How to get the Cheapest Train Tickets & Air Fares in the UK

Expert (Beta) 31
Posted 13th Feb
I've been through and overhauled (and merged) these threads I posted last year. Information on how to save money when travelling by rail can be found directly below, and how to save money when travelling by air can be found approximately 1/2 way down the page. I hope this thread helps you to save money

How to save money when travelling by train:

1) Rovers & Day Passes

If you are using the railway a lot in a short space of time, particularly in a certain area a rover may work out considerably cheaper, especially because most railcard discounts can also be applied to them. Different options are available such as daily, 3 day, weekly and monthly, and a full list (too many to discuss here) can be found on the National Rail site here.

2) Railcards

Not suitable for most commuters as most often allow you to travel after 09:30 / 10:00. Railcards tend to knock 1/3 of the full price of fares, and can normally be used against advance fares for further discounts. Railcards often cost £30, although there are normally discounts available which can reduce the price to £25-£27.

  • A 16-25 railcard can be used before 10:00 if you are spending > £12 or anytime during weekends
  • Disabled railcards can be used at anytime
  • Two Together railcards can be used after 09:30 Mon-Fri only & anytime at weekends
  • Network railcards can be used only after 10:00 Mon-Fri & anytime at weekends
  • Family & Friends and Senior railcards are not valid when travelling between two stations inside London and the South East area during morning peak time. Restrictions vary by route so you should check online / at a ticket office before purchasing
  • 26-30 Railcard. Similar to 16-25 railcard. Newly introduced.
  • 15-17 railcard. Will give 50% of all Adult fares.

3) Groupsave

Groupsave can be used in some cases (normally 3 or more people), particularly if you have a large group. This tends to knock around 1/3 of the total ticket price, and is useful if no-one in the group has railcards. Off peak only typically. Not normally valid on Cross Country services.

4) Split Ticketing

Still underused in many cases, split ticketing can often save a small fortune, for example the total ticket price for an Adult from Southampton Airport Parkway to Leamington Spa can be cut by around 40% [See image below] . Similar, and even greater discounts can be found elsewhere. Split ticketing exploits fare oddities within fare databases which often results in getting 3 seperate tickets from your origin to your destination (splitting at intermediate stops e.g London to Reading, Reading to Oxford, Oxford to Banbury) cheaper than buying a direct ticket (e.g London to Banbury). Sites such as splitticketing.com can be used to find possible savings. There are a couple of important notes to consider though before purchasing:

  • You should never actually book through sites such as splitticketing.com, they take both a share of the savings, and charge a booking fee (similar to the trainline, which you should NEVER use), instead, collect the information about the journey details (see image below) and book through other rail operator sites, the best ones are typically ones which offer nectar points such as GWR, SWR etc...
  • You must make sure that your train STOPS at the station where you have purchased your split ticket from and to, if not, although unlikely, you may be liable to pay a penalty fare.

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5) Advance Tickets

Booking in advance can save you significant amounts of money, and you can normally book upto 12 weeks in advance for most operating companies. Normally, off peak services are the cheapest, although at weekends you can often find tickets cheap throughout the day. The furthest you can book in advance for each operating company can be found here.

6) Two singles?

Normally works well when combined with purchasing advance tickets. It is normally worth checking to see if two singles work out cheaper compared to a return. Although this is not normally the case, you can often make big savings where you can exploit this.

7) Go a slower way?

If you have the time and want to save money why not go a slower way? An example is London to Birmingham where a single with Chiltern Railways costs just £5.70 (£3.85 with a railcard) compared to fares which often exceed £30-£40+ There are many other examples of this working around the country too such as Southampton Central to London Victoria (Southern). Often, on most ticket sites there is a button which allows you to search for slower, cheaper trains.

