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21 September 2023
Cheaper train season tickets
While some don't do it as often as they did before the pandemic, commuting to work remains expensive, with many paying £1,000s for rail, tube or metro tickets each year. And with fares in England and Wales increasing by up to 5.9% from Sunday 5 March, it's vital to find the cheapest season ticket possible – it can save you £100s each year.
Across the country, whether you're Oyster-carding from Orpington or training from Tiverton, you could save a decent chunk of cash by getting an annual season ticket rather than buying 12 monthly ones or – even worse – weekly travelcards.
"Surely I won't save that much? I'm still using the same train line, just as often," you may say. But this is actually the best way to cut your commuting costs, often slashing the cost of travel by £100s each year.
This table shows a few examples of how much you could save by buying an annual season ticket when commuting into some of the UK's major cities...
|Birmingham||Rugby to Birmingham New Street (1)||£167.10||£1,740||£265.20|
|Cardiff||Barry Island to Cardiff Queen Street||£78||£812||£124|
|Glasgow||Greenock West to Glasgow Central||£181.70||£1,892||£288.40|
|London||Crystal Palace to Oxford Circus||£173.60||£1,808||£275.20|
|London||Colchester to Liverpool Street||£553.40||£5,764||£876.80|
|London||Guildford to Tottenham Court Road (2)||£485||£5,052||£768|
|Manchester||Hazel Grove to Manchester Piccadilly||£111.40||£1,160||£176.80|
Table correct as of February 2023. (1) Only valid via Coventry. (2) Only valid via Clandon or Woking and based on ticket including London travelcard for zones 1-6.
It's hardly a secret that buying 'in bulk' usually saves on commuting costs, but the main problem is that many people can't get the cash together to be able to afford paying a one-off sum of what is often £1,000s in just one month. Luckily, there are several ways around this, and they don't all cost the earth. Here are five ways you can spread the cost of buying a season ticket. Read through until you find one that suits you.
Many employers offer interest-free, or low-interest, season ticket loans.
Your employer will either give you a cheque made out to the travel company you're buying the season ticket from, or will give you the cash into your bank account for you to use on the ticket. It will then take the repayments from your net salary in 10 or 12 instalments. It's worth asking your employer if it does this, or, if not, if it can start offering this scheme.
If your employer doesn't offer a season ticket loan scheme or you're self-employed, another way to get a loan for the annual ticket without having to pay any interest is to get a 0% credit card, provided you pay it off during the 0% period. Interest-free credit cards are a great way to spread the cost of your annual travelcard.
Budget to pay the balance off as soon as you can, but always clear the card or balance transfer any remaining debt before the 0% period ends, or you'll pay the representative APR of any remaining balances.
You could get a new 0% credit card every couple of years, but only if your credit record's good enough to do so. There are several different cards out there, so this is worth a try. For the top deals, see our Best 0% credit cards guide. And you can use our Credit Card Eligibility Calculator to see which cards are likely to accept you.
Saving up every month in advance is going to be one of the cheapest ways to do this. But, while you're saving, it requires you to effectively pay for your season ticket twice a month for the first year – once for your current card and once to build up your savings – and requires you to save for a year before you can get your first annual season ticket.
If you can't use any of these methods, then sadly, you won't be able to save this time around.
But it's worth looking at your finances and planning a budget. Is there anywhere you can cut back in order to be able to save for next year? Or, if you've a low eligibility score for the credit cards, could you take steps to boost your credit rating so you could get one in the future? Our Improve your credit score guide has the lowdown.
For more information on cutting the cost of train travel, see our Cheap train tickets guide.
What happens depends on what sort of ticket you have. If it's one that can be loaded on to an electronic card, then you can just go to the train company or TfL and get a new card (you may have to pay £3-£5 as a deposit). The season ticket will be registered to you, so can just be transferred to the new card, and the old card cancelled.
Train companies that only provide paper tickets have a bizarre rail ticket clause stating that you can only have one replacement for a paper ticket each year. So if you lose it twice, you'll need to pay for the second replacement at full season ticket price, unless there are exceptional circumstances such as robbery or theft.
This has been a long-standing issue for part-time workers, especially those commuting long distances.
In England, you may be able to save by getting a flexible season ticket – they allow you to travel as a day return on any eight days in a 28-day period using a paperless ticket via a smartcard or phone, and you don't need to select when you want to travel in advance. They can be used on both peak and off-peak travel, and at weekends.
In 2021, we did some research that showed while some can save £100s a year, others will save little or would even be worse off. See our full flexible season ticket analysis.
A Senior Railcard allows all over-60s discounted travel. It costs £30 a year, and if you get one, then you can get a third off all anytime, off peak and advance fares.
However, it can't be used with a season ticket, so you'd need to calculate if your daily tickets with the discount are better value for travelling than a season ticket.
Watch out if you're making journeys in the south-east and east of England (the Network Railcard area), as you will be restricted in terms of what time you can travel if you use the railcard – annoying if you're commuting to work during peak hour.
This'll depend on how much your journey costs, and how often you commute.
You can try out our Season Ticket Calculator which lets you compare whether a monthly season ticket beats buying daily (as well as other season tickets for your journey).
If you don't know in advance how many days you'll be commuting, then it may be worth chancing the pay-as-you-go route, and trying to minimise trips.
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