The train ticketing system is a farce. To keep your spending away from the buffers, you need to learn how to play the system with hidden tricks.
This guide has 21 sneaky ways to save on fares, including how to split tickets, beat booking fees, find hidden promotions and much more.
21 ways to slash fares, including...
You most likely know that if you book early, you can get cheaper train tickets, yet advance tickets often vanish quicker than empty seats on a commuter route.
To get yourself a bargain, try and book about 12 weeks before you want to travel - and if you're looking for a cheap seat aboard the Polar Express to get home for Christmas, now's the best time to book.
Most train firms have now released tickets for pre-Christmas travel, and many cases into the New Year as well. For example, we found a London to Leeds return, departing on 22 December and coming back on 2 January, for £38.
Advance tickets for travel up to and including 7 January will have been released by most companies by 8 November at the latest. However, some, such as Southeastern and Southern, are unable to specify when these tickets will be released, if at all, due to planned engineering work.
Christmas aside, it's worth knowing that contractually Network Rail must have the timetable set 12 weeks in advance, so train operators commonly release cheap advance tickets shortly after. It's not always dead on 12 weeks though - it's often more like 10 or 11.
Some train companies now release advance tickets even earlier – with the caveat that times could change slightly. For example, Virgin East Coast often releases advance tickets 24 weeks ahead for routes from stations north of York into London.
Get a free alert when tickets go on sale
If you know when and where you want to go, there's a sneaky way to be first in the cheap tickets queue. If you sign up and fill in your journey details with the Trainline's ticket alert system, you will get an email when cheap advance tickets for that specific journey go on sale, which are commonly the cheapest fares.
To help, National Rail also has a future travel chart, showing the furthest date in the future you can buy advance tickets for each train firm.
Find out when cheap tickets are likely to jump in price
The Trainline has recently launched a tool which will show you when cheap tickets are likely to rise in price - as well as when they're expected to sell out. The Price Predictor tool has been added to the free Trainline UK app, which is available for both Android and iOS devices.
It gives you predictions for specific routes, dates and times based on data from billions of journeys, making it great for when you want to get a cheap advance fare but haven't quite finalised your plans.
We tried it out using a journey from Edinburgh Waverley to London Euston - it showed us that tickets currently cost £30 and would likely sell out at that price in 29 days, after which the price was predicted to rise, hitting £137 on the day of travel.
Beware when you book. If you do use Trainline's Price Predictor tool to decide when's best to book, DON'T use Trainline to buy your tickets, as you could pay as much as £5 extra in booking, credit card and delivery fees. Other sites charge less - Virgin East Coast, for example, sells tickets for all train companies and doesn't charge booking or credit card fees.
Split your tickets, not your journey – find the cheap tickets train firms hide
We've been shouting about it for ages and earlier this year it was all over the news – how split-ticketing makes no sense but can slash costs. Train firms have finally said they'll start trials to reform fares, but you needn't wait for them to be able to save money– you can do it yourself for free.
This is the big trick everyone should know; instead of buying tickets for the whole journey, bizarrely, buying tickets for its constituent parts separately can slash the price – even though you're travelling on exactly the same train.
It's perfectly within the National Rail Conditions of Carriage - the only rule is that the train must call at the stations you buy tickets for.
Save £219 on a London-Durham return
To show how this works, we unearthed this cracking example. For a London to Durham return, the cheapest ticket was an anytime return at £301, but the train stopped at York, so instead we found four singles:
The total cost for those tickets was just £82 - a saving of £219.
Just to make it clear, this is the same return journey – the only difference is you've four tickets covering it rather than one
Full step-by-step guide to finding split tickets
It normally takes 5-10 minutes to check for split tickets, but it's worth doing, especially for long journeys. Here's a step-by-step guide:
Find the journey's cheapest standard price
Track down the standard journey price. Without it, you won't know if you can save money.
Find out where the train stops
Use the Virgin East Coast booking site. Click the 'Destinations' tab and use the route map to see where the train you want to catch will stop - you can download the map to make it easier to reference by clicking the red button at the bottom.
Check the options
Pick a main station halfway along the journey you want to take and search for separate tickets to and from there for each leg - if that doesn't make the journey any cheaper, try another station.