8 ) NEVER book through the Trainline, use sites such as GWR

Although the Trainline is often a site people first look to when purchasing rail tickets, you can save money by not purchasing tickets through the site. Why? They charge a £0.75 / £1.50 booking fee per transaction which can be avoided. Instead, use any of the rail operator websites, which do not charge booking fees (although some operators charge £1 to collect tickets from a ticket machine, again this should be avoided). Furthermore, some sites such as GWR and SWR offer the chance to get Nectar points (2 points per £1) although there are often opportunities to get even more. Where possible, try to pick up your tickets at the station (ensure there is a ticket machine!) as this saves on delivery costs

9) Where possible, do NOT use the Heathrow Express, use TfL Rail

I believe the Heathrow Express is the most expensive per mile railway for the consumer in the country, so where possible this should be avoided as it is a tourist trap. Singles are £22 for 17 minutes, although they can be had for £5.50 if you book in advance. TfL rail takes just 10 minutes longer but is significantly cheaper. Of course the underground is cheaper still (£3-£5) but this takes almost an hour so the saving will not be worth it for some

10) Delay Repay

Many companies now offer delay repay for just a 15 minute delay. For example SWR offer a 25% refund on a single price for a 15 minute delay, and 50% for a 30 minute delay. The %'s refunded vary significantly between company so check on your operators website to check if you are entitled to a (partial) refund if you have been delayed. Typically the refund threshold is either 15 or 30 minutes for most companies, although for some it is an hour.

11) Declassified 1st class (London mainly)

Principally in London there are several trains which have a 1st class section designated, although on the timetable the train is not listed as having a 1st class service. If this is the case you can sit in first class on the train for no extra cost. Ensure on the timetable that there is not a 1 icon (indicating 1st class) for your service, if there is DO NOT sit in 1st class. Please do this at your own risk, if you are unsure please just sit in standard class, or ask station staff or the conductor if one is present.

12) Nectar Points

Mentioned already, but if you have not linked your Nectar card to sites such as GWR, you can often get a 300 point bonus via the Nectar website. Typically, you receive 2 points per £1 spent.I hope you enjoyed the page (I presume you have if you've read this far!) and if this is popular I will consider doing a bus/coach thread alongside a aeroplane thread in the near future

13) Gold Card benefits (thanks @goonertillidie )

If you have a gold card (i.e season ticket) there are also additional benefits:
  • 1/3 off Off-Peak Day Travelcard Zones 1-6
  • 1/3 off Oyster Off-Peak pay as you go single fares and the pay as you go daily price cap
Participating companies:
c2c; Chiltern Railways; CrossCountryl East Midlands Railway;
Gatwick Expressl Great Northern; Great Western Railway; Greater Anglia; Heathrow Express; Island Line; London Overground; London Northwestern Railway; Southeastern; Southern; South Western Railway; Stansted Express; Thameslink; TfL Rail; Transport for Wales; West Midlands Railway

14) Train Company Offers and sales

From time to time some companies have offers e.g half price advance tickets or Northern have 10p tickets. It is worth keeping an eye out from time to time for any offers which you may be able to benefit from.












And now how to get the cheapest airfares...


1) Is direct always cheapest?

Often it can be considerably cheaper to stop off at an intermediate city compared to flying direct (using most flight search engines will automatically show you flights which involve a stop but are cheaper). For example see this deal where you could get to Dubai for just £137 instead of the normal price of £220-£280. Booking this way, often, but not always, allows you to visit another city too, in this case Sofia (Bulgaria)! You can often make considerable savings using this method on flights to SE Asia (e.g Thailand, Vietnam and often stopping in China), S. America (often stopping in Spain, Italy or Portugal) and N.America (often stopping in W.Europe or the Nordics). For inter-Europe flights this method is not normally needed due to the prevalence of low cost carriers.

