10 tips for finding cheap train tickets
- 10 expert tips for finding cheap train tickets
- How we combined these tips to save up to 86%
- Find out the best time to buy advance train tickets
- Learn how to cut costs by splitting your ticket
Finding cheap train tickets can be a lottery, but our travel experts have compiled 10 tips to help you get the best deal.
Click below to skip to a specific tip:
- 1. Get the best ticket type
- 2. Split your ticket
- 3. Look for slower routes
- 4. Buy direct from train companies
- 5. Get cashback on your purchases
- 6. Get a railcard
- 7. Use season tickets and Rover tickets
- 8. Travel in groups
- 9. Take the Megatrain
- 10. Take advantage of cheap London travel
For some of these tips, we show how much you can save based on one of the following journeys:
- Cardiff Central to Newcastle (anytime ticket price £159.90)
- Birmingham New Street to London Euston (anytime ticket price £85).
All prices are based on the first journey leaving after 8am on 1 April 2016. At the bottom of the page, you can also see how we effectively saved 86% on the cost of the Cardiff to Newcastle journey and 85% on the Birmingham to London journey using a combination of our tips.
1. Get the best ticket type
£111.90We found advance tickets for the 08.05 from Cardiff Central to Newcastle on sale for £48.00, which is £111.90 cheaper than buying at the station.
Advance train tickets
Advance train tickets tend to be the cheapest. These are all singles and tie you to a particular train, so you won't be able to stop off en route to break your journey. They are also non-refundable, so if you miss your train you'll have to buy another ticket - which is likely to be much more expensive.
Some outlets' allocations may sell out before others, so it's worth checking different train company websites or booking offices for the best prices.
Advance tickets are typically released 12 weeks before travel and are available until 6pm the day before you travel. By entering your journey details on thetrainline.com you can sign up to receive free email alerts to notify you when advance tickets go on sale.
Off-peak train tickets
Off-peak train tickets can only be used at certain times of the day. These travelling times tend to vary considerably depending on the journey you're making, even within the same areas of the country and with the same train companies, so it's always worth checking when these type of tickets are valid.
If you're choosing between an advance ticket costing a similar amount to an off-peak one, the off-peak will be the better choice for the following reasons:
- You can buy off-peak tickets in advance and immediately before travel.
- If you miss your train but you're still travelling at off-peak times, you can just take a different one.
- If you need to upgrade to a more expensive anytime ticket, you can pay the difference between the two.
- Off-peak and super-off-peak day tickets are valid until 02.30 the next day.
- They are refundable, sometimes subject to an administration fee.
- You're usually allowed to stop off en route, including overnight, but it's best to check first with National Rail Enquiries. Your travel must resume by noon the next day.
Super-off-peak tickets are cheaper than off-peak but are valid for even shorter periods of time during a day.
2. Split your ticket
£63.10We reduced the cost of our journey from Cardiff to Newcastle by £63.10 by splitting at Manchester Piccadilly
Split ticketing involves buying multiple tickets to cover separate parts of one journey. The only rule is that the train must stop at all the stations named on your tickets.
The reason it can save you money is that different train companies have their own prices for different parts of the journey. The aim is to travel the longest distance on the lowest-priced leg. If your journey straddles both peak and off-peak times, see whether you can split the journey so that the largest possible part is off-peak.
This tactic could save you hundreds of pounds on an annual season ticket. Rail staff aren't allowed to advise on split tickets, but must sell them if asked.
3. Look for slower routes
£36You'll save £36 by taking a slower service from Birmingham New Street to London Euston.
Many routes are served by multiple train companies. Some will be much faster, but the slower routes tend to be considerably cheaper.
For example, both London Midland and Virgin Trains run services to London Euston from Birmingham New Street.
The Virgin Trains service takes one hour and 24 minutes, but an anytime ticket will set you back £85.
You can save up to £33 by travelling on a London Midland train. An anytime ticket costs £49, although it takes two hours and 13 minutes to reach Euston.
4. Online - buy direct from train companies
£1.50You can avoid booking fees of up to £1.50 by booking your tickets via a train company's website.
It is often best to ignore sites such as Quno, Thetrainline and Raileasy, and instead buy from train companies' own websites.
Train companies have online reductions for their own off-peak fares that aren't available through third-party companies. What's more, many of these third-party train ticket websites charge a booking fee on top of the ticket price.
UK train companies must sell the full range of each other's tickets, so you may well find a cheap fare from one train company on the website of one of its competitors. There are a few exceptions to this rule though, so it's worth checking the websites of all the train companies that serve your journey.
5. Get cashback on your ticket purchase
£13.04The amount of cashback we managed to earn when purchasing tickets from Cardiff to Newcastle.
A number of train companies and train ticket websites are listed on cashback websites, such as Quidco and TopCashback. If you complete your train ticket purchase via a cashback website, you should get a small percentage of each purchase you make credited back into your account. For an even bigger payout, consider paying for your tickets with a cashback credit card.
