Travel expert reveals six ways to save money on rail tickets

With everyone feeling the squeeze during the cost-of-living crisis, the pressures of the coldest months of the year, and the increasing cost of travel, many will find these money-saving hacks useful, and perhaps even surprising.

Cheap train ticket site SplitMyFare have uncovered these handy ways of capitalising on loopholes, utilising discounts, and pre-planning, that can easily save your average passenger hundreds of pounds a year.

Pre-plan your journey – Book 12 weeks in advance for the best discounts

Advance fares are much cheaper than flexible tickets, and as they are usually available around three months before the date of travel, there is plenty of time to finalise plans before purchase. A single journey from London to Manchester is up to 25% cheaper when booked in advance with the advance ticket costing just £39.40 compared to a £68.20 flexible ticket. That’s a saving of nearly £30. Even if you can’t book tickets this far beforehand, advance tickets may be available up until an hour before departure. Tickets are subject to availability and can often sell out in busy periods due to high demand, so be sure to book your travels well in advance, especially if you are travelling for an occasion that is likely to see busy railways.

Railcards are huge savers – Use them for an average saving of £199 per year

While railcards might seem like an expensive investment for those who don’t regularly travel by train, do not underestimate their worth. Most railcards mean you could save up to 1/3 on train fares. With this achieving an average annual saving of £199, often the railcard will pay for itself within the first two or three journeys. For instance, at the time of writing, a single fare from Birmingham to London is around £15 cheaper using a 16-25 railcard. The railcard costs just £30 so it pays for itself within two trips.

Use this railcard loophole – renew before your birthday to save more for longer

Buying or renewing a 16-25 railcard the day before your 24th Birthday if

you are buying a three-year railcard, or the day before your 26th if you are

getting a one-year railcard will extend the life of your railcard. This simple trick will ensure you are eligible for the associated discount for almost an entire extra year, saving an average of £199. The same trick for a 25-30 railcard with renewal or purchase done just before the 31st birthday, can also earn an extra year’s discount.

Travel during off-peak times to save up to 34%

The cheapest tickets are available when you travel in off-peak times. Generally, any time post 09:30 in large towns and cities, and 09:00 for other locations is considered off-peak, while weekends and bank holidays are always off-peak. A single journey from Oxford to London Paddington drops by just under ten pounds when the departure time is after 09:30, approximately a discount of 22%. 

So, if you can be flexible with your departure time, a journey delayed by just a few minutes can prevent you from spending extra money on anytime travel tickets. Some train operators provide super off-peak tickets which can be even cheaper, and all railcard holders get 34% off all off-peak fares, proving again that railcards are incredibly worthwhile.

Get refunds when you’re entitled to them

Different train operators have different compensation schemes, but all allow you to claim when you’re delayed. You may be entitled to a refund if your journey was delayed by as little as 15 minutes. While most delays are very minor, between 30 and 40% of railway trips suffer some form of delay, and with 84.2% of claims being compensated, it’s always worth checking if you are entitled to a refund.

Information on compensation and refunds for all operators can be found on the National Rail website under ‘Compensation for Delays’. You should always try and make your claim within 28 days of departure date and, crucially, you must always keep your tickets to be with a chance of being compensated. Industrial action remains a prospect likely to affect journeys over the winter period, under National Rail policy, anyone whose service is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled will be entitled to a refund from the original retailer of their ticket.

Travel together to save on tickets

If there’s someone you regularly travel with, the Two Together railcard earns up to 1/3 discount for both passengers. If you’re making your journey in a group of 3 to 9 people, splitmyfare.co.uk offers GroupSave cheap tickets with 1/3 off routes during off-peak hours. All tickets must be booked together, and all passengers must travel together, so make your plans to capitalise on this. GroupSave is not available with every operator so it’s worth checking all of your options in advance.

A spokesperson from Split My Fare commented: 

“The cost-of-living crisis is being felt nationwide this winter, so it’s important to make the most of opportunities to travel as cost effectively as possible. Using these tips will help people to do just that and minimise the impact of what can be a costly process.”

SplitMyFare is a cheap train ticket site, discounting rail travel by splitting full fares into multiple, smaller journeys.