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How can you save money on train fares?
Surely everyone in the UK who’s commuted by train has wondered how they can save money on train fares. Train ticket prices are never far from the news headlines for the very valid reason that they’re shockingly expensive – often more expensive than flights!
If you’ve got to take the train regularly then you’re probably ready for anything new to help you claw back some of your money.
Whilst I can’t promise anything undiscovered like taking your jet pack in to work, here are some sure-fire ways to make the cost of train fares just a bit less painful.
Splitting your ticket to save on train fares is no longer a secret, but many people are put off by the idea of working out how best to do it, as you can only buy split tickets on routes where the train stops at the stations on your tickets.
However, there are a variety of websites that can help you figure it out. Many are powered by TrainSplit so it may be worth looking there first.
Just remember that you can save a bit more by booking via the rail companies themselves as they won’t charge a commission.
Leave a bit later, go a bit slower
Peak times are the times when the railways are most in demand – when everyone’s trying to get to work and then get home again. The price of rail travel in peak times understandably jumps up, so if you can, avoid peak times like you’d avoid week-old chips.
The same goes for fast trains versus slower ones – you’ll usually pay a premium for getting where you need to be quickly. If it’s an option, look at the slower route and see if you can make use of the extra commuting time in a profitable way.
Of course, these methods may not work at all if you’re commuting in to work and doing it in a tight time frame, so if that’s you, then you should…
Get a season ticket
Season tickets see you pay ahead for your rail travel annually, saving money in the process. The problem for many people is that paying out somewhere near a grand for a ticket in one go seems impossible. However, ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I using the train enough to save money over a year with a season ticket? Use this site to find out.
- Am I likely to be making this commute for the next year? (Refunds are usually available if you no longer need your season ticket but not after 10 and a half months.)
If you can answer yes to those questions, then you should get yourself a season ticket.
How to pay for a season ticket
I view a season ticket in the same way as I view car insurance: a big expense that I could pay for monthly, but will always try to pay annually to save money. Here’s what you can do:
- Find out if your employer has a season ticket loan scheme
- Use a 0% credit card to buy your season ticket, but save for the repayment during the coming year
- Start saving up for next year’s season ticket now
Use a gift voucher
This is a bit more of a shot in the dark at the moment, but there are still gift card marketplaces where you may be able to buy an unwanted train travel voucher.
Trainline has their own vouchers, and individual rail companies often do as well, so if someone wants to part with an unneeded voucher then they may well list it on Cardyard.
Invest in a railcard
For a small upfront fee, you can get discounts of up to a third off your fare by using a railcard. Click here to see if there’s one for you – there are also less well-known regional railcards.
You can also use your Tesco Clubcard points to buy railcards, so that’s definitely worth looking at!
Buy your tickets (and railcards) through a cashback website
I love getting cashback on those purchases I just can’t avoid, like train tickets.
Quidco has a page full of rail and coach companies* and TopCashback has a section filled with rail, coach and ferry operators*, so when it’s time to buy your tickets, make sure you go to these sites first to see how much you can get back!
Also, special signup offers can give you a bonus worth up to £15 for signing up to Quidco, so do check that out.
It’s a shot in the dark, but I have also seen offers on free train travel for new TopCashback members in the past. There’s no telling whether an offer like this will return, but I keep my free stuff for new TopCashback members post updated with the latest offers, so it may be worth a look.
Buy your tickets (and railcards) with a cashback credit card
I always try to double up my cashback by using a cashback credit card. By using one to buy your train tickets you’ll be shaving a bit off of the top!
Book as far ahead as you can
Get alerts on your desired advance tickets by using The Trainline’s ticket alert service. It’s a great way to get cheap fares without the guesswork.
If you can’t book that far ahead, you may still be able to get a cheaper fare by booking the day before, so don’t despair! Still, aim to be the early bird.
Try a cheap agent (but be patient)
Megatrain operates on the East Midlands Trains line, and I’m told has some amazingly low fares, but trying to unravel the train journeys from the coach trips was more than I could bear for the purpose of researching this post.
Avoid booking fees
Different booking sites offer great tools for finding routes and discounts, but can often charge booking fees. Get around this by using the rail networks’ sites directly (and you can often still get cashback with some operators).
Rent a driveway
Recently I wrote about making money by renting out your driveway – but on the flip side, if you’re spending a small fortune parking in the station car park (or on fines from parking on the street!) then you could do a bit of digging as to whether there’s a property near your preferred station that has a spare space you can rent.
Many long-haul commuters choose to drive part of the way into the suburbs of a city and take the cheaper and quicker train from there on. Renting a driveway might be a way of avoiding the car parking fee, as long as you do the sums and see if it works for you.
Get your money back
Let’s face it, something is going to go wrong with the train at some point. I know, I’ve been there.
When your train’s delayed, you may be able to get a refund under “Delay Repay“. It usually kicks in after a 30 minute delay but this may differ from company to company.
Make sure you keep your ticket and make a record of all the details about your journey so you can apply for your refund once you stop fuming!
Over to you…
Well, it’s been a long time since I traveled regularly by train and I hope I’ve provided you with some good ideas here, but I’m open to hearing more of your ideas. Feel free to add them in the comments below!