5 ways to reduce rail fare rip offs

30 June 2009

http://img6.imageshack.us/img6/3341/voidtrainticketsmaller2.jpgOver the past decade, Underground passenger volumes have increased by 31%.  More of us than ever are travelling by train, but looking up train fares is enough to make most people think they're dealing with a random number generator untouched by human hands. Rules for calculating train fares are rather like the Almighty: invisible, omnipotent, and able to work in mysterious ways. Within London, train trips increased by 15% in the 10 years leading up to 2007, and there are now 232 million passenger journeys within London per year, so sifting through the offers to pinpoint the best deals could really save a lot of dosh.

Thanks to the Internet, there are various techniques you can apply to finding the best train fares. These don't always work, but they work often enough to make them worthwhile to try.

1. Get a Railcard
Need we say more? If you're eligible for one, a railcard can save you lots of money, reducing fares by up to 1/3 the standard costs, if you take more than a trip or two a year.

2. Don't buy returns
Many specials and deep discounts are on one way tickets, and they're cheap enough that buying two one-way tickets often ends up costing less than buying a return. For National Express East Coast, National Rail, or Raileasy, you are shown both single and return fares when you book. If you book with TheTrainline, when you get to step two, there's a "two singles could be cheaper" link.

3. Buy in segments
According to website MoneySavingExpert, several segmented tickets could add up to less than the cost of either a one way or a return. Once you know the best price of a standard journey to which you can compare split ticket costs, check where your train will stop. Pick a station somewhere along the way that is about halfway there. Start with bigger stations. Alternatively, look for stations at county boundaries. If this doesn't help, try a different combination of stops. This could save you a lot of money.

4. Buy early, or late
If you know where you want to go 12 weeks out, you can buy early and get a cheaper fare, but these tend to be bought up quickly, so you have to be light on your fingertips to grab these. If you are travelling often, also consider season tickets. When finagled with point 2 above, they can come out cheaper, too. On the other hand, discounts are sometimes available at the very last minute. If your travel time is flexible, go to TheTrainline and use the Cheap Fare Finder tool. Tell it your destination and a range of travel dates, and it will pick out the cheapest day and time. Then, take that information and book directly with the train company, because it's cheaper that way than booking through TheTrainline. If voice-on-voice action is your thing, you can ring National Rail Enquiries at 08457 48 49 50.

5. Travel off-peak when possible.
Peak travel times are usually before 10am and from 5pm to 7pm. Beware that if you're going on a long train journey where only part of is during peak time, if you buy a return, you still have to pay peak ticket price (the nerve!)

Do you have any other rail travel tips and tricks? Are there particular strategies that you've used in the past that have worked well for you? Please share them with us in the comments below!

TOPICS:   Travel

16 comments

  • F.D. A.
    Or... work from home if possible
  • Chris
    I'd love some tips on saving on train fares for commuters. £450 a month to get to work.
  • Jugsalot
    @Chris: I don't know who you use to commute, but this link http://www.hotukdeals.com/item/362024/5-00-off-any-train-ticket-over-6-00/ itakes you to an awesome voucher for First Great Western, £5 off any journey costing £6 or more. Keep an eye on HUKD as there are often really good offers, especially over summer, and as stated, make sure you get a railcard :)
  • Jugsalot
    Forgot to say, that voucher ends TODAY, so, yeah.....
  • DL25
    An obvious floor in the train system that I utilize every day is the lack of ticket inspectors during rush hour. This means buying a single ticket in the morning and just having the money ready to buy on the way home. 90% of the time there are no checks, which means 1 ticket gets 2 journeys. I know this is technically against the law but there is no punishment system in place to stop people doing this, if you get caught without a ticket you simply pay for one, end of story. I would happily invest in a season ticket should such a system come into play but this just highlights how floored the UK train system is and i'll happily continue to exploit it while there is no punishment for doing so.
  • Mr L.
    Floor - a. The surface of a room on which one stands. b. The lower or supporting surface of a structure. Flaw - a. An imperfection, often concealed, that impairs soundness b. A defect or shortcoming in something intangible c. A defect in a legal document that can render it invalid
  • F.D. A.
    Found that on the web... Not really a deal... more a compendium of tips Buy an annual Travelcard - An annual travelcard costs is 15 percent cheaper than if you buy it monthly; a one year travelcard from Zone 1-9 will cost your £2600 rather than £2995.20 if you buy Travelcards monthly. - A season Travelcard will give you 1/3 off the normal fare on Scheduled Riverboat services - just show your Travelcard or Oyster card with a Travelcard on it at the time of travel. - If you can afford it, buy your ticket using a credit card if possible which gives you cashback - Egg will give you back up to £26. - If you can't afford it, buy the ticket using a credit card and transfer it to a long 0% deal. The Virgin MBNA card gives you 15 months, 0% with a 2.98% fee, you will be charged £77.48 for that. - Of course, you can combine the two above and keep the £2600 you saved for your bank account stashed in an ISA and pay them back after one year. £2600 will give you more than £130 worth in interest. Adult rate annual Travelcards (Gold Cards) also offer you, your family and friends reduced prices on rail travel throughout London and the South East area on most National Rail services. You can: Save 1/3 on a range of single and return National Rail tickets when travelling after 1000 Monday to Friday, or anytime at weekends and on public holidays. Travel First Class for a supplement of only £5 (£2.50 for children) per single or day return journey some travel restrictions apply. Buy Zones 1 - 6 Off-Peak Day Travelcards for friends and family at an adult reduced price of £4.80 (£1 for accompanying children)*. Off-Peak Day Travelcards with additional availability from National Rail stations outside the zonal area are also available at reduced prices. Gold Card holders can buy a Network Railcard for a relative or friend for just £1, a saving of £19 on the full price. A Network Railcard offers similar reduced prices to those available to Gold Card holders but these are subject to minimum fare and other restrictions. * If you hold an annual Travelcard valid in Zones 1-6 you only need buy reduced price tickets for accompanying adults and children. If your annual Travelcard is not valid in all of Zones 16 and you are buying reduced price tickets for accompanying adults, you will also need to buy a Zones 1-6 Off-Peak Day Travelcard for yourself.
  • Rob
    This site has some useful detailed information: www.besttrainfares.info
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