Cheap Train Tickets

Find hidden fares & split tickets

This guide contains 18 ways to save on fares, including how to split tickets, beat booking fees, find hidden promotions, get the most out of railcards and much more. 

18 ways to slash fares... 

  1. Book weeks ahead for the cheapest fares – many Christmas tickets are on sale now

    If you're looking for a cheap seat aboard the Polar Express to get home for Christmas, now's the best time to start booking.

    Cheap advance fares for Christmas and New Year are now available from train firms such as CrossCountry, East Midlands Trains, London North Eastern Railway, Transpennine Express and Virgin Trains. 

    If tickets for your journey aren't available yet, see below for how to get a free alert when they go on sale. 

    It's worth knowing that contractually Network Rail must – usually – have the timetable set 12 weeks in advance, meaning train operators commonly release cheap advance tickets shortly after. 

    But at present, in some cases, tickets are only released six weeks in advance due to temporary changes to the timetables (which led to May's timetable chaos). This is expected to last until Tuesday 20 November.

    On the other hand, some train companies now release advance tickets even earlier than 12 weeks prior – with the caveat that times could change slightly. For example, London North Eastern Railway 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. Put your journey details into the Trainline's ticket alert system and you'll get an email when advance tickets for that specific journey go on sale, which are commonly the cheapest fares.

    National Rail also has a future travel chart, showing the furthest date in the future you can buy advance tickets for each train firm.

  2. Find out when cheap tickets are likely to jump in price and sell out

    The Trainline has a free Price Prediction tool in its Android and iOS apps, to show you when cheap tickets are likely to rise in price or sell out.

    It gives predictions for specific routes, dates and times based on data from billions of journeys, making it great for when you want a cheap advance fare but haven't finalised your plans.

    We tried it on a journey from Edinburgh Waverley to London Euston - it showed tickets currently cost £30 and would likely sell out at that price in 29 days, and could hit £137 by the day of travel.

    Beware when you book. If you use Trainline's Price Prediction tool, DON'T use Trainline to buy your tickets, as you could end up paying from £2.75 extra in booking and delivery fees. See below for which sites don't charge.

  3. Split your tickets, not your journey, to save big

    This is the big trick everyone should know. Instead of buying tickets for the whole journey, buying tickets for its constituent parts can, bizarrely, slash the price, even though you're on exactly the same train.

    For example, if you're travelling from London to Durham, but the train calls at York you could potentially save money by buying a ticket from London to York and then York to Durham. You could even be sat in the same seat for the entire journey - you'll just have two tickets rather than one. 

    It's perfectly within the National Rail Conditions of Travel - the only rule is that the train MUST call at all the stations you buy tickets for.

    Try these tools to find split tickets 

    While split ticketing gives massive savings, the problem's always been finding where and when it works.

    There are two dedicated split ticket tools, and if you have time try them both:

    • TrainSplit. This also powers other tools, such as Split My FareSplit Your Ticket and Trainsplitting.co.uk. It does returns, group bookings and multiple splits, but doesn't display open returns or anytime fares. It also doesn't show you fares you CAN'T save money on, which can be annoying if you're looking for a specific one.

      Crucially, TrainSplit factors in the 10% cut of your saving you'll be charged if you go on to buy via TrainSplit - so if you use TrainSplit for research then buy elsewhere, you'll actually save MORE than what you're shown.

    • Ticketclever. Does returns, group bookings and multiple splits. It generally shows more fares than TrainSplit, but when we tested it didn't find split fares as regularly. It's free to use and buy tickets through though. It's funded by commission paid by the Rail Delivery Group, which represents rail firms.

    If you use these tools let us know how you get on in the Split Ticketing forum discussion thread.

    Quick questions

    • 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:
       

      1. Find the journey's cheapest standard price
        Track down the standard price for the journey you want to make. Without it, you won't know if you can save money.
         

      2. Find out where the train stops
        Use the National Rail site. Search for the train you want to take, click 'Details' and then 'Show calling points'.
         

      3. Check the options
        Pick a main station 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.

        Unfortunately our TicketySplit tool is no more, but there are other sites you can use to help - see full details above.

        Once you've searched for split fares using those sites, compare the cost of any you find with that of buying the tickets yourself directly from the relevant train company/companies to check you're getting the best deal - remember to take any admin, booking, commission or postage fees into account when making your calculations.

        If the train you want to catch stops at a lot of places, there'll be a huge combination of tickets available, and then splitting the fare comes down to time versus money. Splitting a journey into six or eight tickets might work out cheaper (last year a football supporter ended up with 56 tickets), but it'll take a fair amount of legwork if you're splitting the journey yourself.
         

      4. A final tip
        If Megatrain, which operates mainly in the East Midlands, covers part of your journey, you could bag a £1 ticket for part of it - read £1 Megatrain Fares for more info.