For help on where to split tickets, use our TicketySplit tool as a ready reckoner - it will show you where a ticket for today is split, which is often the same as for advance tickets. Then you can check the prices for the dates you want to travel via a train booking site to see if it works.
If the train stops at a lot of places, there'll be a huge combination of tickets available, and then ticket splitting comes down to time versus money - you could split a journey into six or eight tickets, which might work out cheaper, but it will take a fair amount of legwork to do.
MoneySavers' split ticketing successes
|Route||Split tickets at||Standard fare||Split tix cost||Saving|
Nailsea and Backwell – Slough
|Taunton – London||Pewsey||£105||£42.70||£62.30|
|Northampton – Leeds||Burton on Trent||£72||£34.70||£37.30|
|Llandudno – London (1st class)||Crewe||£403||£181.20||£220.80|
|Great Yarmouth – Manchester||Nottingham||£158||£42||£116|
|Doncaster – Southampton||London||£50||£20||£30|
|Birmingham – Basingstoke||Banbury||£85||£37.60||£47.40|
|Manchester – Edinburgh||York||£150||£92.20||£57.80|
|Tiverton – London||Pewsey||£99||£55||£44|
If you find a journey where splitting works, please report your success so others can benefit.
In the rare event that you book split tickets and your split ticket stop coincides with the station where you change trains, should your first train run late, your second ticket might not be valid for the next leg of the journey.
For example, if you travel from Aford to Cshire via Btown and split your tickets at Btown, but you need to change trains at Btown, then if the Aford to Btown train is late, your ticket may not be valid for a later Btown to Cshire train.
Finally, off-peak and super off-peak tickets require you to travel at specific times of day. If you split your tickets at a station where you have to change, and a delay takes you into peak times, you may have to pay again to travel during this time.
Try our free TicketySplit tool to find split tickets
While split ticketing gives massive savings on scores of routes, the problem's always been finding when it works. Now our split ticket tool uncovers hidden ticket combinations to cut the cost.
Just go to our TicketySplit tool, tell it your journey, and it'll tell you where to split and what the saving is.
Note: It’s best used to show you the best route to take, but DON’T try to buy the tickets via the tool - use the other tips in this guide to get them cheaply - as gremlins have somehow weaselled their way into it, meaning the option to buy your tickets from the tool is not currently working. While our tech wizards are working on a fix, we recommend using the tool as a ready reckoner only.
Please feed back
Please add your feedback and successes to the TicketySplit forum discussion. If you spot any glitches, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, letting us know which device you're using it on.
Anything to watch out for?
As with all split ticketing, the train MUST call at all the stations you buy tickets to and from. Beware split ticketing at stations where you change trains; if your service is delayed and you've a time-specific ticket, you may have to pay extra - see our full warning for the low down.
How do I buy split tickets?
If you're buying advance tickets: If you're using the desktop tool, just fill in your journey details and we'll find advance fares that fit via the Trainline.
Using the results as a ready reckoner, you can then book direct with the relevant train company to avoid any booking fees.
If you're buying tickets on the day: Just go to the station and carefully ask for the separate tickets stated in the results. There's no problem with this – you can buy tickets for any route at any station ticket office, although you can't buy them from ticket machines.
Can you save by splitting a ticket more than once?
The tool searches single tickets using one split. Of course, buying three or even four split tickets for one journey could cut costs more, but we use one split to keep things quick and simple.
Can you split return tickets?
Yes, but TicketySplit doesn't currently cover returns. We hope to be able to offer you a tool covering returns in the future, but it's more complex as there are many more options.
For now, to locate cheap return splits, check where the train stops and use trial and error to see if separate tickets make your journey cheaper – just follow our step-by-step guide.
What if my journey is delayed?
There may be a problem if you need to change trains and you're delayed before you split tickets.
For example, if you're going from London to Durham via York and delays mean you miss your time-specific train going onto Durham, you may have to pay extra.
However, you could also claim compensation for the delay - see our Train Delays guide for more details.
How does the tool make money?
Note: As mentioned above, the option to buy tickets from the tool is not currently working so the information below is for transparency only.
The TicketySplit tool costs us a packet to run (we pay each time you search), but we get commission from the Trainline's ticket sales to help fund it. Of course, it has booking fees, which some others don't – that's why we provide you with the information to enable you to buy tickets elsewhere if you choose.