2) Error fares & misprices –

Although infrequent, error fares are a wonderful way of saving money on tickets if the destination is of interest. Example sites of where you can monitor error fares include Secret Flying. These fares do not normally last for long – so you’ll need to be quick! There are a couple of important points to note if you do manage to bag yourself an error fare:

  • It is recommended that you do not contact the airline about the error fare, this is likely to increase the chance of the error fare not being honoured
  • You should delay making any plans until as close as possible to the flight date in case the flight is cancelled (unless all your hotels etc.. are able to be cancelled free of charge up to the night of your arrival)
  • You should take out comprehensive insurance in case the flight is cancelled before you travel, or in the unlikely event that your return ticket is made invalid by the airline after you have departed on your outbound flight.


3) Low cost carriers

Many people are aware of low cost carriers now (e.g Easyjet, Ryanair) but not so many people are aware that low cost carriers are rapidly expanding their networks on long haul routes to break monopolies. Many airlines change their networks frequently so it is worth looking infrequently if a low cost carrier starts to serve a new destination you are interested in visiting.

[Disclaimer: Norwegian are currently experiencing financial difficulty due to rapid expansion, even though they are unlikely to go bust, it is recommended if you book a flight with Norwegian that you take out travel insurance that covers flight cancellations]


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4) Is your arrival airport close to your destination?


Low cost carriers, in particular Ryanair love utilising cheaper airports which are nowhere near the city the airport is advertised as. An example is Frankfurt Hahn, which is actually 120km away from Frankfurt. Other examples include Stockholm Nykoping and Vasteras, alongside Venice Treviso. Flying to an airport not close to the city adds extra cost due to the transfer required, which can often eat into the savings of your cheaper airfare. It is well worth comparing the cost between flying to the “central” city airport and peripheral airports before you travel.

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5) Search from nearby airports too!

If you’re lucky enough to have a few airports nearby, it is normal to expect that flight prices will be similar from them all. However, different airports have differing overheads, and you can often save money by comparing flight prices from different airports. An example found online while researching this deal was a family of four flying to Tenerife who saved over £500 due to them switching from London Luton to Stansted.

6) Don’t book midweek?

Fed up midweek on another dreary day and want to book some flights? Some airlines are exploiting this. Skyscanner found that looking at last year’s data, travellers who bought their tickets on a Wednesday paid on average 4% more than those who booked on a Sunday. Evidently this “midweek tax” will vary from airline to airline so it is worth monitoring any price differences from midweek to the end of the week/weekend for a few weeks before you decide to book.

7) Fly midweek?

Often departures on Tuesdays or Wednesdays are the cheapest. This is not always the case though, and it is easy to see if this is the case for your chosen destination by viewing week/month matrixes on sites such as Norwegian, Ryanair or Skyscanner. Flights departing on Fridays and Sundays are often the most expensive, especially if your destination is a popular city break location (e.g Venice).

8 ) Last minute?

Charter airlines (e.g TUI) can often offer excellent value flights for last minute departures. For example TUI recently offered £199 flights to Barbados . Destinations are normally limited to popular holiday destinations (e.g The Caribbean, C.America) but infrequently you can get cheap fares to New York. Most other long haul carriers (e.g BA / Lufthansa) and even Low Cost carriers (e.g Ryanair / Easyjet) typically do not drop prices (or even increase them) last minute due to business customers will often pay over the odds.

9) Do you really really need hold baggage?

Whenever I go away I very rarely take hold baggage, it often adds a lot to the overall cost (often £40+). This is particularly relevant for short(ish) European trips where plenty of people, often unnecessarily, take hold baggage. It is amazing what you can squash into cabin baggage, and it certainly makes packing more interesting. Be aware that Norwegian have followed Ryanair in their hand luggage policy in that you are now only allowed to take one small piece of luggage which can be placed underneath the seat in front of you. Any other luggage (i.e luggage you normally put in the overhead bins) now must be paid for.

