Left hand holding up a National Rail ticket.

Cheap Train Tickets

Find hidden fares & split tickets

Travelling by train can be expensive, so it's important to cut costs where you can. This guide has 17 ways to save on fares, including how to split tickets, beat booking fees, find hidden promotions, get the most out of railcards and more.

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  1. It's normally cheapest to book tickets up to 12 weeks ahead


    Usually, it's best to start looking for tickets about 12 weeks before you want to travel. Contractually Network Rail must usually have the timetable set 12 weeks in advance, and train operators commonly release cheap advance tickets shortly after. If you've less time before you travel, it's usually best to book ASAP, as the longer you leave it the pricier tickets tend to be.

    Be aware though, some operators 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 up to 24 weeks ahead for routes from stations north of York into London.

    With some operators, you can buy advance tickets up to 10 minutes before you travel if they haven't sold out. For full help, see book early, late.

    Advance tickets are non-refundable. So if you book them and then can't travel – for example if you or or the person you're visiting has to self-isolate, or you're hit by travel restrictions – you won't be able to get your money back. You can change the time and date of your ticket, and either rebook or get a voucher valid for 12 months, though there's often a £10 admin fee. See more in Advance fare refund rights.

    Red traffic light illustration.

    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 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

    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 to London Euston – it showed tickets currently cost £33 and would likely sell out at that price in 59 days, and could hit £146 by the day of travel.

    Beware when you book. While Trainline's Price Prediction tool is handy, 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

    split your tickets

    This is the big trick everyone should know. Instead of buying tickets for the whole journey, buying tickets for its constituent parts can 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 stops at York in between, you could potentially save money by buying a ticket from London to York and then another from 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 legit according to 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. We've been campaigning on this for years and were the first to launch a split-ticketing tool in 2012 – now we think others have developed better specialist sites, so we link to them instead.

    Several new tools that do this have launched recently, including one from the UK's biggest train-booking site, Trainline, so you've a choice. We spot-checked prices for 15 journeys across 10 tools and found there was no single cheapest, so to find the best split-ticket combos, check as many sites as you've time for. All the following let you check splits for one-way journeys, fixed returns and group bookings. All are free to use, though most charge a fee if you book via them, which we factored into our checks (see more on this below):

    • Cheapest overall, free, but mixed reviews – TrainPalDoesn't charge booking fees. Only shows splits on the desktop site and app, not on the mobile site. Found the cheapest or joint-cheapest fare on seven of the 15 journeys we checked, and is quite quick. But it doesn't show splits in the initial results – they're only visible after selecting 'book', and it has mixed reviews on Trustpilot. Shows splits on all non-season tickets.
    • Quickest and easiest, but not always cheapest – TrainTickets.com. Charges 10% of what you save. Shows splits on the desktop and mobile site, doesn't have an app. Found the cheapest or joint-cheapest fare on two of the 15 journeys we checked. Its USP though is how speedy and slick it is – it rarely takes more than a few seconds to find fares, and displays results and savings clearly. Shows splits on all non-season tickets and checks unlimited splits per journey, so could give you 10+ tickets for one journey.

    • Sometimes cheapest, but slow and unclear – Rail Europe* (formerly Loco2). Charges £1.50 per booking under £100, £6 per booking over £100. Shows splits on the desktop and mobile sites, plus the app. Found the cheapest or joint-cheapest fare on five of the 15 journeys we checked. But we found it isn't the speediest, results can be unclear and it doesn't include anytime fares. Checks unlimited splits per journey, so could give you 10+ tickets for one journey.

    • Worth checking for belt 'n' braces – Split My FareSplit Your TicketTrainSplit* and TrainSplittingCharge 10% of what you save. All show splits on desktop and mobile sites. TrainSplit also has an app. All are powered by train-booking site Raileasy, so they deliver similar results – each found between two and four of the cheapest or joint-cheapest fares on the 15 journeys we checked. But searches can be slow, results could be clearer and anytime fares aren't included.

    As far as the new Trainline split-ticketing app goes, we found in our spot-check that it was costlier than rivals – in fact, it wasn't cheapest for any of the 15 journeys we checked once we factored in its £1.50 booking fee. If you use any of these tools, especially the new ones, let us know how you get on in the Split Ticketing forum discussion thread.