If you do click through to the Trainline, it helps ensure we're able to continue to run this tool, as it provides an incentive for the Trainline to continue to work with us, and it helps us pay the tool's running costs.
Watch Martin's video guide to slashing train costs
To really push it to the max, watch this top cheap train tips video from Martin.
Courtesy of Martin's It Pays To Watch, Channel 5, September 2008. The majority of the information in this video is still relevant, but the Transport Direct website no longer exists and the National Rail Enquiries phone number is now 03457 48 49 50.
Book early, late
Most people know that buying train tickets in advance is usually cheaper, but many don't realise you can often buy them right down to the wire - the golden rule is this:
Always check if tickets are still available the night before – you may even be able to get them on the day.
If tickets haven't sold out, eight firms now let you buy advance tickets on the day. Many more allow you to buy the day before, so never assume it's too late. (But make sure you have time to get your tickets before you want to travel as with some third party sites it can take up to two hours before they're ready for collection.)
Here we've listed the cut-off points for advance tickets with each train provider. We update this table regularly, but policies can sometimes change in between, so always check.
|Last time to grab cheap tickets (if available)||Train companies|
|On the day||Abellio Greater Anglia (up to 10 mins before), CrossCountry (up to 15 mins before), Grand Central (up to two hours), Northern (up to 15 mins before), TransPennine Express (up to 15 mins before), Virgin East Coast (up to two hours before), Virgin West Coast (up to one hour before), Caledonian Sleeper (up to hours before).|
|11.59pm the day before||East Midlands Trains, London Midland (midnight), South Western Railways.|
|6pm the day before||Arriva Trains Wales, Chiltern Railways, Great Western Railway, First Hull Trains, ScotRail, Southeastern (departures between 4am and midnight), Southern Rail.|
|Three days before||C2C, NI Railways Enterprise (online only), Stansted Express (online only).|
|Other||Heathrow Express (1).|
|Advance tickets not available||Gatwick Express (2), Merseyrail, Thameslink.|
|Table correct as of September 2017. (1) 14, 30 & 90-day advance tickets available online. (2) You can save 10% by buying online.|
Spend over £90/year? Consider a railcard
Railcards can cut a third off the bill. You can buy them on the Railcard site and most are usually £30 per year or £70 for three, which works out at £23.30 a year. So, spend more than £90 a year on travelling by train, even on just one trip, and a railcard is worth getting.
All railcards, except the Network Railcard, also give you up to a third off off-peak rail and tube travel in London on either Oyster pay-as-you-go or Travelcards. Just go to an underground ticket office with your railcard and either ask them to register it to your Oyster card or buy a Travelcard.
Check out our Railcard deals page for more info and railcard discounts.
Don't assume every journey's eligible for a railcard discount, although time restrictions never apply on weekends and bank holidays. Always check first, especially if travelling at peak times, as these vary by operator.
|Travel discount||Who's eligible||Restrictions on use||Price|
|A third off adult fares||Under-26s or full-time students of any age||Can be used at any time, but min fare of £12 payable for journeys made between 4.30am and 10am Mon-Fri.||£30||£70|
|A third off for adults and 60% off for children on most rail fares||
Up to four adults (aged 16+) when travelling with up to four children (aged 5-15)
Can't be used during the weekday morning peak-period when travelling between stations in the London and south east England area. One child in your group must have a child-rate ticket for the adult discount to apply.
|A third off adult fares for two named persons travelling together||Over-16s||
Can't be used between 4.30am and 9.30am on weekdays. Both named persons must start and finish journeys together.
|A third off adult fares||Over-60s||Can't be used for weekday morning peak-period services when travelling between stations in the London and south east England area. Times of such services can change depending on availability, so check before buying tickets.||£301||£70|
|A third off for you and an adult companion||
You will qualify if you receive disability-related benefits and/or have certain disabilities. Your companion doesn't need to be a carer.
|None – you can use it across the entire National Rail network in Great Britain at any time on any day.||£20||£54|
|A third off most adult fares and 60% off child fares in the London and south east England area||Up to four adults (aged 16+) and up to four children (aged 5-15) travelling together.||Can't be used before 10am on weekdays, though it can be used a little earlier on some services. £13 min spend per adult and £1 min spend per child Mon-Fri.||£302||N/A|
|1. Some county councils offer discounts on the cost of this card, so check with yours using the Gov.uk council finder. 2. If you've a season ticket for London or south east England, you qualify for a Gold Card, which offers similar discounts to the Network Railcard.|
If you buy an annual season ticket for a route which starts and/or ends in the Network Railcard Area (effectively London and south east England), or if you buy an annual Travelcard from Transport for London, you'll also get a Gold Card.