      MoneySavers' split ticketing successes

      ROUTE SPLIT TICKETS AT STANDARD FARE SPLIT TIX COST SAVING

      Nailsea and Backwell – Slough

      Didcot Parkway £148 £72.20 £75.80
      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
      Newark Castle – Bridgend Nottingham £114 £88.40 £25.60

      If you find a journey where splitting works, please report your success on the Split Ticketing forum discussion so others can benefit.

    • Yes - buying three, four or even more split tickets for one journey can cut costs more, and these tools search for multiple splits. The biggest we've seen while testing them is nine.

    • Yes, but these can be more difficult to find as they require roughly the same route in each direction to save you money, or else you may just be offered an open return, which is unlikely to be the cheapest option.

      If this is the case, split the return journey you want into two singles and search for split fares on each leg seperately - just follow our step-by-step guide.

    • 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 you're changing trains at York, delays that make you miss your time-specific train from York to Durham could mean you have to pay extra.

      However, you could also claim compensation for the delay - see our Train Delays guide for more details.

    • 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.

      Finally, off-peak and super off-peak tickets require you to travel at specific times of day. So 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.

  4. 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:

    Always check if advance tickets are still available before you travel

    If tickets haven't sold out, six 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 as it can take up to two hours before they're ready to collect.)

    Here are train firms' cut-off points for advance tickets. 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), TransPennine Express (up to 15 mins before), London North Eastern Railway (up to two hours before), Virgin Trains (up to one hour before)
    11.59pm the day before East Midlands Trains, South Western Railways, Northern, Caledonian Sleeper
    6pm the day before Arriva Trains Wales, Chiltern Railways, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains, ScotRail, Southeastern, Southern Rail
    Three days before C2C (online only), Enterprise (online only), Stansted Express (online only)
    Table correct as of October 2018. (1) 14, 30 & 90-day advance tickets available online. (2) You can save 10% by buying online
  5. Spend over £90/year? Consider a railcard

    Railcards can cut a third off the bill. You buy them on the Railcard site and most are usually £30 a year or £70 for three, which works out at £23.30 a year. So, spend more than £90 a year on trains, even on just one trip, and a railcard is worth getting.

    All railcards, except the Network Railcard, 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.

    Don't assume every journey's eligible for a railcard discount, always check first, especially if travelling at peak times, as the rules vary by operator.

    Check out our Railcard deals page for more info and railcard discounts.

    • UK railcards

      TABLE_CELL_STYLE TRAVEL DISCOUNT
      WHO'S ELIGIBLE
      RESTRICTIONS ON USE
      USUAL PRICE
      1-YR 3-YR
      16-25 Railcard
      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
      Family & Friends Railcard
      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.
      £30
      £70
      Two Together Railcard
      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. Tickets must be purchased together. £30
      N/A
      Senior Railcard
      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
      Disabled Persons Railcard
      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
      Network Railcard
      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.

      It's worth noting a new 26-30 Railcard will be available nationwide by the end of the year, see the New Railcard MSE news story.

  6. Got a season ticket for London or south east England? Get a free gold card

    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. When you buy a qualifying season ticket, it should 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, but it's worth double-checking the discount has been added to your Oyster.

    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. 

    It's worth noting you can also grab a 16-25, Family & Friends, Two Together, Senior, Disabled Persons or Network Railcard for just £10, for you or someone you know if you have a gold card. See our £10 Railcard deal.

  7. 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, 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.

    Despite its name, there's a great loophole which lets you keep on using it even after you've turned 26. You just need 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.

    Finally, don't forget that a new 26-30 Railcard is being rolled out nationwide by the end of the year.

  8. 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 tool to help you work out the cost.

    Some journeys can 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.

    Also check if there are any split ticket options, to see if you can save with two season tickets covering different legs of the journey.

    And don't forget, if you've an annual season ticket inside the Network Railcard Area, you get extra perks through the gold card scheme.

    To see how you might be able to save more read our Cheaper Train Season Tickets guide.

  9. Singles can beat returns

    Returns should be better value, but often aren't.

    It's very common that cheaper fares are available by getting two single tickets rather than a return ticket, and this is especially the case over Christmas, as there is often a gap between pre-Christmas and post-Christmas tickets going on sale. 

    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 return between London and Manchester train 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 it cost £26 – a total of £57 for the journey.

  10. Use the top UK train booking sites

    There are a few ways to search for cheap train tickets online, and bizarrely, different sites sometimes list different tickets, so for a belt 'n' braces check try a few.

    London North Eastern Railway is a good place to start as it sells tickets for all routes and doesn't charge booking fees. 

    • The main UK-wide booking sites

      TABLE_CELL_STYLE BOOKING FEE DELIVERY FEE

      ADVANTAGES
      FIRST CLASS SPECIAL DELIVERY
      London North Eastern Railway No Free1, 2 £6.45 up to value of £500

      LNER sells all train companies' tickets.

      Skyscanner (train tickets available via app only) No N/A N/A Skyscanner compares tickets for all routes in England, Scotland and Wales. 
      RedSpottedHanky £1 per booking £1 £10

      Tesco Clubcard points stashers can triple the value of vouchers by booking via RedSpottedHanky (ends 31 Jan) - find out more.