    You can dodge the fees split-ticket tools charge – but should you?

    All the ticket-split tools listed above charge a fee when you buy train tickets through them, usually by taking a cut of the saving you make.

    You don't have to pay these fees – you can avoid them by simply using a split-ticket tool to find splits for your journey, then buying from a train-booking site that doesn't charge booking fees or directly from the train firms involved, most of which don't charge fees. But bear in mind it costs money to run these tools and the margins on train tickets are pretty slim. So if few users buy tickets through them, they may not always be around to help you save money – and finding split tickets yourself can be fiddly.

    Split-ticketing quick questions

    • It normally takes five to 10 minutes to check for split tickets, but it's worth doing, especially for long journeys. And while the tools above can help, if you want to do it the old-fashioned way, 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 your route and search for separate tickets to and from there for each leg – if that doesn't make the journey any cheaper, try another station.

      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 (one MoneySaving football supporter ended up with 56 tickets), but it'll take a fair amount of legwork if you're splitting the journey yourself.

      MoneySavers' split-ticketing successes


      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 (first class) Crewe £403 £181.20 £221.80
      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.

    • There may be a problem if you need to change trains and you're delayed before you split your journey.

      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 time, 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

    book now

    If tickets haven't sold out, seven 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.

    On the day Avanti West Coast (up to one hour before), CrossCountry (up to 15 minutes before), Gatwick Express (up to 30 minutes before, online only), Grand Central (up to two hours before), Greater Anglia (up to 10 minutes before), London North Eastern Railway (up to 40 minutes before), Stansted Express (up to two hours before, online only)
    11.59pm the day before Caledonian Sleeper, East Midlands Railway, Northern, South Western Railways
    6pm the day before Chiltern Railways, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains, ScotRail, Southeastern, Southern Rail, TransPennine Express (majority of tickets), Transport for Wales
    Three days before Enterprise (online only)
    14 days before Heathrow Express (online only)
  5. Spend over £90/year? Consider a railcard


    Railcards usually cut a third off the bill. You buy them on the Railcard site and most are £30/year or £70 for three years (£23.30/year). So if you spend more than £90 a year on trains, a railcard is worth getting.

    Most railcards also give you a third off off-peak rail and tube travel in London on either Oyster pay-as-you-go or travelcards – go to a London Underground ticket office with your railcard and ask them to register it to your Oyster card, or use it to buy a travelcard.

    There is also a range of tricks to cut the cost, including getting them for £10 in Tesco Clubcard vouchers or £10 if you know someone with a Gold Card

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

    16-17 Saver Railcard

    The new 16-17 Saver Railcard, which launched in August 2019, works slightly differently to other railcards. It gives 50% off most tickets to 16 and 17-year-olds, and can't be used on rail and tube travel in London.

    The card costs £30 and lasts for a year, or until your 18th birthday (whichever comes first).

    • UK railcards

      1-YR 3-YR
      16-17 Saver 50% off adult fares 16 and 17-year-olds, up until their 18th birthday Can be used at any time across the National Rail network, except on ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper services. Can't be used with Oyster pay-as-you-go or travelcards. £30 N/A
      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
      26-30 Railcard A third off adult fares Under-31s Can be used at any time, but min fare of £12 payable for journeys made between 4.30am and 10am Mon-Fri. £30 N/A
      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
      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. £30 (1) £70
      Disabled Person's 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. £30 (2)

      HM Forces' Railcard A third off for adults and 60% off for children on most rail fares All members of regular forces & volunteer reserve, non-regular permanent staff and more – see full info Can be used at any time, but min fare of £12 payable for journeys made between 4.30am and 10am Mon-Fri (except in Jul & Aug, or on public hols). £8 min fare off-peak, £1 min fare per child (aged 5-15, up to four). £21 (3) 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. 3. Cannot be purchased at stations or online – to apply see your unit HR admin staff. The cost will be deducted from your pay.