In April, TopCashback was offering 3.15% cashback on all tickets purchased through thetrainline.com, while our Which? Money Compare tables had cash back credit cards offering up to 5% cashback on certain purchases.
Terms and conditions apply to each of these deals, but if you took advantage of both of them, you'd earn £13.04 cashback (minus £1.50 booking fee at thetrainline.com) when purchasing tickets for our example journey from Cardiff to Newcastle.
6. Get a railcard
£53.30The amount of money you'd save when using a railcard to purchase an anytime ticket from Cardiff to Newcastle.
National railcards cost between £20 and £30 for a year and offer discounts of a third on both standard and first class tickets.
Some railcards can't be used for certain journeys during peak times on weekdays, although we found that most of them could be used during our early-morning example journeys. These restrictions don't apply to weekends or bank holidays.
If you're eligible for a railcard and make a few off-peak train journeys a year, it will more than pay for itself.
In fact, if you travelled between Cardiff Central and Newcastle just once using a railcard you'd save £53.30, which is almost double the annual cost of the most expensive card.
These are less well-known than national railcards. They also give sizable discounts, typically a third off. They are Cambrian Railcard, Cotswold Line Railcard, Dales Railcard, Devon & Cornwall Railcard, Esk Valley Railcard, First Capital Connect Student 16/18 Connect Card, Heart of Wales Railcard, Highland Railcard, Pembrokeshire Railcard, Valleys Senior Railcard and Valleys Student Railcard.
7. Use season tickets and Rover tickets
£709You'd save £709 by buying a 7-day season ticket between Birmingham New Street and London Euston, as opposed to buying five anytime return tickets.
If you're a regular commuter, an annual season ticket will almost certainly be your cheapest option. Those travelling in the Network Railcard area (mainly London and the south-east) can also take advantage of the Gold Card.
There are also weekly and monthly season tickets, which tend to work out cheaper if you're making multiple repeat journeys over those periods. Season tickets covering more than one month but less than a year are also available.
Another option for repeat journeys is a Rover ticket. These give you unlimited travel (or sometimes travel after the morning peak time) in a designated area over a set period, such as four days in eight. There are approximately 80 Rovers. Most are listed by National Rail, but it's worth cross-referencing with the train companies you will be using to see whether there are any more.
8. Travel in groups
Most train companies offer a discount if you're travelling in a group.
Virgin Trains offer a 20% discount to groups of three to nine people buying their tickets in advance, and bigger discounts for groups of 10 or more.
In the south-east, a group of three to nine adults travelling together can save 34% on the price of individual off-peak adult tickets.
9. Check Megatrain
One of the best third-party websites for advance train tickets is megatrain.com.
The website sells tickets for journeys covered by Virgin Trains, East Midlands Trains and South West Trains, and off-peak fares start from just £1, plus a 50p booking fee.
10. Take advantage of cheap London travel
If you're travelling across London, it's often cheapest to buy one cross-London ticket rather than buying separate tickets for the different legs of your journey, as this will include transfer by Tube, DLR or Thameslink.
The GroupSave scheme operates in London and the south-east, offering a 34% discount on the price of standard off-peak tickets.
Combine our tips for serious discounts
Using a combination of our tips, we managed to find tickets for the 08.05 service from Cardiff Central for £23.66, while securing £1.68 cashback on our purchase. That's an effective discount of 86% compared with buying an 'anytime' ticket.
We also secured tickets for the 08.10 Birmingham to London service for £13.67 plus £0.97 cashback, which is effectively a 85% discount.
Here's how we did it:
Example 1: Cardiff Central to Newcastle
- We know there are significant discounts for this journey by splitting your ticket at Manchester Piccadilly, so we conducted online searches for two journeys (from Cardiff to Manchester, and from Manchester to Newcastle).
- We found advance tickets on sale for a total of £35.50 (£20 from Cardiff to Manchester and £15.50 from Manchester to Newcastle).
- With a railcard, we could reduce the cost to £23.66.
- We secured 50p cashback by purchasing our tickets through TopCashback, which was offering 2.1% cashback on tickets bought through the Virgin Trains website.
- By paying for the tickets using an American Express Platinum Cashback Everyday Credit Card within the first three months of opening the account, we could another get 5% cashback (£1.18).
Example 2: Birmingham New Street to London Euston
It doesn't always have to be as complicated as our first example. We cut the cost of our 08.10 journey from Birmingham New Street to London Euston without having to split our ticket.
- We found an advance ticket for the journey for £20.50.
- With a railcard, we could cut the cost to £13.67
- We secured £0.97 cashback by purchasing through TopCashback and paying with the American Express Platinum Cashback Everyday Credit Card.
- Train delay letter template - use this template to get your money back
- Best and worst train companies - the results of our customer satisfaction survey
- 50 ways to save money - our comprehensive money-saving guide
Which? Limited (registered in England and Wales number 00677665) is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Limited (registered in England and Wales number 07239342). Which? Financial Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 527029). Which? Mortgage Advisers and Which? Money Compare are trading names of Which? Financial Services Limited. Registered office: 2 Marylebone Road, London NW1 4DF.