      The Trainline 25p-£1.50 depending on how and when you buy. 75p-£1.50 on website, 25p-£1.50 via app when buying up to one day in advance - no fee on day of travel £2.50 for 2nd class3 £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.

      Raileasy*

      Free for MSE users on fares above £10 (normally £2.50)

      £1.502 £7.50

      Allows you to toggle between cheapest fares and most flexible fares.

      Train operators' own sites N/A N/A N/A

      Check relevant train companies' sites before booking, as they often offer discounts.

      National Rail N/A N/A N/A

      Doesn't sell tickets, but highlights the cheapest fares. Links directly to train companies, most of which are fee-free.

      1 Only if ticket on departure or self-print aren't available for your booking. 2 Tickets must be booked at least five working days before you travel. 3 Tickets must be booked at least seven days before you travel.
  11. Triple Tesco vouchers' value on rail fares - for now

    You can triple the worth of your Tesco Clubcard points with a range of retailers.

    One of our top pick deals is with train ticket shop 
    RedSpottedHanky as it's a rare discount on train tickets - swap a £10 voucher and it's worth £30. 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*. Vouchers are valid for six months.

    It's worth noting customers will no longer be able to exchange points for RedSpottedHanky from 1 February 2019 - see the Top Tesco Clubcard offer to be scrapped MSE News story for full info.

    Before tripling on RedSpottedHanky, check our Top 10 Tesco Partner Rewards to make sure you're getting the best deal for you.

  12. 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 actually takes place in peak hours.

    How much you can save... £76 off a Ldn-Manc peak train return

    As an example, on 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 as the majority of the journey was off peak.

  13. Grab cheap Megatrain fares

    Megatrain flogs hundreds of singles from £6 plus a £1 booking fee, for routes between London and Chesterfield, Derby, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham or Sheffield. 

    It uses the same booking system as Megabus, but the train won't be as cheap 'n' cheerful as the tickets - as Megatrain is operated by East Midlands Trains, and you'll be on the same service as people who booked their tickets elsewhere.

    While normal cheap advance tickets are released 10-12 weeks in advance, Megatrain only releases tickets 45 days before.

    A crafty MoneySaving trick is to combine Megatrain fares with split ticketing

  14. Grab ultra-cheap train deals

    There are more promotional train fares available than people realise; for ultra-cheap deals, you have to know where to look and be flexible.

    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.

    We've a regularly updated list of super-cheap train promos and discounts in our Cheap Train & Coach Deals and also check National Rail's special offers index.

  15. 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.

    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. 

    Remember you'll also be credit checked if you apply. 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

    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 intro 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 (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 an Amex Platinum Cashback 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 a year | Card issuer: Amex
    Rate: 22.9% representative APR (see Official APR Example)
    Min income: N/A

  16. Know your train refund rights

    Every operator has different rules, but the majority will pay out for delays of 30 minutes or more, and quite a few will pay after 15 minutes. 

    The majority operate a Delay Repay policy meaning 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.

    For more details, see our guides on Train Delays and Tube Delays.

  17. 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.

    It can sometimes be cheaper to upgrade on the day, as 10 firms only charge a flat-rate upgrade fee on weekends and bank holidays.

    For example if a first-class advance ticket with Virgin Trains from Liverpool to London is £43, but you opt for a standard-class ticket at £16.50, and pay the £20 upgrade fee on the day you'll save £6.50. 

    • Train firm Flat-rate fee to upgrade on weekend/bank hols Extras included
      Abellio Greater Anglia £10 Free drinks and snacks. More leg and elbow room. More comfy seats. Table and power socket. Free Wi-Fi.

      CrossCountry

      £5, £10, £15 or £20, depending on route Larger, reclining seat. More table space. Free Wi-Fi. Free hot and cold drinks and light snacks (subject to availability).
      East Midlands Trains £12 Free drinks and snacks (and breakfast on certain services on Saturdays). Comfy seat with table. More space. Bigger, quiet carriages. Free Wi-Fi.

      Great Western Railway

      £7.50, £15, £20 or £25, depending on journey length Free water, hot drinks and snacks. Reclining seat, power socket, USB port. At-seat service on some journeys. First class lounge use at Cardiff Central and London Paddington.
      London North Eastern Railway £15-£25, depending on journey length Free food and drink service at your seat. Bigger seats. More leg room. Free Wi-Fi.
      TransPennine Express £10 - £15 on Scottish routes Free drinks and snacks on selected routes. More space, reclining seat. Power socket. At-seat service on all Manchester Airport and Glasgow Central/Edinburgh services.
      Virgin Trains £10, £15, £20 or £25, depending on journey Free snacks and drinks. Wider seat with more leg room, table and power socket. Free Wi-Fi and entertainment service. First class lounge use at 10 stations.
      Table correct as of August 2018.
  18. 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.

    This is 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.

SPOTTED OUT OF DATE INFO/BROKEN LINKS? EMAIL: BROKENLINK@MONEYSAVINGEXPERT.COM