This gives a similar discount as a Network Railcard and also gives you a third off off-peak travel in London with an Oyster card, so you don't need to buy one separately. When you buy a qualifying season ticket, the pass given to you should also say 'Gold Card' at the bottom. Those buying an annual Travelcard on their Oyster card will be given a separate Gold Card at the ticket office.
Just as with a normal railcard, you'll need to take your Gold Card with you to get the discount when travelling on eligible routes. To get the discount on tube and London rail journeys, ask an underground ticket office to check a Gold Card discount has been applied to your Oyster card.
Trick to get a 16-25 Railcard until you're almost 27
The 16-25 Railcard costs £30 for a year (or £70 for three). It gives you a third off most rail fares, including advance, off-peak and anytime tickets, and you'll also get a third off London Travelcards and off-peak Oyster travel. It can be used anytime, though if you're travelling before 10am on weekdays the minimum fare after the discount is £12.
However, despite its name, there's a great loophole which lets you keep on using it even after you've turned 26. Put a note in your diary to buy a three-year railcard the day before your 24th birthday (or a one-year railcard before your 26th) to get the discount almost until you turn 27.
If you're not due to renew your existing railcard, which you can do up to 30 days before expiry, there's nothing to stop you buying another 16-25 Railcard using a different email address if you want to use this trick.
Have a look at our Railcard deals page to see if there are any offers available before buying one.
Regular traveller? Grab a season ticket
Regular rail users and commuters should consider annual season tickets - National Rail's Season Ticket Calculator is a nifty little tool to help you work out the cost.
The same journeys often have multiple season ticket options. Check them all, as it can make a real difference. A standard 12-month Bristol Temple Meads to London season ticket is £11,328, yet if you restrict your travel to the Warminster and Salisbury route, it's £7,960.
Getting a season ticket on a heavy commuter route? Check if there are any split ticket options - it could be possible to save with two season tickets covering different legs of the journey.
To see how you might be able to save on the cost of your season ticket, read our Cheaper Train Season Tickets guide.
Singles can beat returns
Returns should be better value, but often aren't - lots of top deals are only available on one-way fares. It's very common that cheaper fares are available by getting two single tickets rather than a return ticket, so be sure to check.
It's usually easy to find these deals online as you'll often be shown both single and return fares.
Save £275 on a London to Manchester return
As an example, a search for a seat on a London to Manchester train, coming back the next day, brought up a standard anytime return ticket costing a whopping £332. A quick check instantly found that, for the same journey, an outbound advance single ticket was £31, while coming back, a Manchester-London advance single cost £26 – a total of £57 for the journey.
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There are seven main ways to search out cheap train tickets online. Bizarrely, different sites sometimes list different tickets, so for a belt 'n' braces check on a big fare, try a few.
The main UK-wide booking sites
|Booking fee||Credit card fee||Debit card fee||Delivery fee||Advantages|
|First class||Special Delivery|
|Virgin East Coast||No||No||No||Free1||£6.45 up to value of £500||
Virgin East Coast sells all train companies' tickets.
Devoted train geeks on our forum rate this site, which clearly highlights the cheapest fares as you search.
|RedSpottedHanky||£1 per booking.||No||No||N/A||£7.50||
Tesco Clubcard points stashers can double the value of their vouchers by buying tickets through RedSpottedHanky - find out more.
|The Trainline||25p-£1.50 depending on ticket price. 75p-£1.50 on website, £1 on mobile app.||2% on site, iPhone app & Android app, £1.50 on other apps.||No||£1.95 for 2nd class||£7.50 for next day delivery||
If you're flexible, use its Best Fare Finder to find the cheapest fares around the dates you want to travel.
Allows you to toggle between cheapest fares and most flexible fares.
|Train operators' own sites||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||
Check relevant train companies' sites before booking, as they often offer discounts.
