/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Saving money on train tickets – what do you do?

Train ticket in pocket

Train ticket prices went up again in January 2015. Season ticket holders are now paying 2.5% more than last year, with other tickets rising on average by 2.2%. But there are ways to save money on train tickets…

We don’t always have to pay the most obvious and widely available price to travel by train. Because of the way the train fares system has developed since the early 80s, there are plenty of ways for passengers to save money buying train tickets.

What do you do to save money when you travel by train? Have you found any legitimate loopholes or short-cuts to reduce the cost of your journey?

Top train ticket saving tips

Here are my top five train ticket money savers:

Buy advance tickets – If you know when you’re travelling and are happy to book months early, advance tickets will usually be the cheapest way of travelling. An off-peak single from London to Edinburgh is £66, but you can cut this to £24 by buying an advance ticket. They go on sale 12 weeks before the date of travel, prices rise based on demand and you have to travel on the train you’re booked on.

Try ticket-splitting – This is where you buy two or more tickets for your journey, splitting them at a mid-point where your train stops. Entirely legitimate anomalies in the ticket pricing system mean that on some routes you’ll find that buying more than one ticket is the cheapest way to travel. For example, if you’re travelling from Reading to Birmingham, try splitting your ticket at Banbury and Leamington Spa. If you do, the price of a walk-up ticket drops from £53.30 to £29.90. And you’ll be on the same train all the way.

Buy a railcard – I travel long distance two or three times a year with my partner and we carry the two-together railcard. It costs £30 a year and cuts the price of off-peak tickets by a third for the two people registered for the card and travelling together. On a recent return trip from Preston to Milton Keynes, the railcard paid for itself, cutting the cost of our off-peak tickets from £145.20 to £95.80. We didn’t know when we’d be coming back and chose not to go for cheaper advance tickets.

Go the long way – A London to Southampton anytime ticket is £40.10 travelling from Waterloo on South West Trains. But if you go from Victoria on Southern, it takes about an hour longer, but an anytime ticket is just £29.70.

Remember GroupSave – If a whole bunch of you are travelling together off-peak, ask for a GroupSave reduction. This can offer a third-off for groups of three to nine, but you can’t then have a railcard reduction on top of this.

Delayed train refunds – Finally, if your train has been delayed, make sure to apply for a refund. Three in 10 passengers told us they were delayed the last time they travelled. Yet, three quarters of those held up for more than an hour said they weren’t told that this meant they qualified for a full refund.

Do you use any of the above tactics? Is there an astonishingly good money-saving split available on your line? Do you travel via somewhere odd to legitimately cut the cost of tickets?


On Trainsplit we are finding that 42.5% of searches are finding a split ticketing saving. The average saving across advance and walk on fares is around 23%.

Maria says:
18 February 2015

I looked up the fare from Banbury to Bath Spa a few week’s ago and was astonished to find that the cost was £72.00 return. When I pulled up a map of the network, I discovered that this route went from Banbury to Reading, change at Reading to Bath Spa BUT I would travel through Didcot Parkway and back again. Nonsense! So I split the fare and bought return tickets from Banbury to Didcot and Didcot to Bath and I saved £45.50 on the cost of a return ticket – quite a substantial saving. I’m happy to say that all the trains ran to time on the day in question and I got to my medical appointment in Bath on time. I also managed to sit in my reserved seats and I found the FGW staff to be excellent. Shame about the confusing pricing, though.

The Code of Practice the ORR are due to issue next month is supposed to be putting an end to the “inconsistencies” in prices depending on where you buy your tickets. It will be interesting to see if it can clarify the “confusing pricing” you mention.

I book in advance online and use a Senior Railcard. I’m not a frequent user. The journey I make most frequently takes an hour and there is no alternative route.

I use a two-together railcard for long journeys and try to buy in advance.
For shorter trips out of London I use my TfL Travelcard to cover the part of journey covered by it.

You can check all possible fares here

whether they’re available or not is a different matter, but at least you know what you are aiming for.

People who are hearing impaired and got a battery booklet from the NHS can apply for disabled persons railcard. This railcard works also during peak hours.

Thomas says:
18 February 2015

Another really important tip is to buy direct. All the train companies, as well as third-party sites, sell precisely the same range of tickets at the same prices, but by buying direct from one of the train companies you’ll be using, you can benefit from no booking fee and occasionally a small discount. Never, ever use third party sites such as thetrainline.

You won’t find split ticketing savings on train companies’ sites.

No, but once you know the splitting pattern you can buy them from the different train operators’ websites separately.

Something I find strange is that my ‘local’ station is thirty miles from Norwich but I cannot buy a period return if I want to stop over. With a railcard the off-peak day return is £6.15. To return on a different day I have to get two standard singles at £6.10 each. It’s actually 20p cheaper if I book to Lowestoft which is about 25 miles further on as the sea gull flies. I believe I might even be able to break my journey at Norwich [where you have to change for Lowestoft anyway] and then have a day at the seaside before coming home. Bring me sunshine . . .

If people just use a site like Trainsplit.com for information about where to split and the book on train operator sites, Trainsplit won’t make any money to survive. D yu really think train operator web sites will then start prviding info abut splits? There are no card or booking fees on Trainsplit (like train operator sites), it just takes a cut of the money it is saving. If you already know the splitting pattern, sure use train operator sites. But if you are using Trainsplit to find them, play the game….please!

