with a net profit.
- Get a Season Ticket
If you use the train more than a couple of times a week you’ll definitely benefit from this final tip. Most rail companies offer the option of an annual ‘season ticket’ that allows you to ride a single route for a year for a fixed price. While these tickets offer great savings for the morning commute, they’re still pretty limiting.
However, seasons ticket holders are automatically given a Gold Card – membership in a club that entitles card holders to a third off almost any off-peak rail tickets in the country. The cheapest season ticket in the UK (with a price of ?116) is for the 3 minute journey between Ryde St Johns Road to Ryde Esplanade on the Isle of Wight. Even if you live on the other side of the country and have never visited the Isle you can buy a season ticket in order to benefit from the savings offered by the Gold Card!
Keith Taylor is a travel writer and global nomad. When travelling in the UK he books his SouthWest Express train [http://www.londonparistraintickets.co.uk/southwest-express.html] at The Trainline [http://www.londonparistraintickets.co.uk/trainline.html].