Rip-off Rail? Hacks And Tips On How To Travel By Train Without Breaking The Bank
Train travel in the UK is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the experience it offers rail users, and as a result we have something of a Marmite-esque relationship with the Great British railways.
Perhaps you associate rail travel with the time you were travelling on your summer holidays, reclining back in your window seat as you gazed down over a sun-kissed valley of rolling green hills and a grand old Victorian viaduct which traversed it. On the other hand your experience with trains may be a little more unfortunate – perhaps talk of train travel brings you back to that unhappy place again where you find yourself trapped within a press of equally unhappy fellow commuters, head nestled firmly within the sweaty armpit of the person standing next to you on the tube journey to work.
But whilst our experiences of and feeling towards trains in Britain will vary greatly depending on whether you are a seasoned rail-weary commuter or an occasional leisurely rail-user, there is one singular thing that all rail users everywhere will agree on instantly: train travel can be bank-bustingly expensive!
Train travel in Britain the priciest in Europe
As a means of getting from A to B, travelling by train within the UK is often very, very expensive. This is not news – we know and grudgingly accept our fate, in this respect. Nowadays, news of above-inflation rises in the cost of train travel is met with nothing more than weary anger, and then a resigned shrug. The reason for this is simple: unlike across most of Europe, train travel is not subsidised here in the UK. We have the dubious honour of being one of the most expensive countries in the Western world when it comes to travelling by train, and it is no exaggeration so say that in many cases a rail journey will cost you more than a flight to the European continent.
All the same, a recent investigation by the Telegraph, which proved how rail passengers are routinely being denied the cheapest fares when they buy tickets at stations via self-service ticket machines, is a little shocking. But whilst such a story is atrocious, sadly it will not come as a great surprise to many British consumers. We in Britain are pretty used to being charged high prices via sometimes questionable means.
But what this recent investigation by the Telegraph does highlight is how crucial it is for those travelling by train to shop smart and get a good deal. Here are a few useful and proven methods of getting a significant discount on the cost of your rail journey.
Book train tickets online and always book in advance
Seasoned rail-users will know this already but for those who have little experience in getting around by train, this is the first rule to remember when buying tickets: always, always book the train tickets for your journey as far in advance as possible and, wherever possible, seek to book your tickets online. Doing this can and will net you a discount of as much 80% when compared to the price that you would pay by paying over the counter for a ticket on the day of travel.
Far from being the result of any online wizardry, there is in fact a pretty rational explanation for this and it ties in with the types of tickets which are made available to us by rail operators. There are three types of ticket – anytime, off-peak, and advance – which all offer varying rail fares.
Predictably, the ‘anytime’ ticket, which allows a rail user to travel their journey on any train at any time, is by far the most convenient and yet expensive ticket option. An off-peak ticket allows for travel during periods of the day which are less busy, and may or may not be subject to date and time restrictions. An advance ticket on the other hand is exactly what it says on the tin – they must be booked in advance and allow you to travel via a specific train at a specific time. It is these advance tickets, the cheapest of the three ticket options, which we can pick up online through online providers at vast discounts.
You can visit the websites of a number of third-party websites, such as redspottedhanky.com, or thetrainline.com, for example, or even visit the websites of the main rail operators directly to buy your advance tickets. Admittedly you can buy advance tickets over the counter at a station but by buying online you can compare prices, timetables, and number of stops over the course of the journey to ensure that you are getting the best deal.
It is important to remember that whilst booking in advance at the earliest opportunity can help you to bag the best possible deal, the term ‘advance’ is a vague one – even booking the day prior to travel can allow you to pick up train tickets at knockdown prices. Never assume it is too late to get discounted tickets until you have checked online first.
Railcards: if you’re eligible for one, use it
Another obvious way of giving your wallet a reprieve is to invest in one of the number of railcards which are available, that is assuming you are eligible for one of the five available railcards on offer.
The use of a railcard will slash the cost of a train journey by a third and because they can be picked up for the price of £30 per year, a railcard will often pay for itself in no more than two or three medium to long-haul trips. And it is useful to note that surprisingly there are few restrictions on when you can use them. Discounts can be gained on off-peak, first-class anytime, and even advance tickets, provided they are applied to a train journey which takes place after 9:30am during a weekday. On Weekends and bank holidays they can be used all day – families, day-trippers, and revellers take note.
Here is a quick guide to the five railcards that are available:
16-25 Young Persons Railcard
The saviour of the cash-strapped young and students (of any age), the 16-25 railcard is pretty self-explanatory. It is worth mentioning that mature students who are over the age of 25 and in full-time education are also eligible for this railcard while they are in study.
If you are over 60, you will qualify for this railcard.
Friends and Family Railcard
This railcard will allow a group of up to 4 Adults and 4 children to travel at a discounted rate. The card change hands between up to two adults who can have their name on the card, which affords a degree of travel flexibility.
Younger passengers who travel on the family and friends railcard will enjoy a larger than usual discount – passengers who are aged between 5-15 will get a 60% discount whilst under 5’s will travel for free. Just remember you must have at least one child aged between 5-15 travelling with you to be eligible for travel under this scheme.
Two Together Railcard
The newest addition to the railcard family, the two together railcard allows two people travelling together to get a third off their rail fares. Whether you are buying it as a couple, or along with a friend or relative, you will both be able to benefit from discounted rail travel. The only proviso is that both people named on the card must be travelling together or the discount becomes invalid.
Here is a bit of pop-quiz info for us train boffs – the two together railcard is the first to be released in 30 years here in the UK.
Disabled Persons Railcard
This railcard costs £20 and will not only allow the cardholder a discounted fare but also a fellow traveller. It is worth mentioning that the friend is not required to be the carer of the cardholder.
Split the journey: Compare the cost of a return ticket against buying single tickets
As sneaky as it might seem, it can often be more expensive to pay for a return ticket than to pay for the two legs of your journey separately – check the price of the to and from legs of your journey to see if buying them separately works out cheaper.
Also, if your journey involves any changes, the same rule applies – check the individual prices of each leg of your journey to see how it compares to a singular ticket. There is a strong chance that you will be able to shave some money off of the cost of your journey.
All aboard for a better deal
Ultimately, train travel will continue to be a costly business for leisurely users and commuters alike. But whilst we will never enjoy the low-cost, subsidised train fares which our European cousins benefit from, we can at least use our consumer savvy to ensure that we are getting the best deal available to us.
Even the smallest savings add-up over time, after all.
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