Rail firms must confirm timetables 12 weeks ahead, and most roughly launch their cheap advance tickets then too. There are limited numbers for each journey, so to bag 'em, book soonest.

They're starting to be available now until at least Xmas Eve – eg, 23 December off-peak London-Manchester £20 (£81 on the day), but keep checking over the next few days, or set up an alert for your journey. This is just the start of the tips, see 20 Cheap Train Tricks too – here are a few to get you on track:

  • Bag a cheap single now or wait for a return? As almost everyone now knows, two singles often beat a return. Yet this is especially important for over Xmas, as the week-before's tickets are mostly available now, with the cheapest fares on some routes disappearing, but the majority of after-Xmas tickets aren't available yet. In general we'd bag the cheap single now and another as soon as they go on sale. See Book early for Xmas.

  • Use our Tickety Split tool to get cheaper than the cheapest tickets. Buying two tickets for one journey can bizarrely save you money (even though you're on the same train, at the same time, even the same seat). Eg, a 23 Dec London-Bristol single is £99, but buy London-Didcot (where the train stops, you don't have to change) and Didcot-Bristol and it's just £51 all-in, saving £48. Our Tickety Split tool shows how and where to split and the saving.

  • Are you a family, couple, under 26, student, over 60 or disabled? There's a railcard for you (yes, even couples now) and if you'd spend over £90/yr (even on one journey), as it gets 1/3 off, you save. Is there a railcard for you?

  • Turn a £5 Tesco voucher into £10 on trains. You can double Clubcard vouchers' value with Red Spotted Hanky (£1 booking fee) or get 50% off Family, 16-25 and Senior annual railcards by using £15 of Clubcard vouchers.

  • Or travel UK-wide for £1.50 by coach. Post-Xmas tickets are already on sale for coach travel and if you book now there are still £1 bargain Megabus tickets to be had (50p fee), eg, Manchester-London on 27 December.