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  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 Person's 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, and the 26-30 Railcard until you're almost 32

    The 16-25 Railcard costs £30 for a year (or £70 for three), while the 26-30 Railcard costs £30 a year. They give you a third off most rail fares, and you'll also get a third off London travelcards and off-peak Oyster travel. They can be used anytime, though if you're travelling before 10am on weekdays the minimum fare after the discount is £12.

    16-25 railcard

    Despite its name, there's a great loophole which lets you keep on using the 16-25 Railcard 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 16-25 Railcard, which you can do up to 30 days before expiry, there's nothing to stop you buying another using a different email address if you want to use this trick.

    What about the 26-30 Railcard?

    It's still worth using this trick, despite the 26-30 Railcard going on sale last year. That's because if you have a 16-25 Railcard almost until you turn 27, you won't need to as many 26-30 Railcards, which is only available as a one-year card, after that. Without the trick you'd need four 26-30 Railcards to cover you from 26 to 30, but by using it you'd only need three to cover you from 27 to 30, saving you £30. 

    And the trick also works with the 26-30 Railcard. You can buy the 26-30 Railcard just before your 31st birthday and keep using it until its expiry date – so if you renew at the right time, you can use it until just before you turn 32.

    Have a look at our Railcard deals page to see if there are any offers available before buying one.

  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.

    commuters on escalator

    Some journeys can have multiple season ticket options. Check them all, as it can make a real difference. A 12-month Guildford to London season ticket including a London travelcard for zones 1-6 is £5,728, yet if you restrict your travel to the Clandon and Woking routes, it's £4,744.

    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

    guy on laptop

    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, 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 when booking.

    Save £283 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 £350. A quick check instantly found that, for the same journey, an outbound advance single ticket was £41, while coming back it cost £26 – a total of £67.

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  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


      London North Eastern Railway No Free1, 2 £6.45 up to value of £500

      Sells all train companies' tickets. Gives an 'e-ticket' option, which lets you show tickets on your phone or print at home.

      Avanti West Coast  No £2 £6 Sells all train companies' tickets. Gives an 'e-ticket' option, which lets you show tickets on your phone or print at home.
      RedSpottedHanky £1.50 per booking £1 £7.50

      Great reviews for customer service. 

      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

      If you're flexible, its Best Fare Finder finds the cheapest fares around the dates you want to travel.

      Gives an 'e-ticket' option, which lets you show tickets on your phone or print at home.


      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. Only pay peak for the bit that is

    work on the train

    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... £45 off a Ldn-Manc peak train return

    As an example, on a London to Manchester single journey leaving at 9.20am, we found a standard anytime fare for £175. By splitting the ticket at Milton Keynes, it knocked £45 off the total fare as part of the journey was off peak.

  12. 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 – Megatrain is operated by East Midlands Railway, so you'll be on the same service as people who booked their tickets elsewhere. Eg, we found a ticket from London to Chesterfield for £20.43 with Megatrain. The same ticket booked direct with East Midlands Railway was £31.

    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

  13. 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 Cheap Train & Coach Deals, and also check National Rail's special offers index.

    train deals
  14. 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. 

    You can get up to 5% bonus cashback on everything you buy, up to a maximum £100 with our top pick American Express reward card. After the introductory bonus, cashback is then tiered up to 1%, though you need to spend £3,000+ per year to get any cashback. 

    Remember you'll also be credit checked if you apply. Full details and more options in Top Credit Card Rewards.

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  15. 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.

  16. Find cheap first-class tickets

    first class train 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 can be less than you'd expect, depending on when you want to travel. For example, a single standard class ticket from London to York was £39 when we checked 11 weeks ahead, but a first-class ticket was £44.

    It's worth noting the cost of the upgrade can vary by route. Avanti West Coast, for example, charges between £15 and £30 for a weekend upgrade, depending on the length of journey. 

    It can, however, sometimes be cheaper to upgrade on the day, as 11 firms offer a flat-rate upgrade fee on weekends and bank holidays.

    For example, if a first-class advance ticket with LNER from Leeds to London is £44, but you opt for a standard-class ticket at £18, and pay the £15 upgrade fee on the day you'll save £11. 

  17. Warning! 'Travelling short' is 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.

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