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10) Use month matrixes or cheapest fare finders to find the cheapest fares


Good examples include Google Flights, ITA and TUI. These features allow you to see the cheapest prices across a range of dates for when you are able to fly. Matrixes make your life easier as you do not have to repeatedly iterate the dates you are able to fly which can be time consuming. Just note that if you use sites such as Momondo or Skyscanner often the fares have expired, as they are based on searches within the previous 15 days.

11) Use chrome ignitio when searching

Based on the cookies in your browser flight prices can sometimes increase when a particular route is repeatedly searched as the airline wants to scare you into booking the trip quickly before the price increases again. Using ignitio prevents cookies being stored thus eliminating the threat of this happening. Please be aware that the extent of this issue is often discussed on many websites and forums, with this practice certainly not being applied by all airlines

12) Consider how to travel to the airport

Car parking is often expensive, so if you are travelling to major UK airports (nearly all are excellently connected by public transport) consider using public transport to save money. An example is Heathrow. Where possible, do NOT use the Heathrow Express, use TfL Rail. I believe the Heathrow Express is the most expensive per mile railway for the consumer in the country, so where possible this should be avoided as it is a tourist trap. Singles are £22 for 17 minutes, although they can be had for £5.50 if you book in advance. TfL rail takes just 10 minutes longer but is cheaper . Of course the underground is cheaper still (£3-£5) but this takes almost an hour so the saving will not be worth it for some
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For trains I would mention the trainpal app. It seems to be much better at finding split tickets, and if in a rush, has no booking fees. It often has discounting codes appear for Halloween etc and it gives you referral bonuses too.
If you’re booking a ticket and are unsure if you’ll have to change the ticket time or date then book with cross country as they don’t charge any admin fee for changing a time (except the difference in fare)
For East Midlands Trains make a dormant account with a different email because they often send really discounted London ticket coupons to accounts which haven’t booked in a while.

For flights, Google flights is amazing. Type in the origin, or multiple nearby airports. Then in the destination field, leave it blank then press enter. Now it shows you a map of all cheap flights. Now edit the dates to specific ones, or my technique is to press flexible and either leave it on next six months or pick a month.
Edited by: "anouj" 16th Feb
31 Comments
Nice post @reindeer333 some really nice info and content

Ill add this into my half term thread tomorrow also, will help lots of members I'm sure!
Thanks. Good useful read x
Dan_8213/02/2020 21:25

Nice post @reindeer333 some really nice info and content Ill …Nice post @reindeer333 some really nice info and content Ill add this into my half term thread tomorrow also, will help lots of members I'm sure!


Thanks

Glad to have helped
Thank you very informative
Cracking thread, thanks for the info @reindeer333

Will be adding to highlights shortly!
Great article. Definitely saving this.

Thanks to everyone who put in the hard work!
For trains I would mention the trainpal app. It seems to be much better at finding split tickets, and if in a rush, has no booking fees. It often has discounting codes appear for Halloween etc and it gives you referral bonuses too.
If you’re booking a ticket and are unsure if you’ll have to change the ticket time or date then book with cross country as they don’t charge any admin fee for changing a time (except the difference in fare)
For East Midlands Trains make a dormant account with a different email because they often send really discounted London ticket coupons to accounts which haven’t booked in a while.

For flights, Google flights is amazing. Type in the origin, or multiple nearby airports. Then in the destination field, leave it blank then press enter. Now it shows you a map of all cheap flights. Now edit the dates to specific ones, or my technique is to press flexible and either leave it on next six months or pick a month.
Edited by: "anouj" 16th Feb
Thanks for this
That burned a lot of midnight oil I think. Many Thanks.
too much effort and too complicated for my liking.
Deleting cookies or going incognito helps or not when looking for holidays/flight?!
Wow someone been busy lol
I would watch this cause might answer a few questions.
Very good informative post. Just booked train tickets by GWR instead using Trainline and saved some money with bonus Nectar points. Well done 🏻 and Thank you(y)
ibrahim3323314/02/2020 14:44

Deleting cookies or going incognito helps or not when looking for …Deleting cookies or going incognito helps or not when looking for holidays/flight?!


