5 ways to reduce rail fare rip offs
Over 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.
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!