Choosing the right ticket for your journey can be difficult and confusing. You might think that making a long-distance journey would be expensive but by booking your ticket at the right time you can get some fantastic deals. But there are also some ways to save money on shorter distance journeys. This article has been written to give you some tips about getting the best fare for your journey.
Booking in Advance
Before we start this section we need to make something clear. When train companies say you can save money by booking in advance, they don’t usually mean by buying your return a few weeks before you travel. This won’t usually save you any money at all. They mean you can save money by booking a special type of ticket called an Advance Single. You know your ticket is like this when it says “Advance” under ticket type (see the image below for example).
Advance tickets have advantages and disadvantages to them. You’ll often get a much cheaper price using Advance tickets and you can also benefit from a reserved seat on some services. However you must book for a specific service – if you miss your train your ticket won’t be valid and you’ll have to pay for a new single ticket (and this won’t be at the cheaper price either). In addition, Advance tickets are non-refundable so you can’t change your travel plans. Advance tickets aren’t suitable for everyone but when you consider how much money you could save its definitely something you should think about.
The easiest way to book tickets is online but you can also get them from the ticket office at any station in the UK. All train operating company websites and ticket offices sell tickets for all train companies so it doesn’t matter through which one you make your booking. You can’t buy Advance tickets from ticket machines at stations but you can choose to collect your tickets from one if you’ve already booked them online and don’t want them posted to you.
Advance tickets are for single journeys only, so if you’re making a return trip you’ll need to buy one for your outward trip and one for your return. The earlier you buy your advance tickets the cheaper they will be because as more people purchase them the price rises. Advance tickets are generally available around 12 weeks ahead – you can see which date tickets are available until by looking at this page on the National Rail Enquiries website.
Be careful though – as more people buy advance tickets the prices rise which means sometimes the Advance tickets when combined cost more than a return ticket. Make sure you compare the price of both before you buy as Advance tickets are not refundable.
Buying Tickets Online
All of the UK’s train operating companies sell rail tickets online and there are also a number of independent ticket retailers which are National Rail accredited. The best thing to do is look at the different websites and decide which one you prefer using as all of them display ticket information in different ways. Train operating companies don’t charge booking or credit card fees, but some charge for postage. You can always choose to collect your tickets yourself to avoid this charge. From time to time some operators will offer additional discounts on their tickets so make sure you check their website.
There are a wide variety of independent ticket retailers but unfortunately many of them (such as thetrainline.com and Raileasy) charge a booking / credit card fee. We recommend you don’t buy tickets from websites that do this as you’ll end up spending more than you need to because the tickets they sell are the same price as everywhere else but they charge you extra fees on top. One retailer we do like is called Red Spotted Hanky. They allow you to earn loyalty points for each journey you make with them and also regularly give away vouchers on their Facebook and Twitter profiles. If you’re a Tesco Clubcard user you can also convert your Clubcard points into Red Spotted Hanky points to use against future purchases.
Another place you could look for cheap tickets is Megatrain. This is a website run by Megabus and offers you tickets from £1 (plus a 50p booking fee) on East Midlands Trains and South West Trains routes. Remember that this site also offers cheap tickets on coach services though, so make sure you’re booking the right mode of transport that you’re looking for.
Getting a Railcard
Railcards are another excellent way to save money on your rail tickets. You have to buy them but they save you 1/3 on many different fares so if you travel a lot they’re a worthwhile investment. But make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully as some have travel restrictions. Information is available from the Railcards website. The 16-25 Railcard and the Disabled Persons Railcard are the two that members of the YREA are most likely to have.
Rangers and Rovers
If you’re making lots of journeys in a specific area then it might save you a fortune if you use a ranger or rover ticket. These special tickets give you unlimited travel in a specific area. Some are valid on multiple train operator’s services too so they’re a great way to go exploring. Using The Ranger Finder is a great way to find a suitable ranger or rover ticket for your journey as it groups them into different areas for you making it easier to find them. This Ranger Finder also tells you about any time or routing restrictions and supplies maps of ticket validity.
Travelling in London
Whether you’re going for a day out or you’re just passing through on your way to another destination, many railway enthusiasts will find themselves in London at some point. Travelling through London is very affordable if you know how to get the best value tickets for your journey.
If your journey between two stations involves a cross-London transfer on the London Underground or DLR and you have a through ticket (for example you’ve booked a ticket from Eastbourne to Birmingham and not two separate tickets for Eastbourne to London and London to Birmingham), its likely it will already include travel in the London area within the price. You can check this by reading the ‘route’ section of your ticket. If you can see a † symbol then your ticket is valid for your cross-London travel. If you can’t then you’ll need to purchase an additional ticket to cover your cross-London journey.
Paying for journeys in cash within London can be quite costly. The cheapest way is to use an Oyster card. An Oyster card requires a refundable card deposit of £5 and then you’ll need to top it up with pay as you go credit. You can purchase an Oyster card from tube stations, Oyster ticket stops and online. When you’re making a journey simply touch your card on the yellow reader (found on the ticket gates or near station entrances where there are no gates) at the start and end of your journey. Whilst Oyster does cost to set up it will save you a lot of money if you pass through London regularly. When travelling from Victoria to Euston, a route often used by people travelling from The South to The Midlands, the cash single fare is £4. But with an Oyster card its only £1.90, and if you travel off-peak and add a railcard to your Oyster it will only cost you £1.25.
The third great way of getting around London is using a Travelcard. These are valid on national rail, underground, DLR, Tramlink and local bus services within the London fare zones. You can purchase these from train and tube stations and you can use your railcard too. They offer unlimited travel for one day (though some have peak restrictions, so check those out first). You can also choose which zones you want your ticket to be valid in meaning you won’t spend more than you need to. If you’re an Oyster user don’t worry – there’s a daily price cap which means you won’t pay more than the day travelcard price for the zones you’ve passed through when using your pay as you go credit.
The way fares are structured in the UK means that some fares don’t make sense. Did you know it can sometimes be cheaper to split your tickets mid-journey? This can be very complicated so its not something we’re going to cover in this short article but we recommend taking a look at this website if you’re making a long distance journey in the near future to see if you could save any money by splitting.
Article Author & Photograph: Chris Jeffery.
Fares shown in examples accurate as of November 15th 2011.