Doesn't sell tickets, but highlights the cheapest fares. Links directly to train companies, most of which are fee-free.
|1 Tickets must be booked at least five working days before you travel..|
Double Tesco vouchers' value on rail fares
Spend Tesco Clubcard vouchers on goods on its Tesco Clubcard partners* list and their value's up to quadrupled, so a £10 voucher can be worth up to £40.
One of the deals featured is with train ticket shop RedSpottedHanky - swap a £10 voucher and it's worth £20. It includes cheap advance fares and you can use your railcard. There's a £1 booking fee though.
In our check, prices were similar to elsewhere, so this is still a decent saving. To book, go to Tesco Clubcard*. The minimum order is £5 (for a £10 rail voucher) and vouchers are valid for six months.
Before doubling on RedSpottedHanky, check Tesco's Clubcard Partner list, as you may be able to quadruple vouchers' value elsewhere - see our Top 10 Tesco Partner Rewards.
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Only pay peak for the bit that is
Train peak times are usually before 10am and between 4pm and 7pm. Yet if a long train journey starts during peak time, even if a portion of it's outside peak time and you return outside peak time, you still pay peak-time price for the whole journey.
By using split ticketing based on time as well as distance, you can ensure you're only paying peak prices for the portion of your journey that's actually takes place in peak hours.
How much you can save... £76 off a Ldn-Manc peak train return
As an example, on testing a London to Manchester return journey leaving at 8.40am and returning at 6.35pm, we found a standard return fare for £130. By splitting the ticket at Milton Keynes on the way out and Stoke-on-Trent on the return, it knocked £76 off the total fare.
This is because from Milton Keynes to Manchester on the way up and Stoke-on-Trent to London on the way down you're only paying an off-peak fare, slashing the overall cost of the journey.
A bit like a pound shop for train tickets, Megatrain flogs hundreds of singles for routes between London, the East Midlands and South Yorkshire from £1 plus a 50p booking fee.
Wondering why it says 'Megabus' on the Megatrain site? Megatrain uses the same booking system as Megabus, probably to encourage people to book coach tickets for the journey if there aren't any £1 train tickets available. Unfortunately you can't filter the results to only show train journeys, so you have to look through them all.
And don't worry, the train won't be as cheap 'n' cheerful as the tickets - Megatrain is operated by East Midlands Trains, and you'll be on the same service as people who booked their tickets elsewhere.
What routes are included?
Megatrain used to go to 19 destinations, but since being withdrawn from South West Trains in August 2017 after its owner Stagecoach lost the South Western franchise, it only goes to seven destinations, mainly in the East Midlands, via two routes - you can see these by clicking on the map thumbnail to the right.
Or you can check out our list of all Megatrain routes
Chesterfield to London
Derby to London
Leicester to London
Loughborough to London
Nottingham to London
Sheffield to London
When can you get them?
While normal cheap advance tickets are released 10-12 weeks in advance, Megatrain only releases tickets 45 days before – handy for those booking later.
These are 'spare capacity' tickets, so there are more for less-popular times. Once the £1 tickets have gone, there are still uber-cheap fares, eg, £3, £5, £7. Popular routes sell like hot cakes, so make a note in your diary to stgand a chance of grabbing the date you want.
A crafty MoneySaving trick is to combine Megatrain fares with split ticketing. If Megatrain covers part of your journey, grab a Megatrain ticket for one leg of your journey and a cheap advance for the rest.
Grab ultra-cheap train deals
We've a regularly updated list of super-cheap train promos, vouchers and codes - see Cheap Train & Coach Deals for more information.
Also, check National Rail's local promotions index; offers change all the time and include everything from Kids for a Quid on Southeastern to eight-week free first-class upgrades for expectant mothers with Greater Anglia.
Get cashback on all train tickets
Cashback credit cards pay you back each time you spend on them and are a great way to shave down the cost of transport, especially as some now offer boosted cashback, but ALWAYS...
Set up a direct debit to repay the card in full each month, so you never pay interest, which would outstrip any gain.
The reason card companies offer cashback or rewards is simple - they want to encourage you to spend on the card and pay them interest, but the interest cost on all cashback cards dwarfs the cashback you'll earn. For full details of what to consider before applying, see our Cashback Credit Cards guide.