Not usually. Usually best run two browsers. One with incognito and one without.
Edited by: "Cobray" 14th Feb
Great post
Top marks for rail travel tips, but in my humble opinion I’d rather we got away from flying. A point about point 11 in relation to Thameslink services. The first class section in all of their services is always declassified, even if the front isn’t so it’s safe to always sit there. Front tends to be declassified only on those services that finish within Greater London. (I believe)
Thanks a lot! I am here in the UK just for my masters and this will help me a lot
Doesnt cover all destinations and you have to be flexible but I would suggest checking out megabus.co.uk (they offer train tickets as well as coaches)
Another tip for when booking annual train tickets:

Use cashback sites, which can often offer 5% cashback. Chiltern Railways allows you to buy tickets all over England even those that are not operated by them.

For example I bought an annual season ticket costing £5700 on a Southern Rail line. However I purchased this through Quidco and used Chiltern Railways. It took roughly 4 months for me to receive £300 cashback.

Bonus Tip:
I also used the American Express Cashback card which gave me 5% cashback on the first £2.5k and 1% on the rest. Giving me around £450 cashback overall.
For Air, I would add
After finding cheapest fare, ask one of your Travel Agent to beat it.
Recently for me they did beat fare.
Don't forget the Seatfrog app for those looking to upgrade!
Really great post. Lots of good tips. Thanks for taking the time
If you have a senior railcard, you can get an oyster card that gets you 30% off london tube.
Thanks
good post but needs more attention to detail.

  • 16-17 railcard. Gives 16 & 17 year old's their child fares back (50% off). £30/year, expires no later than 18th birthday. No Oyster discounts (check London-only Zip card)
  • 16-25 railcard. Should really be 18-25, but note it's also valid for over 25 year olds in full time study. £30/year or £70/3 years. Latest expiry date for either type is the day before your 27th birthday. 1/3 discount with £12 minimum fare Monday-Friday for journeys starting before 10:00. Minimum fare doesn't apply in July, August, or bank holidays. Can be added to Oyster card for discounts on Oyster fares.
  • 26-30 railcard. £30/year, 1/3 off. Similar to 16-25 railcard, but no July/August exemption. Oyster discounts.
  • Disabled railcard. £20/year or £54/3 years. Check eligibility - not only for those in receipt of disability benefits. 1/3 off for traveller and an adult companion. No time limits/minimum fares. Oyster discounts.
  • Two Together railcards can be used after 09:29 Mon-Fri only & anytime at weekends. 1/3 discount for 2 adults together. £0/year. No minimum fare. No Oyster discounts.
  • Network railcards give 1/3 off adult, and 60% off child fares in the Network area, for up to 3 adults + 4 children (must travel together the full children). There is a minimum £12 adult fare and a £1 minimum child fare. It is not valid before 10:00 Mon-Fri (excluding public holidays). The Network area is London & the home counties, with some extensions - e.g., London to Exeter via Salisbury, but not via Bristol (where it's only valid to Didcot or Reading). You can split a ticket outside the Network railcard area if your train stops inside the railcard area and you buy split tickets covering a journey wholly within the area. No Oyster discounts.
  • Family & Friends railcards are similar to Network railcards, but a child MUST be on the journey. There is a £70 3 year card available. It's also valid across the whole UK. You can't use it for journeys between two stations in the Network Railcard area unless an off-peak ticket is available for that journey. No Oyster discounts.
  • The Senior railcard is also £30/£70 and has the same F&F restriction on journey times. Oyster discounts.
  • The Annual gold card is similar to a Network railcard, but covers a wider area including all of East Anglia and the West Midlands. In addition, it is valid from 09:30 and there is no minimum fare, and can be linked to Oyster. It's *free* with any *annual* season ticket in the Gold Card area. Currently the cheapest annual season ticket is Hatton - Lapworth, which costs £172, and it can be worth buying this for the Annual gold card, since unlike the Network railcard there are no minimum fares

