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Government launches half-price 'rail sale' – how it works and how to get cheaper fares

The Government has today (Tuesday 19 April) launched a 'rail sale' alongside 20 train operators, which will offer travellers around 50% off more than one million train tickets on journeys across England, Wales and parts of Scotland. Here's what you need to know. 

The 'Great British Rail Sale' will see 19 English Government-contracted train operators offer discounts on selected advance tickets, bought for journeys taken between Monday 25 April and Friday 27 May. A smaller proportion of off-peak tickets will also be discounted, where the train operator doesn't offer advance tickets. 

Transport for Wales has announced a similar initiative, while Scotrail (Scotland's main rail operator) will cut off-peak fares in half for travel on a Monday to Friday between 9 and 31 May, although these discounted tickets do not go on sale until 9 May. A freeze on the cost of public transport fares was announced in Northern Ireland today, rather than a sale. (For more information on general ways to save if your preferred journey isn't discounted as part of this sale, see our Cheap train tickets guide.)

The Government says that a rail fare sale spanning this many operators is the first of its kind, and that its rail reforms announced in May last year will allow it and operators to do more nationwide sales in future.

How much could I save?

At least 80% of the sale tickets will be discounted by 50% and more in some cases. Examples of discounted routes include:

  • Birmingham New Street to Bristol Temple Meads: normally £25.30, sale price £12.60 (50% off)
  • London to Cardiff: normally £47, sale price £25 (46% off)
  • London to Edinburgh: normally £44, sale price £22 (50% off)
  • Manchester to Newcastle: normally £20.60, sale price £10.30 (50% off)
  • Portsmouth Harbour to Penzance: normally £45.70, sale price £22 (52% off)
  • Wolverhampton to Liverpool: normally £10.50, sale price £5.25 (50% off)
  • York to Leeds: normally £5.60, sale price £2.80 (50% off)

The Department for Transport has also confirmed to us that you can use railcards alongside the discounted tickets (more on this below). 

How do I book a cheap ticket?

Search for tickets at the dedicated Great British Rail Sale website.

You can book from today (Tuesday 19 April), for travel between Monday 25 April and Friday 27 May – though do check that the journey you want to take is offered by one of the participating operators.

These are: Avanti West Coast, C2C, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry Trains, East Midlands Railway, Grand Central, Great Northern, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, Hull Trains, London North Eastern Railway, London Northwestern Railway, Northern, South Western Railway, Southeastern Railway, Southern Railway, Thameslink, TransPennine Express and West Midlands Railway.

In Wales, you can book through the Transport for Wales website (as well as through its app and ticket retailers) between today and Tuesday 3 May, for travel between Monday 25 April and Friday 27 May. It told us that all tickets will be discounted to 50%, and discounts would be across 10% of all advance journeys on this list of all routes.

In Scotland, there will be a 50% on off-peak travel Monday to Friday, between 9 May and 31 May. This period covers outward travel - discounted return trips need to be completed by 30 June. Discounted tickets will be available for purchase between 9 May and 15 May, via Scotrail's website

Note that there is no sale in Northern Ireland - fares are instead being frozen.

How else can I save on train travel?

There are plenty of tools available to slash the cost of train travel – in fact, we've 18 tricks in our guide to cheap train tickets. Here are a few...

  • Book in advance. The earlier you book, the cheaper it'll be. Around 12 weeks before you travel is best, which usually coincides with when operators have to set their advance timetable. See how to get the cheapest fares, including getting a free alert when your journey goes on sale. 

  • Split tickets. Often breaking down your journey into two or more legs can be cheaper than buying one ticket for the whole journey – even though you're on exactly the same train. See how to split your tickets.

  • Get a railcard. There are 10 different types, mostly offering up to a third off adult fares (although the 16-17 Saver Railcard offers 50% off fares).

See more tips, including how to track the cheapest prices and whether a season ticket is right for you, in Cheap train tickets

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