Here's one of the top cashback credit cards:
5% cashback for the first 3 months on National Rail & TfL
Amex Platinum Everyday*
The American Express* Platinum Cashback Everyday card is the top fee-free card, especially if you've big spending to do in the next few months, as it has a great introductory rate, then tiered ongoing cashback. The 5% cashback covers all purchases, including spending on public transport.
- To get the maximum introductory cashback, you need to spend £2,000 within three months.
- After the introductory offer's over, you'll automatically be put onto the tiered spending rates: £0 to £5,000 gets 0.5% cashback and the initial £2k spend counts towards this. All spending above £5,001 gets 1% cashback.
- You need to spend at least £3,000 to get any cashback at all.
- The introductory 5% rate is not available if you've held a Platinum Cashback Amex card at any point in the last six months.
- Ensure you pay off in full every month, or you'll be charged 22.9% representative APR, which'll quickly wipe out any cashback gain. The easiest way to repay in full is to set up a direct debit.
- Cashback: 3 months 5% (max £100) | Tiered up to 1% after
- Paid out: On card anniversary
- Max cashback per year: N/A
- Annual fee: None | Min spend: £3,000 per year | Card issuer: Amex
- Rate: 22.9% representative APR - see Official APR Example
- Min income: N/A
Each time you apply for one of these cards, you'll be credit checked by the lenders. Multiple applications in a short period can affect your future ability to get credit - for more information, see our Credit Scores guide.
The easy way to pay it off in full
It's easy to do this via direct debit, which allows the card company to take a variable monthly amount that corresponds with what you owe. Sadly, some providers deliberately omit the 'pay off in full' option from direct debit forms as it makes them less money. If it's missing from your form, just write in 'pay off in full' yourself - they should honour it, but call up after a week or so to check they have.
There are a few credit cards around which pay a boosted rate of cashback for train tickets. Check out the top overall picks in the Cashback Credit Cards guide – one of these may be suitable if you spend big in other areas.
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Know your train refund rights
Generally you can't get any money back if the delay is less than half an hour (although a few companies will now pay out if the delay is 15 minutes or more). If it's longer, every operator has different rules.
The majority of firms now operate a Delay Repay policy which means they will pay compensation of 50% of the fare, regardless of what caused the hold–up.
A few train companies still operate an old-style compensation scheme, which means they sometimes won't pay if the delay was not their fault, such as if it was the result of a track fire or strike.
What are your rights if a train's cancelled?
If your train is cancelled...
Can you get on another train?
If your ticket is open, you can get on any train anyway. If you have an advance ticket for a specific train, which is cancelled, speak to staff. You'll probably be able to get on another service with the same train company, but you won't have a reserved seat.
- Can you get your money back if you don't travel?
Yes, you're entitled to a full refund. This applies whether your ticket's for a specific train or if it's an open-ended ticket.
- How to claim. You can pick up a form from the appropriate company's stations or visit its website. Make sure you keep hold of your tickets, as you will need these when applying for a refund, which you need to do within 28 days.
What are my rights if a train's delayed?
If your train is delayed...
- What if I don't want to travel? You're entitled to a full refund.
- What if I'm late arriving? If you travel and the delay's over half an hour, you may be entitled to compensation, but the amount varies.
- How much can I get? The minimum compensation train operators have to offer you is 50% of your fare for more than an hour's delay. However, you'll usually receive more, depending on the train operator.
You'll often get cash for delays between 30 minutes and an hour from the majority of firms.
- How to claim. You can pick a form from the appropriate company's stations or visit its website. Make sure you keep hold of your tickets, as you might need them when applying for a compensation or a refund.
You have 28 days to apply. Refunds are usually given as a cheque, although on some sites you may have to ensure you tick this box rather than the rail vouchers one.
Can I get a refund for London tube delays?
Under normal circumstances, if your tube or DLR service is delayed by more than 15 minutes, you can get a refund for the full cost of the journey. For TfL Overground and Rail services, the delay must be 30 minutes or more.
Download or fill in a form from Transport for London within 28 days of the delay. As with mainline trains, if you have a paper ticket, keep hold of it as you'll need it when applying for a refund.
Tube users aren't entitled to refunds when strikes happen, but there's no harm in making a claim as you may still get cash, even if you have no formal rights.