Mike – That’s a good point. I was only thinking of repeat journeys. For new journeys I enjoy trying to work out the splitting points for myself and then order the tickets from my local train operator – I wouldn’t crib the data from one company and order from somebody else. Until you mentioned it I hadn’t realised that Transplit did not add any card or booking fees – it must be the last independent site left that doesn’t. The train operator that I usually use, Abellio Greater Anglia, does not add any transaction charges.

With EastCoast you can claim online for a delayed or cancelled train: http://www.eastcoast.co.uk/customer-service/refunds/.
In my experience the system works well.

I don’t know whether the online application will be available next week after Virgin has taken over.

If you have to change trains buy separate tickets for each part of the journey and two singles can often work out cheaper than a return.

On a journey last year when I wasn’t sure which of two trains I’d be able to catch buying two dedicated tickets and throwing one away was cheaper than buying an Anytime.

Clive says:
24 February 2015

A key point about ticket-splitting has not been mentioned: that the train must stop at the station which you have selected for the split. So from Bristol to London for example, although there is a greater saving by splitting a Didcot Parkway not all trains stop there, so I split at Swindon instead.

brfares.com (mentioned above) is where I do my research. You can then buy all the tickets in the same transaction, which I do from FGW’s website.

On Cross-Country journeys the only peak restriction is before 0930 on weekdays. If you need to start your journey before then buy an Anytime ticket to the first stop after 0930, then an Off-Peak ticket on to your destination.

Chris says:
1 March 2015

I would like Which? to initiate (or help get the government to initiate) a full review of the railway sector in this country, as you have done for e.g. the energy market, on behalf of consumers.
I am no expert but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that previous governments have royally screwed up the privatisation / segmentation of the railway services in this country. I am pro-market, but the current status quo is a complete and utter mess, as your regular articles on ticket pricing only illustrate. The consumer is at a loss how to find the least price route from A to B, not helped by the fact that there is effectively no competition on routes anyway.
Please let’s have a holistic/system review of rail travel in this country; reporting on price discrepancies is only observing the symptoms, not the disease.

Thanks for your comment, Chris – it’s really appreciated. I’ve passed this message to our Travel Research and Editorial team for their consideration 🙂

Several weeks ago, I booked rail tickets online and used my Senior Railcard. It was a cold day when I made the journey so I decided to put on a warmer coat and transferred my tickets, but accidentally left the Railcard in the pocket of the other coat. On both the outward and return journeys I explained what I had done and the inspector did not charge me.

Next time I will put the Railcard in my wallet when I make the booking.

That was lucky Wavechange. When I was a student I left my rail card behind in a lecture and didn’t realise until I was asked to produce it by a ticket inspector. Despite explaining the situation to the inspector I was fined for not having it with me and I lost the appeal too!

We travelled from Snowdonia to Switzerland by train and the first problem we encountered was on a Swiss train. Seat reservations and actual tickets come in two large separate documents, and I only had the seat reservation with me to get to Italy. They were very good, though, and let us travel. But it was cold on the roof…

Sorry to hear that, Lauren. From previous experience, some inspectors don’t ask to see my Railcard. I decided it was best to say I did not have my card rather than waiting to be asked, and unable to produce it. The first inspector asked me if it was a return journey and said that most inspectors would not let me off. I believe the penalty is to pay the full cost of the journey and not just what is saved by using a card.

Ian – I love the humour.


Thanks, Wavechange – I think I was unlucky! I had to pay a full penalty fare which was more than the cost of a full ticket… it was annoying, but I suppose I did learn a lesson as now I’m paranoid about not having my card with me.

My goodness. I have been very lucky. I’d love to be able to put in my Railcard number when buying tickets, but presumable the company will not have access to the database with names and card numbers.

Another possible pitfall is not having the payment card when collecting tickets from a machine.

@wavechange I thought you might be interested to know that Which? co-hosted a summit on rail fares and ticketing with the Rail Minister today, bringing together the government, industry and passenger representatives to agree an action plan for a fairer ticketing system. One thing from the action plan that was agreed to is to allow passengers who forget their railcard to claim back for the penalty fare for the first time that they do so.

More here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/travel-leisure/rail-ticketing-summit-paul-maynard-dft/

That’s good news, Lauren. We can all make a mistake once.

You don’t mention that if your journey involves a change of trains the company do not accept responsibility for getting you to your final destination. If you buy a ticket from A to C with a change at B they will cover any difficulty during the change at B. If you buy tickets from A to B and B to C, then if you are late getting to B you may have to buy another ticket B to C with no compensation for being late at C.

Stuart Bamforth says:
20 February 2017

I agree with the last commentator. To reduce the likelihood of missing a connection by being only a few minutes late, and the chance of getting stung for a new ticket, you could allow more than one hour for the connection (i.e. miss a train or two). You will rarely be more than an hour late, but if you are, you will be eligible for a refund on the first ticket, which will offset the cost of a new ticket for the second leg. Or you could buy an Anytime ticket for the last leg as these are usually valid on any trains without a reservation, or an Off-peak if you are unlikely to be delayed into the peak travel).

. . . . or we could expect the railways and the DfT to reform the ticketing structure to eradicate all these crazy complications.

There was a time when I travelled by rail a lot.

As I lived equidistant from 2 stations out of London, I would travel from one and back to the other and inspectors didn’t bat an eyelid. I would break a journey to meet a friend or go shopping. If I missed a connection or a train was cancelled, I could work out an alternate route and still travel on the same ticket. I regularly paid the inspector or at my destination if I didn’t have time to buy a ticket.

I suppose you can’t do any of those things these days. ☹