3) Groupsave

<delete explanation> Groupsave is 1/3 off for 3-9 adult fares. Valid on c2c; Chiltern Railways; Gatwick Express; Great Northern; Great Western Railway; Greater Anglia; London Overground; South Western Railway; Southeastern; Southern; Stansted Express; Thameslink; West Midlands Trains; It's valid off-peak generally. For group of e.g., 2 adults + 2 children, the normal fare would be 2 + 2 1/2 (child) fares = 3, so with Groupsave you pay instead 4 adult fares discounted by 1/3, which is equal to 2 2/3. For 2 adults + 1 child it's 1 2/3, rather than 2 1/2. The alternative is a Family & Friends or Network railcard, but Groupsave is free, so if you travel rarely Groupsave is better. Discount should be automatic on booking.

> If you have the time and want to save money why not go a slower way? An example is London to Birmingham where a single with Chiltern Railways costs just £5.70 (£3.85 with a railcard)


That fare is not always available...


6) Two singles?

> Normally works well when combined with purchasing advance tickets. It is normally worth checking to see if two singles work out cheaper compared to a return. Although this is not normally the case, you can often make big savings where you can exploit this.


There is a ticket code of SVH which can only be sold with an Advance ticket. This costs have the price of an off-peak return, for West Coast tickets.

E.g.,

London - Manchester is £91.10 off-peak single, or £92.10 off-peak return. If you book via the Avanti West Coast website you'll find an 'Online Single' if you go to 'More single tickets available'. This costs exactly half the off-peak return (i.e. £46.05) and is flexible on the day of travel (subject to off-peak trains).

So what you can do is book a £30 Advance single in one direction, and then a £46.05 ticket in the other direction. E.g., if you want a single ticket at short notice London - Manchester, you'll probably find it priced at £91.10 (except at morning peak, when it's more), but if you instead buy a £46.05 internet single with a throwaway £30 Advance coming back (try a Saturday a month or two out), you'll save £15.05.

15)
Season tickets
A season ticket is valid for one week, or for any period between one to twelve months.
A monthly season ticket costs 3.84 weeks.
An annual season ticket costs 40 weeks.
In certain cases, e.g., university commuting, it is best to break down season tickets into periods beginning and ending around holidays. E.g., for a 12 week term starting on Monday September 23rd and finishing on Friday December 13th, that's priced as 2 months (= 2 x 3.84) + 21 days (2.69) = 10.37 weeks. For three such terms, that is only 31.11 weeks, versus the 40 weeks for annual travelcard. If there is a half term break, then you should buy two seasons for that term calculated to start and end on the last/first day of the break - you make the full saving as long as each season is 1 month or longer.
Thanks for the useful information. I have saved this link on my computer for future use and now look forward to your bus/coach thread in the near future.
Edited by: "cx500ec" 15th Feb
Re. RAILCARDS - My student daughter has a 16-25 Railcard and finds that when buying Advance train tickets for weekday journeys before 10a.m., the min. £12 fare isn't always applied. I suspect the min. £12 fare applies to tickets bought on the day.

(Just done a test enquiry on National Rail's site for my daughter's route and 4 fares cost under £7.60 before 10am on Thurs.)

Great info, btw, OP!
Edited by: "sjs31" 15th Feb
Never take Heathrow Express to Heathrow! You have to walk for miles and there are endless number of escalators before you reach the Terminal.
Only use Picadilly line.
as stated split ticketing a must.had to travel to walton on thames last saturday from swansea to pick up a car.£193 before using split ticketing. after using £105.then by adding family and friends rail card £44 .daughter £10 myself £34.booked the ticket the night before travel.god knows how much i would have saved booking earlier.i use the train pal app as mentioned by other users.
superb bit of info. Thank you.
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