Find cheap first-class tickets
Travelling first-class doesn't have to be costly – there are a couple of ways to grab a premium ticket for less.
If you book well ahead the difference in price between standard and first class is often less than you'd expect. For example, we tried to book a single ticket from London to York 11 weeks in advance. A standard class ticket was £39, the first-class ticket £45 – just £6 more.
It can sometimes be cheaper to upgrade on the day. If you do this, most companies will charge you the difference between a standard and first class ticket, but 10 firms only charge a flat-rate upgrade fee on weekends and bank holidays – meaning that waiting and upgrading at the last minute can save you a fair whack.
For example if:
A first-class ticket with Virgin Trains from Liverpool to London, in advance, is £43.
And a standard-class ticket is £16.50.
And you pay the £20 on-the-day upgrade fee (if it's a weekend or bank holiday), the total price is £36.50 – a £6.50 saving.
We tried this for 20 different journeys with firms that offer flat-rate upgrades, and found upgrading on the day was cheaper in seven cases.
See a list of the companies which do this, how much they charge & what the perks are
|Train firm||Flat-rate fee to upgrade on weekend/bank hols||Extras included|
|Abellio Greater Anglia||£10||Free tea, coffee, cold drinks and snacks. More leg room and space. Table. Free Wi-Fi.|
|Virgin East Coast||£15-£25, depending on journey length||Free light meals, drinks and newspapers. More leg room and space. Table and reclining seat. Free Wi-Fi. Quiet coach. First class lounge use at eight stations.|
|East Midlands Trains||£12||Free drinks and snacks (and breakfast on certain services). Larger seat with table and power socket. Free Wi-Fi. First class lounge use at six stations.|
Great Western Railway
|£7.50, £15, £20 or £25, depending on journey length||Free water, hot drinks and snacks. More space and wider reclining seat with table and power socket. At-seat service on most journeys. First class lounge use at two stations.|
|TransPennine Express||£10 - £15 on Scottish routes||Free drinks, snacks and light meals on selected routes. More space, reclining seat. Power socket. At-seat service between Manchester Airport and Glasgow Central/Edinburgh.|
|London Midland||£10 single, £15 return||More leg room. Reclining seat and power socket (not on class 319 train).|
|Virgin Trains||£10, £15, £20 or £25, depending on journey||Free snacks, light meals, tea, coffee and water. More leg room. Wider seat with table and power socket. Free Wi-Fi and entertainment service. First class lounge use at 12 stations.|
|Table correct as of October 2017.|
Remember – upgrades aren't guaranteed and if first class is full you'll have to travel on your standard ticket.
Scythe down the cost of hotels
Never assume hotel or hostel prices are fixed - book right and massive savings are possible on rooms in the UK and around the world. Our Cheap Hotels guide shows you how to save £100s by using the likes of top hotel comparison sites and cheap-yet-clean hostels.
The Top Secret Hotels section at Lastminute.com* has bargains on up to five-star hotels in London and around the world where only a description and the star rating is revealed before you pay. This means rock-bottom prices to stay in some classy establishments - see our Secret Hotels guide for more details.
Travel overnight to save on hotels
Sleeper trains sound like something from days gone by, yet travel overnight and you could save on accommodation. If you're planning a trip between London and Scotland, search Caledonian Sleeper, where single fares start at £35.
Get free first class in the dining car
Some longer journeys still have first class dining cars as well as the standard buffet. These are often open to all diners, whatever class their ticket is. So go in and order a meal; while it's more expensive, you'll effectively travel in first class luxury at second class price – and get some grub thrown in.
They do have the right to send you back to where you came from– standard class – once you've finished eating, but it rarely happens.
Warning! Travelling short: cheap but banned
Cheap advance fares are often scarce on popular routes, especially commuter ones. This means it's sometimes possible to buy a ticket for a longer journey that incorporates your route at a cheaper price and make some serious savings.
A popular one, for example, was Chester to London; peak time cheap train tickets weren't usually available, but for some journeys starting in north Wales, going via Chester, they were. This means that absurdly, it was actually substantially cheaper to travel further.
Many people still do this on lots of routes and it's known as 'travelling short'. Sadly, it's a no-go as it's against the conditions of advance tickets and you can get fined for doing it.
Most other non-advance tickets allow you to get off early or break your journey – check the ticket's conditions or ask at a station.