How to save money on train tickets

Cheap train tickets

Cheap train tickets can be hard to find in the UK. According to the TUC, we have the most expensive rail fares in Europe and anyone who has tried to book a last-minute train into London will testify this! While our train fares may appear eye-wateringly expensive, it is possible to find cheap tickets when you know how! Here are some of the top ways to save money on train tickets.

10 ways to save money on train tickets

Here's some top tips to help you save on your train tickets:

  1. Book 12 weeks in advance

    Our train tickets in the UK may initially appear expensive but, in reality, it’s usually only our last-minute tickets that are absurdly priced! If you book your train tickets around 12 weeks in advance then you’re much more likely to get a cheap ticket.

    Tickets usually come on sale 12 weeks before the departure date and they can be up to 80% cheaper. You can set a ‘Ticket Alert’ with Trainline so you’re sent an email reminder when your chosen tickets come on sale and you can then take advantage of advance fares.

  2. Split ticketing

    Split ticketing is a clever hack to cheat the system and get cheaper train fares. 

    Let’s say you’re travelling from Manchester to London on a train that stops in Crewe and Milton Keynes. Rather than purchasing a single ticket for your whole journey, you can purchase individual tickets from Manchester to Crewe, Crewe to Milton Keynes and Milton Keynes to London.

    The individual tickets for these shorter journeys are often much cheaper and you can still stay on the same train, often in the same seat, for the duration of the journey!

  3. Avoid off-peak train travel

    The price differences between peak and off-peak train travel in the UK is astonishing so, whenever possible, travel during off-peak hours or super-off peak hours.

    Don’t be tempted to buy an off-peak ticket and sneak onto a peak train. The conductor will either ask you to pay the price difference or ask you to leave the train at the next stop.

    It can be a little confusing to know when is peak and when is off-peak because the train’s arrival time is just as important as the departure time. A train leaving Manchester at 6am may feel like it should be off-peak, but it arrives into London at 8am in time for the rush-hour commute so it’s an extremely busy train.

    The train’s route can also impact the peak and off-peak times as busy periods can vary between cities, towns and villages. 

  4. Return train tickets are usually better value

    You will almost always get cheaper train tickets if you book a return in the UK. Many European countries have set fares for single journeys with no discounts for returns but in the UK it can often be just a few pennies more to book a return than one-way.

    An ‘open-return’ is the best option if you aren’t sure what time you will be returning. Be careful if you book an ‘off-peak open return’ as you will be restricted as to which train you can board to go back. 

  5. Get a national railcard

    You can save up to a third with a railcard and more people qualify for a railcard than you may expect. There are eight national railcards available and most people could benefit from one of them.

  6. Get a regional railcard

    A regional railcard will allow you to save a third on tickets with a specific regional train companies. Again, you do need to pay a small yearly fee for railcards but it’s usually worth the initial fee.

    Regional railcards include:

    • Cambrian Railcard
    • Cotswolds Line Railcard
    • Dales Railcard
    • Devon and Cornwall Railcard
    • Esk Valley Railcard
    • Thameslink and Great Northern Student 16/18 Connect Card
    • Heart of Wales Line Railcard
    • Highland Railcard
    • Network Railcard
    • Pembrokeshire Railcard
    • Valleys Senior Railcard
    • Network Railcard - Save a third on fares when travelling in the South East. This card can also be used in and around London.
  7. Book your group tickets together

    If you’re booking train tickets for groups of 3-9 adults then you could save up to 34% with GroupSave tickets. Unlike railcards, there is no fee for GroupSave tickets but they are predominantly for off-peak tickets in standard class.

    If you are travelling with children then consider a Family & Friends Railcard which saves you a third. The railcard costs £30 but is valid for up to four adults and four children.

  8. Claim a refund for delays

    If your train has been delayed or cancelled then you may be entitled to a full refund. 

    Each train operator has its own refund policy so claiming refunds can initially appear complicated, but the government has announced they’re working on a simpler system to bring all refund claims together. 

    Most train operators will provide Delay Repay for delays starting at 15 minutes. While each operator will vary, here’s a rough idea of the refund you can expect.

    • For a 15-29 minute delay, you will receive a refund of 25% of the single fare
    • For a 30-59 minute delay, you will receive 50% of the single fare
    • For a delay over 60 minutes, you should get a full refund of the single fare
  9. Get a season ticket

    If you’re regularly taking the same train journey then a season ticket is going to lead to the biggest savings. Depending on your route, you may only need to travel via train twice a week to make a season ticket worthwhile.

    Season tickets offer unlimited travel and are available in First Class and child options. They are usually only available for shorter journeys. If you’re regularly making long journeys then an All Line Rover ticket may be your best option.

    You can buy annual season tickets if it’s likely you’ll be travelling most weeks throughout the year. Monthly and weekly season tickets are also available if your train travel will be for a short period of time.

  10. Get a flexi season ticket

    A flexi season ticket allows you to travel 8 out of 28 days, anytime between your two chosen stations. This is a popular option for people who mostly work from home and travel into work a couple of times a week. It gives you the flexibility to pick and choose which days you travel.

Types of railcards

You do need to pay a small, yearly fee for some of these railcards but most people will make this money back in savings. Discounts are available if you purchase a three-year railcard for some of the railcards.

  • 16-17 Saver - Save 50% if you’re aged 16 or 17.
  • 16-25 - Save a third for those aged 16-25
  • 26-30 - Pay £30 and then save a third for those aged 26-30
  • Family & Friends - Pay £30 and save 60% on kids tickets for children aged 5-15
  • Two together - Pay £30 and save a third for you and the person you travel with most
  • Senior Railcard - Save a third for those aged 60 and over
  • Disabled Persons Railcard - Pay £20 and get a third off if you have a disability
  • Veterans Railcard - Save a third if you are a veteran of the UK Armed Forces

How to claim your refund for delayed trains

Train tickets
Source: Torsten Dettlaff / Pexels.
  1. To claim your refund simply search for ‘delay repay + ‘the train operator you were travelling with’’.

  2. This should take you to their page where you’ll need to create an account, or login if you already have one, enter the details of your delayed train and upload a photo or screenshot of your ticket.

  3. You must make your claim within 28 days and your ticket must include the following details: Journey details, ticket type, amount paid, ticket number (for paper tickets).

  4. Refunds are made via bank transfer and some companies may offer vouchers or cheques.

What’s an "All Line Rover" Ticket?

An “All Line Rover Ticket” is a seven-day ticket allowing unlimited travel across most National Rail lines. There are a few restrictions and some of the busy commuter stations do not allow travel prior to 10am, but it mostly allows you to travel across the UK with one ticket. It is pricey but if you’re planning to take lots of long journeys around the UK then it could be a great way to save money on your train tickets.

Where should you buy your train tickets?

You can buy tickets at the station or online. Do not buy your ticket on the train as it may be much more expensive.

If you’re finding it confusing then it’s best to go into the station and speak to a member of staff as they are knowledgeable and will help you find the cheapest ticket.

As tickets are cheaper when booked in advance, it’s easiest for most people to book online, especially as fewer train stations are now staffed or may only be staffed during peak hours. Online tickets will also give you a digital ticket or e-ticket and receipt so you don’t need to worry about losing them or printing anything. 

Prices for online tickets can vary a little so it’s best to shop around. is a good option to search for train tickets as it has a simple, user-friendly interface and displays a range of times and prices. You can’t book directly through National Rail but the site will direct you to the train operator’s website where you can book. Train operators rarely have booking fees so this is usually the cheapest option as bookings tend to be fee-free.

You can also book through TrainLine which is a popular option thanks to their user-friendly app and Fare Finder. There are many other apps and websites such as Red Spotted Hanky, Rail Easy, My Train Ticket, My Train Pal and it really comes down to preference on the website and user experience.

How to get cheap First Class train tickets

First Class train tickets are cheapest outside of commuter hours when business travellers aren’t on trains. Weekends are cheapest, but bear in mind that trains won’t always serve hot foot during off-peak hours and this is depicted in the price.

If your train is quiet, you can often upgrade your Standard Class train ticket once you board the train. The conductor may make an announcement offering an upgrade or you can ask the conductor once you board. This will be a fraction of the price of purchasing it in advance but an upgrade option isn’t always guaranteed.

You can use SeatFrog to bid on upgrades in advance. It’s a simple app available on journeys across multiple train operators.

Also check out the hotukdeals pages for South Western Railway, Southern Railway, GWR, Avanti West Coast, Cross Country, Grand Central, London North Eastern Railway, and TransPennine Express. You might be able to find train ticket voucher codes and deals to reduce your train fare!

London train station
Source: Roman Fox / Unsplash.

Train tickets FAQs

Are train tickets refundable?

If you’ve bought an advance ticket or special offer and you’ve chosen not to travel then it’s unlikely you will be able to get a full refund on your train ticket, but you may be able to change the time or date.

If you booked an Anytime, Off-Peak or Super Off-Peak ticket you can usually get a refund. There may be a £10 admin fee and you’ll need to apply via whichever method you purchased the ticket.

If your train was cancelled or delayed then you can apply for Delay Repay where you could get a full refund if your train is more than 60 minutes late.

Do train tickets have VAT?

Can train tickets be refunded?

Are train tickets cheaper on the day?

Are train tickets cheaper online?

About the author

Monica is a travel writer based in Wales and runs The Travel Hack, a blog sharing tips and advice to get out and explore the world.

Check out The Travel Hack.